We are all the main characters in our own story. As humans, we quite literally see the world from our perspective and with ourselves at the center of the narrative. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so hard to be humble. When your perspective is “me” centered, humbleness often gets pushed aside in favor of selfishness or pride. It’s easier to serve our own needs and let others fend for themselves. So, why even bother pursuing being humble? And to take it a step further, how can you express humility in your life and your prayers?
The meaning of being humble
Let’s start by defining what it means to be humble. A common definition of humble is not “thinking of yourself as better than other people” or” showing that you do not think of yourself as better than other people.” It is the antithesis of pride. It is a posture of lowering yourself and raising up others.
But being humble is about more than just service. It is a way of living. Being humble is a condition of your heart, and it extends from how we think to how we speak and act.
Conversely, being humble is not making a show of service to get noticed. And it’s not putting others first in one situation and exalting yourself in another. You are probably asking, “How can anyone be held to such a standard?” And you are right for having that thought. Living a perfectly humble life is impossible for us. And if we were capable of living such a life, then we wouldn’t need saving. If we could walk in humility every day of our lives, we wouldn’t need Christ. But even so, God calls us to follow in the footsteps of Christ and the humbleness that he displayed.
Christ’s perfect example of humility
We read in Matthew 20:26-28 that we are to follow Christ’s example if we want to truly be great. We must make ourselves a servant to others, just as Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and to give up his life for us.
Philippians 2:5-7 (NIV) illustrates Christ’s example of humility that we are pursuing.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be used to his advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The Apostle Paul is writing in Philippians to a church that is dealing with the issue of pride, and he calls on the people of this church to “reflect on and adopt the attitude and actions of Jesus their Lord and follow his example of humility.” In these verses, we see the summarization of Christ’s humility. Despite being equal with God, he chose to lower himself and become a man because of his love for us. That humility led him to follow God’s plan to a painful and publicly shameful death on the cross for our sins. In paying the debt for our sin, Jesus reveals himself to be a king worthy of heaven who is willing to pour himself out fully for a world full of people that he so desperately loves. This example is our pursuit when we try and change the posture of our hearts from one of pride to humility.
Three ways to practice humility
While we cannot achieve the perfect life of Christ, we can seek to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8). As we focus here on humility, consider these three ways that we can practice humility in our own lives.
1. Be a servant
To serve others is to put someone else’s needs above your own. Jesus exemplifies this when he washes his disciples’ feet in John 13. In the scripture, he gets up from the meal they were having together, takes off his outer clothing, and wraps a towel around his waist. He then pours water into a basin and begins to wash his disciples’ feet. And he then dries them with the towel that was wrapped around him (John 13:4-5).
When he finishes washing their feet, Jesus asks his disciples if they understand what he has done for them. The one they call “Teacher” and “Lord” has washed their feet. Jesus tells them to follow his example and “wash one another’s feet.”
“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:15-16 NIV).
In the same way, we should look to serve the needs of those around us. Could you provide a meal for a family that needs it? Or perhaps there’s a local organization that you’ve been considering volunteering your time with. Are there needs that you’ve been noticing that fit with the talents that God has given you? Perhaps now is the time to answer that call.
2. Let go of pride
We want to exalt ourselves. We yearn to be seen, noticed, and lifted up. But when we do that, are we bringing glory to ourselves or God? If we’re putting ourselves on a pedestal, then we’re not seeing who we are in light of our creator. The C.S. Lewis Institute notes that if pride is an exalted sense of who we are to God and others, humility is having a realistic sense of who we are before God and others.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV), “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” The Message translation lays plain the language that Paul uses:
“For who do you know that really knows you, knows your heart? And even if they did, is there anything they would discover in you that you could take credit for? Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing? You already have all you need.”
Paul again implores in Romans 12:3 (NIV) that we not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but rather think about ourselves with sober, or clear-minded, judgment. And Jesus makes it clear that “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:11 NIV). When we display this type of humility to the people around us, we are revealing the humility of Christ and showing the transformative power of his love.
3. Pray through the lens of humility
Humility is an outward expression of our heart, and another way this trait is shown is through our prayer life. When we have that “realistic view of who we are before God,” it will change how we pray. The Lord’s Prayer is a good example that can inform our prayer life as it relates to humility. In this instruction, Jesus tells us to ask for God’s will — not our own. We are also instructed to only ask for what we need — not for what we want.
How often do we view prayer as a heavenly slot machine? We put our requests in and expect to get what we want out. Instead, a humble heart will help us to put our lives in God’s hands and allow him to have control. We are still called in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, to present our requests to God (Philippians 4:6 NIV), but that doesn’t mean viewing our agenda as being higher than God’s will.
God wants to hear the requests of our hearts, but we also are called to humbly submit to his will.
Pride is a default setting for our lives. But Jesus shows us a different way to live. He became nothing, dying on the cross, so that we could have an abundant life with him in eternity. If you want to explore humility more with your family, take a look at this helpful guide from Watermark Community Church on Jesus’ example of humility. The resource will help you dive deeper into the topic with thoughtful discussion questions.