How do I humble myself?
Humility, according to the Bible, is not something we can just up and do. Both the negative and positive examples of Scripture—from Pharaoh to Rehoboam, from Josiah to Ahab, from Hezekiah to Manasseh, and even to Christ himself—teach us that humility first comes from the hand of God. He initiates the humbling of his creatures. And once he has, the question confronts us: Will you receive it? Will you humble yourself in response to his humbling hand, or will you kick against him?
This concise, accessible study of Scripture’s humble-self language uncovers two surprising lessons about the pursuit of humility in the Christian—both what we cannot do and also what steps we can take.
Humbled sample chapterdownload
Why did you write this book?
First, it was a question in my own mind: How do I “humble myself”? The Bible commends humility, and condemns pride, over and over. I genuinely want to be more humble — so how do I “humble myself”? I went looking for all the Bible’s references to self-humbling, whether “humble yourself” or “he humbled himself” or “they humbled themselves.” What I found was humbling to myself and my own pretty American instincts. Thinking other Christians might have the same question as I did — how do I humble myself? — I first started on writing a single article about it. But my colleague Marshall Segal encouraged me to take a step back, see all that the Bible had to say about self-humbling, and make it a series of articles. That series led to this book.
For whom did you write this book?
In one sense, for ordinary, average Christians, who genuinely want to be humble (because God has put that desire in our hearts!) and want to know what, if anything, can I do to pursue humility? But in particular, I had college students and young adults in mind while writing. I was in college when I first learned how shockingly prideful I was, and when I first started to desire to be humble and perhaps even take intentional steps to “humble myself.” My hope is that young adults in particular might be helped by this book in their very formative season of life.
What do you hope readers do after reading your book? How do you hope they are shaped by what they read?
My hope and prayer is that after reading this book, some readers might take fresh delight in being a creature of the living God, in the world he runs, with the very little control we have. Not even self-humbling is ours to initiative and effect! I hope readers will be freshly happy to be dependent, small (though remarkably dignified) creatures of the living God, ready and eager to receive, even welcome, his humbling hand when it comes, and even now seek patterns of life, daily and weekly, that would have our hearts ready for self-humbling, and to welcome God’s uncomfortable work, when it comes.
How do you define humility?
Humility is a virtue in the creature that acknowledges and embraces and gladly lives in light of the God-ness of God. A basic confession of humility is “He is God; I am not.” The more we then learn and know and enjoy about this God gives shape and texture and detail to humility as it grows and matures, and humility will have necessarily manifestations toward fellow creatures as well, but it begins before God: “He is God. I am not — and I embrace that.”
The Bible commands us to humble ourselves, but how do we do that, exactly?
What answers do you give in this book? The big surprise to me in studying the texts about self-humbling is how responsive to God self-humbling is. The context for the command to “humble yourself” is never bright, sunny, careless days. It’s always conflict, discomfort, suffering, pain, chaos. First, God’s humbling hand descends. Then the question comes: Will you humble yourself? Will you embrace his uncomfortable, even painful, work, or try to explain it away or even kick back against it? Still, there are some habits and patterns we can put into place in our lives to prepare us for God’s humbling work when it comes. That’s the second lesson — and a very important one — from the self-humbling texts.
Explain how “our humbling, at God’s lead, involves our minds and hearts and wills and behaviors.”
Christ is Lord is all — not just all nations and all history, but all of us — body and behavior, mind and heart. When God’s humbling hand descends through external circumstances in our lives, he means to work on us from the outside in, and then inside back out. God is not looking for quick external and behavioral modifications to accommodate the challenges posed by his humbling work. He means to humble us to the core — in how we think about him and his world, and how we feel, and our resolves and decisions of our will. In our busy, hurried lives, we can be prone to quick behavioral adjustments to try to work around new external obstacles that we encounter. But God isn’t typically so interested in our timing. He’s far less concerned with our sense of efficiency and productivity. He has his “proper time” for exalting his people, and often means for them to linger in, and not rush their way out of, the painful circumstances his loving hand brings into our lives to shape our thinking and feeling and willing before those changes then work their way back out to our behavior.
You devote chapters to the roles of the Word, prayer, church membership, and fasting in our becoming self-humbling. How did you choose these specific topics and why are they important?
Word, prayer, and fasting simply fell out of the self-humbling texts. They were unavoidable. Church membership, or fellowship in the Christian life, required a little bit of an inference, but I doubt it’s one many readers will resist. The Bible’s corporate context is thicker than ours today. As many of us can testify, some of the most humbling life situations come in the context of the local church, particularly when we’ve covenanted together with each other to be the church to each other, warts and all.
How has the prevailing message of “you are special” affected the way we view ourselves and our humility before God?
There is a specialness in Christ that every Christian can appreciate. And it’s a specialness *together*, not a specialness that’s over and against each other. This is important. There is a declaration of “you are special” that is true and humbling, and another one that cultivates pride, depending on context. In our age of self-focus and self-expression, many of us love to feed our minds the elixir of “I am special. I’m a cut above others. I can bend the rules when I want, even though others shouldn’t. I know better than others.” It’s a deadly potion.
What do we learn from Christ’s humbling himself about how we are to self-humble?
For one, you are never above self-humbling. The greatest man who ever lived humbled himself. And he was not only great but perfect. So self-humbling doesn’t require sin. Even the sinless Son of God, as man, humbled himself. Now, usually we sinners bear some measure of fault and blame and have something to repent of in our self-humbling, but not always. Self-humbling doesn’t require sin. For what it’s worth, human and humble begin with the same three letters. True humanity is humility before God, saying, gladly, “You are God; I am not — and I’m happy about that.”