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

June 27, 2012

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-sign-sky-clouds

I learned the difference one Sunday when I delivered what I thought was a powerful sermon on self-sacrifice.

For the climax, I used the well-known quote by Christian martyr Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

I sensed that people were impacted by the message. Sure enough, a young woman approached me after the service, brimming with enthusiasm. “That was amazing,” she gushed.

I tried to conceal a smile and deflect her praise,  “Well, I …”

Before I could finish my demurral, she said, “Will you repeat that quote? I’ve got to get that written down.”

Ouch.

Andrew Murray wrote about this phenomenon his classic book Humility: The Beauty of Holiness.

Every Christian virtually passes through these two stages in his pursuit of humility. In the first he fears and flees and seeks deliverance from all that can humble him … He prays for humility, at times very earnestly; but in his secret heart he prays more, if not in word, then in wish, to be kept from the very things that will make him humble. 

Humility is at the heart of Christlikeness. 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. Ugh. 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 Wal-Mart, 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.”

Lawrence W. Wilson

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I write about life and faith and what it means to be fully human and a fully devoted follower of Jesus. I've written a few books including A Different Kind of Crazy and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering. When I have ideas that might help you transform your life and community, I post them here.