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Humility and How I Attained It

Humility and How I Attained It

JULY 4, 2023

/ Articles / Humility and How I Attained It

“When you’re as great as I am, it’s hard to be humble!”

I don’t know where I saw it, but that line intersected my life when I was young, and I never forgot it.  Two words stuck out, “great” and “humble.” As the product of a home where I was loved by the mom but barely developed by the dad, I felt acutely the desire to be somebody, yes, even to be great. But humble? If you’re under loved, micro encouraged, and rarely talked to about strengths in your life, you’re really on your own to survive the negativity that unconsciously held you up close and personal. And isn’t it logical that the typical desire of people who basically raise themselves is to somehow, someway, become somebody, not a nobody? In other words, to become great, not humble.

We’re born self-lovers, self-survivors, and self-promoters even if we are emotional and spiritual internal messes. Well, I was for sure. So, I had a long-distance relationship with humility growing up. How about you?

Honestly, even when I became a Christ follower in college the character trait of humility never bubbled up big on my radar screen as a trait that I needed to focus on and develop. Not much teaching went on about it, or I didn’t hear it. I mean my Lord Jesus was humble, but He is God and yes of course it took humility for Him to say yes to taking on human flesh, and being born of a woman, being a baby, living as a human, and then dying on the cross. (I’ve memorized Philippians 2 so I got this theology down!) But Jesus is God. I know I already said that, but well, He’s perfect and you expect God to be perfect in every way, especially when it comes to humility.  I guess I operated under the unconscious assumption early in my walk with Christ that look, I wasn’t a super ego driven and proud dude and anyway, humility wasn’t something you developed. You either were or you weren’t. Or it was sort of a spiritual byproduct that came with following Jesus after a really long time.

It’s not that I wasn’t cocky at times (I was), and not that I didn’t have a pretty high opinion of myself at times (I did), but I could hide those sins pretty well over the short run, and also sneak in a humblebrag occasionally. But facts are facts. I wasn’t ever a super high achiever in academics or sports or in the looks department or even in the years as a pastor of a local church.  I mean I did well enough in all of those areas to feel successful, but never enough that I garnered so much attention that my ego got inflated big time. In fact, there was plenty that happened to me as a pastor that was humbling and pride-attacking.

So, I never thought of myself as proud and in need of humility.

Oh, and did I mention that I’ve been reading Proverbs nearly every morning all my adult life…seriously…and the warnings against pride are everywhere in that book and I took them seriously. For instance:

            “A man’s pride will bring him low,

            But a humble spirit will obtain honor.”  

                                                Proverbs 29:23

To be proud would invite God to take me down. What do I look like? An idiot? And there is always someone more proud and less humble than me. Winston Churchill’s line always made me smile; you might have heard of the time when he was asked to evaluate a public figure that he obviously didn’t like and he responded, “He’s a humble man with much to be humble about.” A brilliant line.

In spite of all the spiritual and personality inoculations I’ve had against humility, the need for humility and the desire for humility, and yes, yes, the growth of humility has been encroaching in my life. One thinker called it “the gateway virtue” as if it’s what’s necessary for the other godly virtues to grow, for humility to gain a foothold in our lives. 

What got the humility ball rolling in me? Grace. Over time if you hear the Gospel of grace taught enough, read it yourself in the Bible enough, and begin to accept God’s value of you as you start each day, you will really come to believe that you are the deeply beloved daughter or son of the Most High God, all because of Jesus. The more you come to accept God’s true opinion of you and relax in His Shalom you start noticing people who are humble and you want to be like them.  You also start seeing your ego more clearly and amazingly begin to call yourself out when you’re proud. But your status as graced doesn’t let you become suicidal when you see your ego. You can confess it, and yes, repent of it more often and more easily.

Grace changes everything.  But of course, you knew that.

Here are some thinkers that help me big time let grace drip down to the character level:

Humility – Andrew Murray

Learning Humility – Richard Foster

Humility: The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness – Gavin Ortlund

I invite you to many slow moments drinking in God’s grace as you reread of it in the New Testament and perhaps these books. I’ve learned that since we’re called to be humble and the Gospel frees us to become humble, that we can pursue humility. 

It all starts with grace. Doesn’t everything?

Oh, and by the way, grace energized humility produces some outrageous saints who do some God-sized work.

Pete Alwinson

Pete Alwinson

Pete Alwinson is Executive Director of FORGE: City-Wide Ministry to Men with Man in the Mirror.

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