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What is Humility?

A easily misunderstood human quality that seems to have gone missing in our modern times. How to make it part of your life once again.
By Larry Laird -

I attend a small evangelical Lutheran church in Marion, Ohio called St. Paul's and have for over 60 years. I took my catechism there and was confirmed in this little church.  On occasion, our pastor takes a much needed vacation and since we have no assistant pastor he calls on members of the congregation to lead a service in his absence.  I have done so a couple of times in the past two years. What follows is the message I delivered on a Sunday in late August, 2016.

What exactly is humility?

The dictionary defines it this way -

Humility is the quality of being humble. In a religious context this can mean a recognition of self in relation to God or deities, acceptance of one's defects, and submission to divine grace as a member of a religion. Outside of a religious context, humility is defined as the self-restraint from excessive vanity, and can possess moral and/or ethical dimensions.

The Urban Dictionary puts it this way, in a more plain speaking Will Rogers manner

Humility is an admirable quality that not many people possess. It means that a person may have accomplished a lot, or be a lot but doesn't feel it is necessary to advertise or brag about it.

Are you a humble person? How can you know?

Joyce Meyer from the Christian Post writes – 10 Ways to Tell if Someone is a Humble Person

She says - Let's face it; humility isn't a very popular word. Yet, all throughout the Bible, the Lord instructs us about the benefits of being "humble-minded."

So, what are these character traits of a humble person?

The humble can always ask for help, and they don't insist on everything being done their way.

They are quick to forgive others, difficult to offend, and content to wait on God for vindication when they have been wronged.

From Galatians 6:2 : They are patient and don't get frustrated with the weaknesses of others.

The humble person is a peacemaker. In fact, we need humility to maintain peace in our lives. Romans 12:16 says, "Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty…but readily adjust yourself to people and things and give yourselves to humble tasks. Never overestimate yourself."

A humble person knows when to be quiet. It's certainly not wrong to talk, but a humble person is comfortable allowing others to have center stage and doesn't feel the need to speak their mind in every situation.

A humble person sees their own weaknesses and can readily admit them. When we open up to others about ourselves, it can actually encourage and help them realize they're not the only ones who deal with things.

A humble person happily serves other people, and they don't do it to be seen. They do it unto God, knowing their reward will come from God.

A humble person is very thankful. This is one reason why they're usually so happy. When we live with an attitude of gratitude, it releases joy and power into our lives.

A humble person has a tender conscience and is quick to repent.

A leader who is truly humble treats everyone with respect. How a leader treats people is the quickest way to find out their level of humility.

First Peter 5:6 says, "Therefore humble yourselves [demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation] under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you."

Here’s another viewpoint from author C.S. Lewis

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less." That bears repeating - "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less."

But, can thinking less of yourself mean you simply have low self esteem? Is there a difference?

“The difference is, low self-esteem is when you don't think much of yourself.”

“Being humble is when you are putting others ahead of yourself, not because you don't think much of yourself, but because your concern is for others. You can have a good self-opinion and put the needs of others ahead of yourself at the same time. That's called being humble. In other words, "It's not all about you" -- NOT because you are "garbage" but because you are acting on your love for others above your love for self.”

Ashley Callahan writes;

Low Self Esteem Is Not Humility

“When we think of pride, we often picture someone with an inflated ego and self-confidence to spare. We all have those friends who love being the center of attention, are unapologetic when it comes to gossip, and have no reason to feel badly about themselves. People with these qualities are the ones we often label as “self-centered” or “prideful.” But what about those who view themselves as less than others and constantly tear down their self-worth?

Ironically, one with this attitude can be considered just as prideful as the person who thinks they can do no wrong.

So, how are we to find our place as Christians within the midst of this ever-difficult dichotomy we call pride and humility? It’s safe to say that it’s not easy. Confidence is not unbiblical. In fact, God wants us to be confident! It’s only when our pride gets in the way that good confidence is overshadowed.”

From Joshua 1:9. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go,”

Furthermore: S. James Webb writes in The Conceit of Low Self Esteem And The Pride Of Humility

"If you have low self esteem, you’re probably obsessed with yourself. Which is just a backwards form of conceit.

If you have low self-esteem, you think you’re special. No-one is as low as you. No-one is as undeserving as you. Everyone else in the world may be deserving of being treated well, of having good relationships, financial success, good health, spiritual connection, or whatever it is that you think you don’t deserve. Probably all of that.

Here’s the thing: if you encountered someone else who thought the way you do, you’d probably think something like, “no-one deserves to have such hard luck.” Or “everyone deserves good health, and success, and good relationships.”

