The longer I am a Christian, the more I’m realizing that God’s commands — like the command to be humble — aren’t hard to find. They’re hard to obey.
Obedience isn’t difficult because God’s law is bad, but because we are. Though we Christians stand righteous in Christ, we still, in this life, wrestle with sin. A war rages inside us (James 4:1), one that makes us want the glory God deserves.
Instead of affirming with Paul that “from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:36), we reason that most things come from him and that we deserve at least some of the praise. We all need to hear what he says just a few verses later, “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). Paul addresses everyone, because pride lurks within us all.
“Everyone wants to be a humble servant until they’re actually treated like one.”
Pride is thinking more highly of yourself, or the things about yourself, than you should. It’s a posture that stands in resolute opposition to Jesus, who humbled himself “by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Jesus calls all who follow him to carry their crosses, which includes putting to death our exaggerated, false sense of self-importance.
How can we do that practically? As I have prayed for God to mortify my pride, I have learned three valuable habits.
1. Regularly Pray for Others
Humble people are praying people. They’re happy to admit the limits of their own strength, and cast their burdens upon the God who is the source of all strength (1 Peter 5:6–7). The humble not only pray for themselves, but for others also. Paul began many of his letters by reporting his prayers for his recipients. Jesus also models this when he prays for his disciples (Luke 22:32; John 17:20).
Praying for others reminds us we’re not the center of the universe. Christian, if someone were to look at your prayer life for the last few weeks, would it seem you only pray for you? If God answered all your prayers, would anyone’s life but yours be any different? Would anyone be blessed but you?
If you are challenged to start praying more for others, a good starting point would be to pray for your fellow church members. Pray for the overlooked widow, the tired pastor, the anxious college student, the underemployed blue-collar worker, the rich businesswoman. All could use your prayers. Why not forget yourself for a bit and remember them in prayer?
“If God answered all your prayers, would anyone’s life but yours be any different?”
Grab a list of members in your church (maybe your church directory), and pray for a couple names a day. If it includes people you don’t know well, you can still pray biblical truths for them. Here are a few helpful verses to pray for anyone in your church: Proverbs 27:2; Luke 10:20; John 6:28–29; 2 Corinthians 12:9–10.
These are some ideas for where to start in praying for others, but wherever you begin, just begin. Start enjoying the privilege of praying for others.
2. Admit the Embarassing
In prayer, Christians confess their sins (Matthew 6:12). Yet God calls his people to also confess their sins to one another (James 5:16). Christians are a people who freely admit embarrassing things about themselves to others.
I fear too many Christians try to live in a perpetual Halloween — wearing masks of sorts, hiding who they really are. You want to deflate your ego and let the air out of your arrogance? Drop the mask. Stop trying to save face and impress people. Do so by admitting the plain truth about yourself to others.
I’ve found it particularly humbling to confess to someone I look up to and respect. Find someone you’re tempted to flatter or fear, and let them see the real you. Your weaknesses. Your mess. If you do, you’ll end up encouraging others, reminding them that no temptation faces us except what’s common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13). None of us has it all figured out. All of us are works-in-progress in need of grace.
What’s more, this truth encourages us to experience grace! If we say (or act as if) we have no sin, we deceive ourselves (1 John 1:8). If we have no sin, we have no need of forgiveness. But if we know ourselves to be needy, Jesus stands ready to minister to us, and he often does so through the encouragement of others. Give people the joy and opportunity to encourage and challenge you.
3. Promote Other People
We’re not out to only talk about ourselves. Paul publicly commended others (Philippians 2:19–30). When is the last time we did that?
The world is full of people who promote themselves; the church ought to be full of people who promote others. Romans 12 helps us again here. Paul talks about different gifts given to different people. We’re all tempted to pride ourselves in our gifts, but we shouldn’t use them to build ourselves up; we should use them to build others up.
“It’s hard to wallow in self-pity about the size of your own platform if you’re busy building someone else’s.”
What would it look like for you to do that in your life? Perhaps it looks like serving in a way that no one but God sees — setting up chairs before the service or folding bulletins. Perhaps it’s using your money to help a family in need, or using your social media not simply to show off your family, but to highlight the grace given to someone else’s. Maybe it looks like setting up the pulpit so that someone else can preach from it. It’s hard to wallow in self-pity about the size of your own platform if you’re busy building someone else’s.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten as a younger person is to spend the first few years of my ministry helping to promote someone else’s ministry. Promoting other people is a wonderful way to keep yourself focused on building God’s kingdom, not yours. It’s also a provocative witness. Imagine how baffling it would sound in your office if you considered the promotion of your peers more important than your own. Instead of initiating gossip with a colleague, you lean over and say, “Hey, have you seen Sarah’s work? It’s wonderful. How could we get our boss to see it?”
The Freedom of Promoting Others
My pastor has modeled these points for me. Though he could hold down his pulpit, he regularly gives younger preachers opportunities to teach so that he can enjoy their ministry of the word, and so that they can grow as ministers of the word.
His example has been its own sermon. It’s taught me that humility is much easier said than done. Everyone wants to be a humble servant until they’re actually treated like one. His example has taught me that praying for others, confessing to others, and promoting others aren’t just three ways to pursue humility; they’re also three tests of our humility.
Why not take up these three practices for the next month or so, and then see how you feel about yourself, your neighbor, and your God? I pray doing so might help you see what — and who — is most important.