In his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? Pastor Rick Warren suggests “humility is not putting yourself down or denying your strengths; rather, it is being honest about your weaknesses.” This profound statement flies in the face of the way most of us would define humility, a virtue not talked about much anymore, or even respected.
In fact, humility, and the idea of being humble, has many different faces.
Humility's Honest Face
The honest face of humility measures itself against almighty God and sees our profound weakness. In one sense, we see ourselves as totally unworthy before God, no matter what we do and how hard we try. We see ourselves as God sees us.
C.S. Lewis writes: “As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”
In another sense, humility is admitting that all our gifts and blessings come from God. There is absolutely not one thing for which we can take complete credit. All blessings and gifts come from the grace of God.
When we put on the honest face of humility, we become “poor in spirit,” just as the beatitude suggests. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Humility's Poverty of Spirit Face
There’s another face to humility. It’s the face of poverty of spirit, a spirit that remains completely empty and open to God’s holy Word and what God expects from us.
It’s only when we humble ourselves, accepting our frail, human nature that we can truly repent, and allow the grace of God to lead us into and remain in an intimate relationship with him.
This face of humility longs to be used, like an empty cup, waiting to be filled.
Once we have donned the face of true humility with its openness to God and surrender to whatever he requires of us, we experience an inner peace, allowing one to do the will of God.
Humility's Face Turned Outward
Another face of humility looks beyond itself. It’s thinking of less of ourselves because of our weaknesses, and directing our efforts in another direction, serving. It’s the mind directed outward, away from ourselves.
The outward trajectory of humility should be directed toward God and others. We are humble before God as fallen creatures. And even as Christians who have been saved as children of God and destined for eternal life with the Lord, we remain humble before God as his servants.
Galatians 5: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Humility's Ironic Face
There’s an ironic face of humility, one that ironically thinks more about itself. But how can that be? Isn’t this pride?
Humility should also include thinking more about ourselves as deliberately being outward oriented towards God and others, not running on automatic.
Humility should be a way of life we intentionally adopt and live as much possible minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, until we die. It’s more than a state of mind. It’s a state of life we need to develop as we recognize our insufficiency before God and answer his call to serve others using our God-given gifts.
In theory, this should prevent us from being prideful, but pride creeps into our thinking whenever it can, doesn’t it?
Proverbs 11 “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
Martin Luther noted: “True humility does not know that it is humble. If it did, it would be proud from the contemplation of so fine a virtue.”
Humility's Teachable Face
Humility has a teachable face. Persons who maintain a true humble lifestyle are not arrogant or boastful. They are teachable, ready to learn from others. Life is an open-ended question for those who are humble enough to be open to other's opinions and what the Lord teaches them through experience and the world around them.
Most importantly, they are ready to give of themselves in service. They are deliberately mindful of their part in God's plan as they serve with a lowly spirit in the face of God's overwhelming love for them.
Mother Teresa noted: "Keep the corners of your mouth turned up. Speak in a low, persuasive tone. Listen; be teachable. Laugh at good stories and learn to tell them...For as long as you are green, you can grow."
Humility's Kind Face
Humility also has a gentle and kind face. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." A humble person comes to be meek, becomes gentle and kind, and has a docile spirit, even in the face of adversity and hardship.
Jesus was "meek and humble of heart," Matthew 11. A person that is meek is one that exhibits self-control. St. Augustine advises us to be meek in the face of the Lord, and not resist but be obedient to him.
In a number of scriptures, Jesus tells us to humbly accept being last, so we might be first, to sacrifice that we might experience gain, not in a worldly since, but in a spiritual sense.
Mark 10: “And whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Adopting a Humble Lifestyle
I’d like to suggest some ways you and I can adopt a lifestyle true humility.
Routinely confess your sin to God and be willing to acknowledge your weaknesses to others.
Be patient when wronged. Take correction and feedback from others graciously, and not get upset when someone else is blessed instead of you.
Be quick to forgive and cultivate a grateful. The more you develop an attitude of gratitude, the truer perspective of yourself you will have.
Recognize when you are being proud. It’s our human nature to be proud and it’s God’s nature in us that brings humility.
Trappist monk, writer, and theologian Thomas Merton says, “Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”