In other words, you’re harder on yourself than anyone else. Somehow you’re so unique, so special, that ordinary human rights and dreams don’t apply to you. Nothing ever works out for you, or ever will, and you certainly don’t deserve to have things go your way anyhow.

When there’s a battle between the heart and the mind, guess which one wins? It’s the head – always.

So what’s all this about the pride of humility, then? You have to have enough pride in yourself to realize that you are just as worthy, just as deserving of happiness and a rewarding life as any other human being. You have to be humble enough to realize you’re just like everybody else, and completely unique at the same time. Just like everybody else.

We don’t rate human beings on a scale. So-and-so doesn’t measure up to my standards, so he or she gets to be stranded at the station when the train of life’s goodies comes by. Or maybe so-and-so really gets good grades on my scale, so she or he gets an extra freightcar load of goodies.

We’re all human beings. That qualifies all of us to get on the happy train. If any human being deserves it, so do you. Get over yourself. You’re as good as anyone else, as deserving as anyone else. Even if you’ve really screwed up, you deserve a second, third, fourth and endless chances just like anyone else.

Humility is certainly not the same as having low self esteem, the two are obviously different. In fact, low self esteem is actually a form of pride. Now, is it me or has this type of prideful behavior become more prevalent these days? It seems like we see and hear nothing but self-promotion from the self obsessed and vain.

The Israeli essayist Ran Zev Schijanovich writes - Humility in the modern world

“The value of the trait of humility has gone by the wayside in modern society. Boastfulness seems to have risen to the top list of admired qualities, whether based on actual accomplishment or on frivolous nothings. In fact, boastfulness appears to have acquired a value all of its own, unwed from even a hint of justifying elements that would at least on the surface warrant such posturing.

The most obvious manifestation of this phenomenon is that we live in an age in which our heroes and role models are more than ever members of the entertainment industry, that is - musicians, actors, and athletes.”

Unfortunately, there is much truth in his observations. Just think of the obscene amount of money these modern day heroes make and the adulation they receive!

How can we obtain humility, especially today? Lawrence Wilson writes;

How to Be Humble—7 Disciplines You Can Practice Almost Every Day

Humility may be the most difficult virtue to acquire because we fear it at the same time we seek it. While we may say we’re trying to be humble, we instinctively avoid things that would make us so. Everyone wants to be humble; nobody wants to be humbled.

Humility is at the heart of Christ-likeness. We follow the one who “made himself nothing.” To follow Jesus, sooner or later we must embrace the circumstances that seem to demean us.

Here are seven things you can do nearly every day to practice humility.

1. Avoid taking credit. This goes beyond saying, “Aw shucks,” to deflect a compliment. Practice the discipline of secrecy by keeping one of your achievements from being known to others. That means not saying things like, “I fixed the copier, you can thank me later.”

2. Praise others. Pride makes us envious or resentful of another’s talents. The surest way to break that is to compliment others. Don’t pass up an opportunity.

3. Help others succeed. Few things attack the ego quite as much as helping others succeed. Pride hoards knowledge and resources; humility shares them.

4. Admit your mistakes. Nobody likes doing this, but the quicker you’re willing to say “I was wrong” the closer you are to humility.

5. Learn from others. This is another way to appreciate the value of others. When you acknowledge that they have advanced beyond you, you humble yourself.

6. Go last. At a restaurant, at family dinner, in line at the grocery store, let someone else go first. It’ll do you good.

7. Serve someone. We instinctively resist serving because we believe there is a direct relationship between being served and being important. Jesus turned that idea on its head. Bring your spouse a cup of tea, run an errand for a friend, give away some money.

The only way to be humble is to be humbled. Though that is difficult to accept, you can do it. Andrew Murray wrote, “The danger of pride is greater and nearer than we think, and the grace for humility too.”

We need to recognize that being humble and having humility is not the same thing as having low self esteem. We also must understand that it might be a bit harder to achieve humility in the world we live in today. However, striving to become a humble person is in itself a rewarding pursuit. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted. “

Here is a poem that I found on the subject that I like. It’s called;

All the World
By Shamas Hereth

Humility sets the stage for learning
And wisdom gained, through acts of earning.
No role forced, none strung to play.
No certain applause, none forced to stay.
No knowledge will steady a wavering hand.
No strength to those with a dependent stand.
No yearning for truth demands concerning

Finally I’ll close with a reading from the 6th chapter of Micah, verse 8

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
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