“I’m humble and proud of it.” While we might not be dense enough to say so out loud, who among us hasn’t at least acted out these words?
I’ve heard the word humility defined as the act or posture of lowering oneself in relation to others. But I like this definition I found online better: having a clear perspective of one’s place in context. I like it better because the former definition can be affected—which wouldn’t be humility at all, but false humility, a warning sign of low self-esteem. The latter definition, however, implies an awareness of one’s place in this world, something that can only truly be grasped relative to a sober awareness of God. To walk in humility, then, in the truest sense, is to consistently recognize that anything worthwhile in life, anything destined to reap eternal benefits, can only be done through dependence on God and under the auspices of His sovereignty and power and grace—a matchless triumvirate of humility-inducing motivators to be sure.
In his book “Life of the Beloved,” Henri Nouwen asks the rhetorical question, “Isn’t arrogance putting yourself on a pedestal to avoid being seen as you see yourself?” At the risk of sounding un-humble, I know that answer: Yes, it is. And, humility, the opposite of arrogance, recognizes that it’s only because God is on the pedestal that we exist at all. For this reason, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord,” reads 2 Corinthians 10:17. Yes, let me: “Thank you, Lord! The credit is all Yours.” See how humble I can be?
So then, in light of a proper understanding of man’s position relative to God, how do we not-quite-so-humble-as-we-like-to-imagine types consistently walk out this virtue of humility? Do we just choose it? I don’t see how; that misses the point of our dependence. Do we simply affect the posture and pretend it? We already said no to that one. I’ll end the suspense: We appropriate the humility by abiding in the finished work of Jesus. “I am the vine, you are the branches,” says our Lord. “He who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). To paraphrase: Lean on Jesus, not on self.
Humility, then, is not something we produce for God, or for others, but something God produces in us, something we receive in a moment’s need whenever we accept that He is God—a loving, doting God at that—and we are not. And it is a virtue which, when received, leads humble men to thoughts of overwhelming gratitude: “Thank you, God!” (That’s twice now). Though I suspect it’s actually our gratitude that ushers in the humility. Either way, no matter how stellar we consider our standing or how low we view our lot, when we are most appreciative that we are held in high esteem in God’s eyes, we are most released from the prideful manifestations—like false humility and arrogance—of low esteem in our own. And now, if we can only ever get that fully from our heads to our hearts, we’ll quit trying to prove we deserve it.
I hope this helps you to better understand humility today.
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