Category  |  Humility

Like a Little Child

The little girl moved joyfully and gracefully to the music of praise. She was the only one in the aisle but that didn’t keep her from spinning and waving her arms and lifting her feet to the music. Her mother, a smile on her lips, didn’t try to stop her.

My heart lifted as I watched, and I longed to join her—but didn’t. I’d long ago lost the unselfconscious expression of joy and wonder of my childhood. Even though we are meant to grow and mature and put childish ways behind us, we were never meant to lose the joy and wonder, especially in our relationship with God.

When Jesus lived on Earth, He welcomed little children to Him and often referred to them in His teaching (Matthew 11:25; 18:3; 21:16). On one occasion, He rebuked His disciples for attempting to keep parents from bringing their children to Him for a blessing, saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14). Jesus was referring to the childlike characteristics that ready us to receive Christ—joy and wonder, but also simplicity, dependence, trust, and humility.

Childlike wonder and joy (and more) open our hearts to be more receptive to Him. He is waiting for us to run into His arms.

The Problem with Pride

People who achieve an extraordinary level of fame or reputation while they are still alive are often called “a legend in their own time.” A friend who played professional baseball says he met many people in the world of sports who were only “a legend in their own mind.” Pride has a way of distorting how we see ourselves while humility offers a realistic perspective.

The writer of Proverbs said, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Viewing ourselves in the mirror of self-importance reflects a distorted image. Self-elevation positions us for a fall. 

The antidote to the poison of arrogance is true humility that comes from God. “Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud” (v. 19). 

Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).

There is nothing wrong with receiving accolades for achievement and success. The challenge is to stay focused on the One who calls us to follow Him saying, “for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”  (Matthew 11:29). 

The Last Word

One day during a university philosophy class, a student made some inflammatory remarks about the professor’s views. To the surprise of the other students, the teacher thanked him and moved on to another comment. When he was asked later why he didn’t respond to the student, he said, “I’m practicing the discipline of not having to have the last word.”

This teacher loved and honored God, and he wanted to embody a humble spirit as he reflected this love. His words remind me of another Teacher—this one from long ago, who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. Although not addressing how to handle an angry person, he said that when we approach the Lord we should guard our steps and “go near to listen” (Ecclesiastes 5:1) rather than being quick with our mouths and hasty in our hearts (v. 2). By doing so we acknowledge that God is the Lord and we are those whom He has created (v. 2).

How do you approach God? If you sense that your attitude could use some adjustment, why not spend some time considering the majesty and greatness of the Lord? When we ponder His unending wisdom, power, and presence, we can feel awed by His overflowing love for us. With this posture of humility, we too need not to have the last word.

It Isn’t Me

As one of the most celebrated orchestral conductors of the twentieth century, Arturo Toscanini is remembered for his desire to give credit to whom credit is due. In David Ewen’s Dictators of the Baton, the author describes how members of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra rose to their feet and cheered Toscanini at the end of a rehearsal of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. When there was a lull in the ovation, and with tears in his eyes, Arturo’s broken voice could be heard exclaiming as he spoke: “It isn’t me . . . it’s Beethoven! . . . Toscanini is nothing.”

In the apostle Paul’s New Testament letters, he also refused to take credit for his spiritual insight and influence. He knew he was like a spiritual father and mother to many who had put their faith in Christ. He admitted he had worked hard and suffered much to encourage the faith, hope, and love of so many (1 Cor. 15:10). But he could not, in good conscience, accept the applause of those who were inspired by his faith, love, and insight.

So for his readers’ sake, and for us, Paul said, in effect, “It isn’t me, brothers and sisters. It’s Christ . . . Paul is nothing.” We are only messengers of the One who deserves our cheers.   

Being Human Beings

When asked to define his role in a community sometimes uncooperative with law enforcement, a sheriff didn’t flash his badge or respond with the rank of his office. Rather he offered, “We are human beings who work with human beings in crisis.”

