8 ways to become more humble

By Jane Tooher

…at every stage of our Christian development, and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is our greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend. (Stott, 119)

1. Thank God often and always

Thankfulness stops pride growing. We can thank people for things that they do and who they are, and that’s important and encouraging for them. But we re to thank God for that person, for the way he has worked in them. Thankfulness is a sign of a believer. Ingratitude…[is] one of the distinguishing marks of an unbeliever (Pao, 21). If you re struggling with feeling thankful to God at this time, try and think of just one thing each day to be thankful for. It might be that you have enough food, or the weather, or something that happened at bible study. Thank God for one thing after someone has visited you, or you have visited them. Thank God for one thing in your friend or your child, or in your spouse, your church or your local community. In the constant act of thanksgiving, the relationship with God is nurtured. Through thanksgiving, the gracious acts are remembered and the life of a person is thereby changed. (Pao, 37). God-centered thankfulness helps us grow in humility as it stops pride growing.

2. Confess your sins regularly

Confession is a reality check as it reminds us who we are. Christian confession need not be overwhelming as the cross was sufficient for all our sins and we have been completely forgiven. It is at the cross that we understand most clearly that we are sinners, but it is also at the cross that we understand most clearly that we are deeply loved. When we confess we gain a deeper appreciation of grace and what we have been saved from. God’s forgiveness gives us peace and security, and therefore the freedom to grow in humility.

3. Be ready to accept humiliations

They can hurt terribly, but they can help you to be humble (Ramsay, 80). They can help us become more like Jesus who was terribly humiliated. I m not talking here of accepting domestic abuse. Not at all. I mean we might fail at something. Or we might get demoted at work. Be ready to accept humiliations as we can learn a lot when we re at the bottom of the pecking order, which for many of us is out of our comfort zone.

4. Don t worry about status

Don t try and connect with people to elevate yourself. Is that person going to make me look good? Having that job will that make me look good? Having that house? That spouse? Don t try and elevate yourself, rather try to elevate others. Serve others. When people are speaking at our funeral, what do we want people to say about us? About our values? Will they testify that humility characterized our life? Will they say, She had it. She got what mattered most (Mahaney, 24). People who are humble inspire trust and confidence from those around them and therefore humility is key for leadership, (Mahaney, 17-19). Pride is anti-social behavior, whereas when we re humble, it’s best for others and best for us, as it’s who we were created and redeemed to be.

5. Have a sense of humour

I think this one is really key and not often talked about. Laugh at yourself and others. You have to be serious about some things, but don t take yourself too seriously. When we re able to laugh at ourselves, we more quickly swallow our pride. It diffuses situations. It means we re not trying to keep up a facade that we re this person that has it altogether. It means we can more quickly admit we re wrong. It means we re more real. It means we re more in tune with grace. It means we re more in tune that other people will have similar struggles to us in the Christian walk. Being able to laugh at ourselves is really important. It can help prevent burnout. It helps us keep going in life and ministry.

6. Listen to others

Listening to others shows we re willing to learn from them. That we want to learn from them. Whether they re adults or children, whatever the persons background, Christian or not. The people that made the biggest impact on me when I was a child, outside of my immediate family, were an uncle and aunt. Each school holidays we use to go visit them on their farm. There were 6 kids in my family and 10 in theirs and so there was potential for much chaos! I was a very shy child but I always loved going to their home as I felt loved and welcomed, and the reason they made me feel like that was they made a point of asking me questions and they listened to me, and that made a lasting impression on me. When we feel listened to, we feel loved. And when we listen to others, it’s a sign of us loving them and an acknowledgement that we can learn from them. And it’s also recognition that God in his sovereignty and goodness has put this person in my life.

It’s fascinating observing different talk show hosts. Some ask a question and just let the person talk. Others cut them off quickly, and kind of turn the question to being all about them. Despite having people on their show to interview, some don t really listen. They seem to think they already have the answers. They don t really seem to want to learn from the people they are interviewing. The best people at interviewing are those that listen. They let the person keep talking. When I was chatting to my sister about this she said, Yes, and the ones who listen are actually the ones you want to talk to. They are the more interesting people! Which is largely due to the fact that they are not so self-absorbed. When we listen to people it’s a sign of love, of wisdom, and shows that we re teachable, and it’s a way we can become more humble.

7. Ask questions

This is closely related to the point above about listening to others. When we ask questions in a right attitude and manner it shows we recognize we don t have all the answers. That maybe our preconceived ideas about something were in fact wrong. It can also show that we recognize the person’s authority over us (if that is the case) and we are submitting to them. It can show we assume trust in them. There are many varied and different situations in life when it would be good for us to ask questions aren t there?

If you re not in the habit of asking questions, it might be embarrassing at first, but it becomes easier. E.g. When you re chatting with someone and they use a word you don t know the meaning of, ask them the definition. If you don t understand other things they re saying, ask them to clarify. It’s often our pride that stops us asking questions of clarification. Ask questions of someone also because you assume they re interesting to get to know. That they have something worthwhile to say – whatever their age or background. That they have something we can learn from – whether they are Christian or not. Ask questions of someone because they are created by God and it’s a sign of us recognizing their worth in God’s eyes and therefore our love for them. There are many situations where we can ask questions of others that help us grow in humility, but one of the greatest ways is to ask God questions in prayer and when we read his word the Bible.

8. Consider others before yourself

C.S. Lewis helpfully said, Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. Humility is not thinking that others are more godly or more kind than you, or more intelligent, nicer, better at cooking, or better at cricket than you. They may be. They may not be. Humility is when you consider other people’s interests before your own. Thinking what is best for the other person and acting on that. We re being humble when we think of others before ourselves. You may have a greater status than someone. You may have authority over someone. You don t pretend you don t have authority over them. But you think what will benefit the people under you. What do they need? What is best for them? It doesn t mean you don t look after yourself. When we don t look after ourselves we soon can t help anyone else. Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.

John Stott was by many accounts a humble man and so it’s no surprise this was said of him after he passed away…

When I was nineteen I attended a day conference in Newcastle at which John Stott was the speaker. When we arrived, the friend with whom I d come went off to the toilet and I was left alone, feeling out of place. An older man came over and began talking to me, asking me about myself. After a few moments my friend returned and the man introduced himself, Hello, I m John Stott. My jaw nearly hit the floor. I d been speaking to the great John Stott without realizing it. That moment made a big impression on me. John – who was the only speaker that day – had seen an awkward looking teenager on his own and taken it upon himself to make him feel welcome. I met him a few times subsequently and he always remembered my name. The private John Stott was just as impressive as the public persona: gracious, humble, without affectation. I m sure it was this humility that meant God could entrust him with the influence and success he received. It is hard to underestimate the impact he has had across the world. Thank you, gracious Father. (Tim Chester, posted 28 July, 2011, http://timchester.wordpress.com/)

Resources used:

(i) Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney

(ii) Thanksgiving by D.W. Pao

(iii) The Christian Priest Today by M. Ramsay, 76-81 (the first 5 titles above are his)

(iv) Pride, humility, and God by J. Stott in Alive to God: Studies in Spirituality (ed’s. J.I. Packer ; L. Wilkinson)

(v) Humility , sermon on Phil 2:1-11 by J. Stott on 3/8/2003 (www.allsouls.org)

(vi) Wisdom over the years from Christian brothers ; sisters

Jane Tooher is Director of The Priscilla and Aquila Centre, a centre for the encouragement of the ministries of women in partnership with men.

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