By Ashley Gatewood
When I meet a Christian who has taken time to cultivate a humble heart, I know I’ve met someone truly dedicated to knowing Christ. In our culture, choosing to grow in humility runs counter to much of what we hear in mainstream American media.
God’s plan for our lives allows us to rise above the world’s influence and sets us on an extraordinary journey to fulfillment.
Purity of Heart
Growing up into Christ involves drawing closer to the Lord by spending time with him in prayer and in the reading of his Word. True growth in humility involves more than understanding what humility is. It requires that we implement the idea into our character and our being.
Our pursuit of humility leads us to ask questions like, “Did I do this because I wanted to be kind to this person, or was I just doing what was right even though I’m harboring anger toward him?” Christlike humility is expressed in sincerity, knowing that “The Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
A young boy, having been told repeatedly by his mother to sit down, would not submit to her demand. Finally he gave in, but defiantly stated, “I may be sitting on the outside, but I’m standing on the inside!”
Most of us don’t like to be told what to do or how to respond. To cultivate a true spirit of humility, we must be strong enough on the inside to know we have the right to say no to someone, but out of love, we relinquish that right so others may benefit.
A Healthy Choice
As we seek to cultivate humility, we may wrestle with a wide range of emotions like anger, resentment, and self-pity. But as we learn to put others before ourselves, we begin living calmer and more peaceful lives.
Stress and tension are powerful enemies of our physical health and well-being. When we wrestle with people over positions, opinions, and trivial matters—wanting to show ourselves better than others or to be right and show that others are wrong—we subject ourselves to unnecessary stress. Our heart rate increases, our emotions boil over, and our physical health suffers.
Likewise, we can struggle with negative feelings when we choose to put others first and resent it. It would be better to wait until we are emotionally and spiritually ready to help someone than to help but harbor resentment.
God did not call us to a life of stress. Instead, he calls us to a life that rests in his peace, not allowing our hearts to be troubled or afraid (John 14:27). As we look to the character of Christ, we find a pattern that is simultaneously strong and humble. Jesus said he came to do “the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34). Likewise, we must make God’s will a priority in our lives if we want to cultivate humility.
Jesus humbled himself before the Father and at the same time was strong enough to be obedient to death on the cross for our sins. Humility in its purist form is doing what God wants us to do in spite of our own hopes and desires.
In our attempt to understand humility, we need to be aware of some common misconceptions about this virtue.
Misconception 1: Humble people don’t stand up for themselves. When we put others’ needs above our own, we demonstrate Christ’s love and allow others to experience his love through us. A positive personal testimony does not come from our ability to argue our case, but from our willingness to submit to others and seek peaceful resolutions. Helping those who may be trying to use us can provide a witness that is hard to ignore and clearly demonstrates Christ’s love.
Misconception 2: Humble people have low self-esteem. The Bible emphasizes putting others’ needs above our own—not devaluing ourselves. Love seeks to exalt and edify those around us in positive and encouraging ways. There’s nothing positive about putting ourselves down in order to lift up others.
It’s difficult for someone who does not think well of himself to successfully walk in humility. It takes a strong person to be humble. Low self-esteem is not a part of God’s plan for us. We need to know who we are in Christ before we can be successful at winning others to him.
Misconception 3: Humble people don’t think their needs matter. Paul instructs us to look not only to our own interests but also to others’ interests as well (Philippians 2:4). This doesn’t mean our needs are less important. It simply means we trust God to meet our needs even as we put the needs of others ahead of our own.
Putting It into Practice
We grow in humility one decision at a time. Here are a few ways you can begin to grow in humility.
Be thoughtful of what someone else may be going through or what she may need. This can be difficult because people may not always be putting you first. Many times we must be thoughtful even when we are receiving unfair treatment from others. It’s what Jesus referred to in Matthew 5:43-48 when he explained that we must love our enemies, not just those who love us back.
Before deciding to seek your own best interests, put yourself in someone else’s shoes. When we want something desperately, we often strive to be the first to get it. But someone else may need it more than we do. It isn’t hard to display humility when helping a poor person in need of food and shelter. But it can be a challenge to display humility when helping the arrogant and unthoughtful person who has everything he needs. But again, this is a wonderful opportunity to emulate Christ’s character.
Let go of resentment. Holding on to resentment or harboring anger keeps us from cultivating humble hearts. Let go of any ill will toward those who may have hurt you and let God handle the situation. He judges righteously on our behalf.
Relinquish the terrible burden of having to have your own way. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we simply can’t do what we want. At other times we can freely choose to give up our rights and privileges for the sake of someone else. This is commended by Paul in Philippians 2:3.
Put God first in your life. Spend time in prayer and in reading God’s Word. Such disciplines give us the ability to exercise humility and let the light of Christ shine through us.
Choose today to implement the character of Christ by cultivating humility—one decision at a time. This is a lifelong journey and God will be there to help you. Putting others first in a spirit of humility will bring blessings into your life and, hopefully, others into Christ’s kingdom.
Ashley Gatewood is a freelance writer in Lexington, Kentucky.
Are you humble? Really humble? Not just less arrogant than most, but full of Christlike love, grace, and brokenness?
Think about a recent important interaction you had, perhaps a big project at work or a conflict with a friend. Use the principles below to evaluate if your actions and attitudes embodied humility.
Now do the same for a major relationship in your life—your spouse, kids, parents, or siblings. Do your habitual actions and attitudes match these ideas of humility?
• When were you mindful of what someone else was going through or of what someone else needed?
• When did you consider someone else’s perspective before deciding to seek your own best interests?
• When were you willing to let go of someone’s insincere treatment of you?
• When did you choose not to have it your way?
• How do your actions and attitudes show that you’ve put God first in your life?
If you want a real gut check, go through these questions with a friend or family member and ask for feedback.