Humility as a Spiritual Discipline

Humility as a Spiritual Discipline

In a world of corporate, political, economic and social hierarchies, humility is a hard sell. After all, who wants to be on the bottom of the heap, last in line or out of the loop? People scramble to have others realize how gifted, qualified, valuable and productive they are. Folks compete so they won’t be overlooked and underutilized.

It’s a normal human longing to want to be appreciated, valued and recognized for our potential. And humility does not mean thinking demeaning and low thoughts about ourselves. It’s not denying the truth of our achievements or thinking less of ourselves. Humility stems from an honest understanding of who we are. However, longings to be appreciated and values can motivate us to establish our identity in secondary things—things we are proud of but can lose. Personas and the false self are cobbled together by identifying with the grandiosity of secondary things. It is easy to tell when the false self is in place, because it is always afraid of looking little and inadequate. It takes offense at slights and is horribly sensitive to being overlooked. The false self is turned in on itself.

Humility stems from having someone besides yourself as the center of your attention. Apprentices to Jesus are chosen, loved, appreciated and important to the Creator of the universe. The Holy Spirit inhabits them. They are free to be who they are—no more and no less. A true Christ-in-me self is deeply at home in God and in its own skin. Such a self humbly receives its identity as a gift and feels no need to justify its existence. The mirror of public response doesn’t matter. He or she isn’t out to prove something or sell him- or herself. Awards, accolades and notoriety are not the center of identity. Regardless of how little or how much people “know” who he or she is, the humble person is truly free. And because the humble are free, they don’t think less of themselves, they think of themselves less.

Jesus is the consummate example of humility and greatness. Jesus knew he was God’s own Son. No one born of flesh will ever be greater than he. But Jesus laid down his divine power and greatness and appeared on earth as we all do. He was born the helpless son of the virgin Mary. The mind boggles at the depth of Christ’s descent. Jonathan Edwards put it well when he suggested that even as Christ is infinitely greater than us, he is also infinitely more humble.

Reflection questions

  1. Who in your life tells you the truth without praise or blame? What is this like for you?
  2. Does humility appeal to you or not? Explain.
  3. What do you admire about humble people?
  4. How do you recognize true humility?
  5. Do you tend to believe you have earned everything you have? Do you act like your achievements are simply a tribute to raw talent?
Let what you discover about yourself lead you into confession.

Spiritual exercises

  1. Write a résumé of your character, not your expertise. What does this reveal about who you are becoming? Are you on the path to humility? Begin to pray for the character you long to have.
  2. If you are quick to draw attention to your good works, begin to do some things anonymously. What is it like for you? What does it mean to you to have God only know?
  3. What things are sources of pride to you? What about these things make you proud? How do humility and pride fit together as you think about these things? How do you think God is calling you to think about the things that bring you pride?
  4. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” What are the characteristics of a gentle and humble heart? How are you cultivating a gentle and humble heart?
  5. Assess your own image-management quotient: spend a week intentionally listening to how you speak about yourself to others. Journal when you spin the truth to put yourself in a better light. Can you hear yourself saying, “I never watch TV, but yesterday I saw…”? Why is it important for you to be known as someone who doesn’t watch TV? When introduced to others, note what you say about yourself and what you want to come out about you. Journal how you respond to another’s praise or blame. What would it mean to speak more simply and truthfully about yourself? Ask God to root you in his love and set you free to simply be who you are. 

From Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. Copyright (c) 2005, 2015 by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

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