Brad Waggoner, executive vice president of LifeWay, likes to joke that he has the perfect title for a book: Humility and How I Attained It. While I appreciate the humor, I flinch internally at the irony of the title. Those who strive for humility and proclaim that they have attained it are clearly among those who lack humility.
And my problem is that I know I am often chief among the sinners.
I know cognitively that humility is a virtue of godliness. The psalmist writes: “The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, you will not despise a broken and humbled heart” (Psalm 52:17, HCSB). I can read the words. I can accept that truth. But I fail so often.
Humility toward Others
I like to win. I like to win in sports. I can make almost anything competitive because I want to be first. And in conversation and interaction with others, I like to be right, to have the right answers, to show my “superior” knowledge to others.
There are obvious problems there. First, I am not nearly as bright as I often think. Much to my shame, I have discovered my dogmatic certainty on some matters is pure pride. I can’t count the number of times I knew I had the answer, only to be proven wrong.
Further, my tendency toward pride is certainly not a family trait. My dad was an incredibly humble man. My wife, Nellie Jo, is the epitome of humility. And my sons have taught me many lessons in humility over the years. Yet the Bible teaches, “Do nothing out of rivalry and conceit, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
Sometimes those words really sting.
Humility in Person
I have seen true humility in action countless times. You would think that I could get it right from these living examples.
The first time I met Billy Graham, he took my hand to shake it and said, “It is an honor to meet you.” I was stunned. Here was one of the most famous men in the world, and he humbly spoke of the honor of meeting me. I could hardly refrain from saying, “Hey, I’m Rainer. You’re Graham. You’ve got this honor thing backwards.”
But he really meant it.
On another occasion, I was one of several speakers at a real big event. I knew I had arrived to be in the company of these other men, and to be speaking to a very large crowd. I was picked up at the airport by one of the most humble men I have ever met. He informed me that his role was to look after me the entire event, and to serve me as I had needs.
Well, I decided that I would be friendly to the “servant.” After all, I am such a humble guy. I asked him how long he had been in this role. He indicated that he had been serving other Christians like me for over five years. Through the course of several questions, this man finally admitted that this was a volunteer role, that he had another full-time paying job. I pressed him to tell me his primary vocation. With reluctance, he looked to the ground, and spoke softly, “I’m a cardiac surgeon.”
Ouch. I have so much to learn about humility.
Humility in Christ
Those who think they are humble aren’t.
Those who write blogposts on humility probably aren’t either.
What can I do? Am I a hopeless case? Certainly I am in my own power. But there is hope.
My mandate is to “make (my) own attitude that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5), because “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
I will become truly a man of humility only as much as I submit myself to Him who died in humility on a cross. Humility will never come of my own power, but His. I must yield all of my life and desires to conform to His will.
Then I will know true humility.
And then I won’t have to write any more blogposts on becoming humble.