There is a widely circulated quote by C.S. Lewis about humility that I hear in sermons or in conversations regularly. I’ve heard it so much it feels like it has lost its meaning. If you don’t know it, the quote goes: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Though I would never dare argue with Lewis, and I don’t disagree with his statement. Simply thinking of ourselves less, is not enough for humility to root deeply in our hearts. It is not the result of discipline or effort, but is grown in the heart of the believer who knows intimately the One who is humble. Humility is found in the knowledge of our lack and in knowing Christ Jesus.
We will not be humble people if we don’t first realize that we are human. That we are creatures lacking knowledge, capacity, ability and strength. Pride would convince us that we are autonomous, self-sufficient and independent. It would be easy to say, “Of course, I’m human! I know that I won’t live forever, these aches and pains tell me so!” If you go a little deeper, I think you would find, like me, that we live most of our lives thinking that we are the captains of our ships. We live as if all of life and its events are up to our determination and responsibility to fix, manage or direct. Pride would have us believe that …we are god. We know intellectually that there is only one God, and only one King. I can only speak for myself, but often what I know to be true and how I live don’t always line up. My anxiety, worry and stress are proof that I believe it’s all up to me. There is no rest when I’m living this way. Seasons like the last 8 weeks reveal all of the ways we have sought to control and manage our lives ourselves. How we’ve strived in anxiety to maintain peace and calm. It’s an unexpected loss, a pandemic, a cancer diagnosis or unemployment that sends us reeling and exposes the lie that we believe in our own sovereignty. Humility begins when we surrender ourselves to Jesus, the Humble One. When we lay down our pride and embrace our human lack and limits. This Psalm of David is a cry of surrender and one I have prayed a lot lately…
“Lord, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; Surely every man at his best is a mere breath. Surely every man walks about as a phantom; Surely they make an uproar for nothing; He amasses riches and does not know who will gather them. And now, Lord, for what I do wait? My hope is in You.” Psalm 39:4-7
For humility to grow in our hearts, we have to live in our lack. We can live within our limits, because we know the God who has no limits. Admitting limits and lack does not leave us groveling in the dirt. The scripture says that when we come before the Lord in humility, He exalts us (James 4:10). Jesus has done the humble work of restoration and reconciliation on the cross. Just as Jesus humbled himself before God and man and was exalted, so will we if we are in Christ. This is the upside down Kingdom… the first shall be last, the last shall be first. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. There is a blessing and an honor in humility and living within the limits and lack that we were created with. It does not mean weakness or failure to admit that I cannot do it all, it is to be human. We were created for a dependent relationship with a limitless, eternal, self-sufficient God. It’s pride and idolatry to live outside of our design. Paul in Philippians 2:5-8 encourages us to take on the attitude of Christ, of humility:
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:5-8
The relationship we have with Jesus will grow in us hearts of humility before God and before men. Humility is not something that can be attained by practice or effort, but in remaining connected to Jesus. We learn humility through His life, death and resurrection. A book that has been formative for me in learning about a kind of humility that runs deep is Humble Roots by Hannah Andereson. She says in her book:
“Humility also teaches us that we don’t need to know everything as long as we know the one who does know. …And in this knowledge – in knowing Him [Jesus] – we can finally rest.”
So in this season of unknown, of long days and weeks, where it feels like it will never end… How can we humble ourselves before the Lord? In what areas of our lives or hearts can we follow Christ’s example and humbly submit to the Father? In our roles as wives, mothers, employees, friends or grandmothers how can we display humble spirits to those around us? A kind of humility that is honest about what we lack and points to our King. Who is greater than our lack and greater than our circumstances.
My grandfather passed away a couple years ago. Among his things we found a simple saying in a cheap old frame. It hangs in my house now. My husband and I speak this truth to one another almost daily: “When you have Christ, you are rich and have enough.” Friends, we are so rich! I pray that we would all have the humility to see beyond the temporary, beyond our limits and lack. That these days would just be “light and momentary afflictions” (2 Cor. 4:17-18) and we would find rest in Christ in the midst of them. Seeking a kind of humility that is only found and grown in us through knowing Christ.