Did you know who helped end the entire slave trade in England? He was a Christian in politics named William Wilberforce. Sometimes he would wear chains while in the legislative hall to wake up his fellowmen to the plight of the slaves. He followed God and His will to the ends of the earth, to places even where he was ridiculed. How much we need such a faith as he had! I’ve been reading a modern form of his work, Real Christianity, and it is one of the best books I’ve ever read.
He not only helped end slavery, but his writings and example helped inspire a whole nation to turn back to God. He wrote what it means to have authentic faith in Christ. One of the great principles of authentic faith is a true heart of humility before God:
“As we grow in Christian maturity, we will also grow in humility. This is the primary principle on which vital faith rests. To the degree that humility grows, so grows our vitality. To the degree it diminishes, our vitality will also diminish. From beginning to end, authentic faith is based on humility. It takes humility to acknowledge our true state before God and throw ourselves on His mercy. It takes humility to recognize that nothing we can do can change the true state of our heart; only surrender to Christ and opening our heart to the Holy Spirit can enable us to change at all. How we relate to God, to ourselves and to our fellow men and women is all a function of the humility we possess” (Real Christianity, paraphrase of Wilberforce, pp. 176-7).
What is humility? How can we obtain it? Humility, according to the dictionary, is a modest or low view of oneself, being synonymous with humbleness. But I think it is more than just that – it is acknowledging the truth about ourselves. We are naturally an arrogant species – we almost always have a problem with thinking better of ourselves than we actually are. Thus, to really view ourselves as we are in reality, it is imperative that we see ourselves as lower than we otherwise would, because our tendency is to over-inflate our worth. To get to the truth, we must be humble.
One key to finding humility is introspective reflection. We need to examine our hearts to see not just our strengths, but also our faults. And not just the easy faults, like a quick temper, but the sins that stretch deeply into the fabric of our souls, sins that may be looked upon by the culture as good or that are so deeply hidden in our thoughts that others don’t even know they’re there. It is extremely easy to overlook sin – this is probably the easiest thing men on earth do.
I’ve seen it in my life. There are times when I would never suspect I was sinning, but then circumstances revealed otherwise:
There was a time when one of my dreams was to send hundreds of balloons across the world with Gospel tracts attached to them. I’d imagine that I’d figure out the wind patterns so that the balloons would peter out and fall down over Christian-persecuting countries such as Saudi Arabia and North Korea so that the people there could hear the Gospel. Sounds like a pretty neat, unique plan, right?
I thought so. I was happy to have such a unique idea and I dreamed of doing it.
But then one day I heard that Christian South Koreans were already sending balloons with tracts into North Korea. When I heard the news, for a second my heart felt disappointed. Since I’m an introspective person, I pondered: “Why, Rowena, are you disappointed about South Koreans finding an ingenious way of sharing the Gospel?”
I was disappointed because I was sad that someone already had my idea. I liked the uniqueness of the idea so much that when I saw someone else using it, I felt that “my idea” had already been used. What a terrible reaction I had – here when I should be praising God for the spreading of the Gospel, I was instead sad that someone was using “my idea” (which never really was mine).
I’ve thought of this example many times because it shows the super-subtle nature of sin and pride, the antithesis to true humility:
First, what was wrong with my original thought? I wanted to share the Gospel of God. That’s good. I wanted to share it with peoples who could hardly find God on their own. That’s good. I thought of a way to reach these people. That’s good. Everything here is worthy and good – everything as you would want if you were following God and doing His will.
But the greatness of the idea went to my head. My pride stealthily crept in, and I was totally unaware of it until I heard of someone else having the idea before me. Just imagine for a second if I never heard about the South Koreans sending Gospel balloons to North Korea. Would I have known that I was sinning in my pride? No! My pride was mixed in with my good motives of serving God, so that I had no knowledge of it until circumstances brought it to light.
This type of sinning and pride is much subtler than the “obvious” sins of adultery, murder, stealing, etc. It’s easy to see if we are or are not committing such sins. But sins of the heart are much trickier and deceptive. That’s why the path to humility must first be launched on a path of self-reflection, to see the motives and attitudes of our true heart. We need to know the sin in us before we will bow in humility before God.
