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

June 27, 2012 — 14 Comments

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'm lead pastor at Fall Creek Wesleyan Church and the author of 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.
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  • Kevin Scott

    This is a great list, Larry. How about also: “Remind yourself how much you don’t know.” For me, it’s shockingly easy to do.

    • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

      I have no problem with that one either, Kevin.

  • Episkopos

    Thank you! I’m reminded of
    Matthew 18:4 – ‘whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child,
    the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven’. Sometimes we feel that we are
    last by lowering ourselves but Christ humility brought about our salvation, as
    just as Christ was given a name higher than any other name then so shall we receive
    a high rank in heaven.

  • Pingback: How I Learned to Quit Worrying about Every Little Thing and Enjoy Life | Lawrence W. Wilson | Suburban Pastor

  • davspa

    One thing to do if you are chronically late to meetings, is to make yourself be on time. When you are repeatedly late to meetings, it says to the others that they are not that important. But when you are on time, you show them respect. I am starting to learn this… Pay attention to your thoughts/motivations when thinking about getting there on time. Some of being late is just one’s personality, or bad habits, or perhaps a disorder. But some of it is pride, that I don’t want to change MY schedule to accommodate this meeting.

  • Katy

    Something I often struggle with is knowing how to accept compliments from others in humility. Something like “Wow, you’ve done such a good job,” is easier to turn the glory back to God, but other compliments, such as “you are such an amazing girlfriend” are harder to humbly accept. I will often shake my head in disagreement, but I don’t believe that is being humble. Instead, I’m telling my boyfriend what he thinks about me is wrong, he does not have an amazing girlfriend. So is the humble response not verbal, but instead being truly thankful in my heart? So out of my thankfulness might come a compliment to him in return. Still wrestling with this.

  • Timothy

    Before I commented, these thoughts came “say something that people will appreciate. Something eye catchy” this is a human part of me & everyone else (the desire to be appreciated) its a though thing to combat on the path to humility. Some people read the bible on God’s remark about humility & desire to be humble not for love of others but for the final reward God promises for being humble. I saw a quote one day that says “don’t do so much for others & lose your value in the process” the Lord says “love your neighbour as your self” so its true you love, appreciate you before you can give out the same. many of us practise false humility, a book of Rick Joner talks about the two extremes which ‘a religious spirit’ deceives us.into… 1; the I know it which puffs up. 2; the be so humble which drives us to a state of an inferiority complex. The best as my brother & I went through these things is to pray the holy spirit for a balance where you appreciate yourself & in love serve others. To me humility is submisiveness (to serve) with love as the driving motivation. I applaud this write up esp in the area of “people want to be humble but aren’t ready to be humbled”, I’m a victim of this too. Another beauty is being honestly observant about your flaws rather than someone elses first (identify pride quickly in your life because it grows quickly)

  • Benedict

    This is a good article. I am 23, but all throughout my teenage years I have been struggling with ego problems, believing that pride is the one that fuels me to get better, to achieve my goals. I have always wanted to be humble, and always strive to do so, but I fear of letting my prideful self go, losing my self, my self-worth. Now I know that to seek what is truly good, I need to let myself go and serve others. I have been used to getting compliments in my life; now it’s time to share and give compliments to others. Thank you for that great article, I aim for it to be inspiring and life-changing.

  • Frederick Acquah

    interestingly, i am humbled by these seven steps because I actually do the opposite of all seven. God bless you.

  • Sherrie-Ann Bedard

    What I hate is that when I try to be nice to someone by saying please go first, in a line or whatever, they are always like, No you go first…then I’m like ‘No you go it’s ok.” and then they are like “No you go first.” it’s like gee if someone offers you to go first just don;t say anything and go first! LOL

  • Sherrie-Ann Bedard

    The thing about this world is that God didn’t create men to think of “Number one” God created us so that we can live in harmony with others….to love each other the way Jesus loved, to be like Jesus, he is our example….do you think Jesus only thought of himself? no he thought about the community and the people in it, and the world and the people he would save from sin. Not about “Number one”.

  • Matt

    This list has opened my eyes. I must say it seems almost impossible for me to be humble. I have been very selfish too long. Thank you for this list.

  • evod777

    Great article. I met C S Lewis while searching for some answers – “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” Somewhat agree except you think of yourself in the right light since you are also a beautiful creation. I can’t place a finger on it but it has something to do with self, ego, self-consciousness, cognisance, id….If I can somehow objectify my-self (see myself from outside myself, from my real spirit-man viewpoint), and in a sense, I am chaperoning my-self (mind, will, emotions, senses), then I find it easier to put my-self up or down without affecting the real me (spirit). Mother Teresa says, “If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.” We don’t take things personally because ‘they’ are dealing with something other than us. (cf – A W Tozer’s little gods)

    I find helpful to think of ourselves as stewards, officers of The Lord, with a budget of talents, gifts, wealth, intellect, given to us in trust for serving the people of this world (His business). We didn’t make them, we didn’t choose them, AND it is wrong (IMO) to say we don’t deserve them, as that would indicate a flawed view of ‘ownership instead of stewardship’. We will give an account of how we used these (the word on the vine is that the best return is from investing in others compared to investing in ourselves). From this perspective, we cannot take credit for anything because they were all given to us to accomplish a bigger purpose than us (1 Cor 4:7 “For makes you different from another? Or what have you that you did not receive? Now if you received it, then why do you boast as if you did not receive it?) To whom much is given, much will be required. Boasting about talents and gifts is an indication of a lack of knowledge of purpose. It most probably ain’t just for me.

    • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

      Good thoughts. Thanks for this.