His humility—his stated equality with his fellow human beings—reminds me of Peter’s words when writing to first century Christians suffering under Roman persecution. Peter directs: “All of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” Perhaps Peter was saying that the best response to humans in crisis is to be human, to be aware that we are all the same. After all, isn’t that what God Himself did when He sent His Son—He became human in order to help us? (Philippians 2:7).

Gazing only at the dark core of our fallen hearts, it’s tempting to disdain our human status. But what if we consider our humanness to be part of our offering in our world? Jesus teaches us how to live fully human, as servants recognizing we are all the same. “Human” is how God made us, created in His image and redeemed by His unconditional love. 

Today we’re sure to encounter folks in various struggles. Imagine the difference we might make when we respond humbly—as fellow humans who work together with other humans in crisis?

Serve and Be Served

Marilyn had been ill for many weeks, and many people had encouraged her through this difficult time. How will I ever repay all their kindnesses? she worried. Then one day she read the words of a written prayer: “Pray that [others] will develop humility, allowing them not only to serve, but also to be served.” Marilyn suddenly realized there was no need to balance any scale, but just to be thankful and allow others to experience the joy of serving.  

In Philippians 4, the apostle Paul expressed his gratitude for all those who shared “in [his] troubles” (v. 14). He depended on people to support him as he preached and taught the gospel. He understood that the gifts provided for him when he was in need were simply an extension of people’s love for God: “[Your gifts] are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (v. 18).

It may not be easy to be the one on the receiving end—especially if you’ve usually been the first one to help other people. But with humility, we can allow God to gently care for us by a variety of means when we need help.

Paul wrote, “My God will meet all your needs” (v. 19). It was something He had learned during a life of trials. God is faithful and His provision for us has no limits.

Living Anonymously

My well-worn and often-read copy of Jane Yolen’s essay “Working Up to Anon” (Anonymous) was clipped from The Writer magazine many years ago. “The best writers,” she says, “are the ones who really, in their heart of hearts, aspire to the byline Anon. The story told is important, not the storyteller.”

The story we tell is about Jesus, the Savior, who gave…

The Interests of Others

My friend Jaime works for a huge international corporation. In his early days with the company, a man came by his desk, struck up a conversation, and asked Jaime what he did there. After telling the man about his work, Jaime asked the man his name. “My name is Rich,” he replied.

“Nice to meet you,” Jaime answered. “And what do you do around here?”

“Oh, I am the owner.”

Jaime suddenly realized that this casual, humble conversation was his introduction to one of the richest men in the world.

In this day of self-glorification and the celebration of “me,” this little story can serve as a reminder of Paul’s important words in the book of Philippians: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” (2:3). People who turn their attention to others and not on themselves have the characteristics Paul mentions.

When we “value others above [ourselves],” we demonstrate Christlike humility (v. 3). We mirror Jesus, who came not “to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). When we take “the very nature of a servant” (Phil. 2:7), we have the mindset of Jesus (v. 5).

As we interact with others today, let’s not look on our own interests alone but also “to the interests of the others” (v. 4). 

The Professor’s Confession

Horrified by his students’ poor writing habits, renowned author and college professor David Foster Wallace considered how he might improve their skills. That’s when a startling question confronted him. The professor had to ask himself why a student would listen to someone “as smug, narrow, self-righteous, [and] condescending” as he was. He knew he had a problem with pride.

That professor could and did change, but he could never become one of his students. Yet when Jesus came to Earth, He showed us what humility looks like by becoming one of us. Stepping across all kinds of boundaries, Jesus made Himself at home everywhere by serving, teaching, and doing the will of His Father.

Even as He was being crucified, Jesus prayed for forgiveness for His executioners (Luke 23:34). Straining for every anguished breath, He still granted eternal life to a criminal dying with Him (vv. 42–43).

Why would Jesus do that? Why would He serve people like us to the very end? The apostle John gets to the point. Out of love! He writes, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” Then he drives that point home. “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16).

Jesus showed us that His love eradicates our pride, our smugness, our condescension. And He did it in the most powerful way possible. He gave His life.