I’ll give another example, then you should think of your own. When I go with my family to shop at Winco (a great, low-priced place to shop!), my sister and I personally bag our groceries (that’s Winco’s policy – self-bagging). Everybody’s bagging their own groceries. Sometimes I see another girl, about the same age as I am, bagging with her family. If she is kind of geeky-looking or shy, I feel empathy and friendliness towards her. But if she has lots of makeup and looks like a hot-shot beauty, I start to feel less friendly and more competitive. I start thinking about how vain she is.
But as I dwell on her faults, what does that say about me? I was empathetic with the less-pretty, less sophisticated girl (compared to me), but was more competitive with the more-pretty, sophisticated girl (compared to me). Sounds like I’m comparing myself. When I see someone less “attractive” than myself, my pride is not threatened, and I may even feel a sense of superiority over her that I hide as empathy. I would have never known this was my superiority-complex rising up had it not been for my negative reaction to a girl more attractive than myself. Suddenly, my true feelings well up.
I’m sure something like this has happened to you. Right now, just reflect on your own thoughts and reactions towards yourself and others. Don’t think for the moment how this article can really be applied to that prideful, obnoxious so-and-so you know – we need to reflect on our hearts first and foremost.
It’s so easy to apply what you are reading right now to someone you know instead of yourself. It’s fine to apply it to people you know. A couple people right now come to my mind who can learn a thing or two about humility! Can’t you just feel your thoughts naming them right now? I remember instances where someone was arguing how people are hypocrites, and then my mind flashes with all the hypocritical things they’ve done! It seems so clear that they are acting hypocritical – why can’t they see it? Why can’t they see all the faults in themselves that everyone else sees?
One reason they can’t see their own faults is because when they hear about certain sins, like pride, selfishness, unlovingness, etc., their minds immediately come up with other people guilty of these travesties, and not themselves. We – our own minds – always are astute to see others committing sins, but are blind towards our own.
That’s why I’m emphasizing here that, rather than just applying these saying to other people, apply them to yourself. To yourself. Not anyone else in that room with you. Self-reflect on your own actions and thoughts.
Are you focusing your thoughts and actions on God?
Are you thinking about yourself most of the time?
Do you think highly of yourself? If you do, think what reasons you base this high opinion. Is pride stealthily creeping into your attitude towards yourself?
Do you show false humility? For example, if you berate yourself for your faults, and if someone agrees with you, are you mad at them for agreeing with your negative self-assessment? If you negatively view yourself, are you really trying to gain sympathy from others?
When you do “good” actions (such as the balloon-tract idea I had), are you really doing it from pure good motives to praise God, or are your motives mixed with self-pride or self-gain for recognition, etc.?
Doing “good” actions from self-serving motives is probably the most widespread sin on earth – so watch yourself extremely carefully in this area. “Big sins” like murder, lying, and cheating are easy to spot and refrain from, but such sins as seeking for self-adoration from gifts of charity are so hard to see that we often label them as the highest good in society. In all probability, most of the “good things” we do are laced with bad motives.
So if you’re striving for humility, the first step is to accurately assess your own sins. By reflecting on your day-to-day actions and attitudes towards God, others, and yourself, you will see the extent of your own sinfulness, and thus humility will grow in you. You will see why you were under judgment as a sinner before your salvation, and why God is so awesomely amazing to save you from your sins now. When you see yourself as you really are, you will be awed by God even more and learn to say, “Let You increase, and me decrease.”
I’ve often wondered how to be humble. If I start thinking myself as obtaining humbleness, is it really humility or is it self-righteousness? One little test to see how humble you are is if your thoughts revolve around God and others instead of yourself. If you think and meditate so much on God, then you won’t have time to think about yourself and whether or not you’re humble! Rather than wondering how humble you are, you will be living the humble life experientially as you experience God and seek His will alone for your life. Focusing on God is the key to becoming humble. We forget ourselves and melt into His presence and enjoy Him more than anything in the world.
When we long to be His servant and to make ourselves less than Him, we receive the joy of true humility as found in authentic faith.