As Christians we may think we’re being humble by disregarding our emotions and needs to focus on other people. It’s not true and it doesn’t work!
Humility is not thinking less of yourself — it’s thinking of yourself less.
But what does that saying really mean? In actuality, “thinking of yourself less” may prove to be the same thing as “thinking less of yourself” (or thinking badly of yourself).
Nobody is helped when you think poorly of yourself! If you judge yourself as “too needy,” “too emotional,” or “too bad to be loved” then you’ll just push your feelings down into your unconscious mind, burying them somewhere in your body. This drains your energy and confidence and makes it really hard for you to be compassionate and kind to other people and to worship God.
A person drowning in self-condemnation and shame cannot help someone else who is hurting, nor can they very well give praise to God. First they need a life saver or raft to hold onto so they can breathe!
So what is the truth in the saying that “Humility is not thinking less of yourself — it’s thinking of yourself less”?
The reason it’s true to say that humility is not thinking less (or low) of yourself is because when you do that you’re probably thinking of yourself a lot! And that’s what pride is: thinking about and relying upon primarily yourself, rather than upon God. Pride comes from an inflated ego or a deflated ego.
The important truth is that you’ll think of yourself less when you’re thinking of God more and God thinks of you with continual lovingkindness! Think about it this way: the God who loves you wants you to receive his love and be blessed by it. The people who love you feel the same way — as do you about those you love. It’s frustrating to love someone who keeps spurning you because of fear, insecurity, or feeling ineligible.
Each person matters. So Jesus teaches us: “Ask and it will be given to you… Your Father in heaven give[s] good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matt. 7:7, 11)
True humility is not self-deprecation — it’s faith in the generosity of God.
Living By Grace
The Apostle Paul didn’t walk with Jesus during his days on earth like the other Apostles. His testimony was, “I am the least… But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without [wonderful] effect.” (1 Cor. 15:9-10) Or look at how this is worded in the Message: “It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle… But because God was so gracious, so very generous here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste.”
That’s humility. Paul is giving honor to Peter, James, and John and the other Apostles above himself. He’s generous in blessing them because he’s experiencing the blessed flow of the blood of Christ and the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit in his own life. He knows he doesn’t deserve for God to forgive his sins and favor him so lavishly and yet he receives it with joyful thanks because God says he’s worth the price that Christ paid on the cross!
And the grace of Christ is a torrent in Paul’s life that has a huge, positive effect on him! It washes away insecurity, sin, low self-esteem, and shame. It activates and energizes him to work hard helping people and honoring God in tandem with the risen Christ.
Andrew Murray: Humility is Not Shame!
Andrew Murray in his classic book from 1896, Humility: The Beauty of Holiness, writes that humility “is the displacement of self by the enthronement of God. Where God is all, self is nothing.” (p. 45)
But be careful how you interpret this! He’s using the term “self” in a different way than psychologists like me use it. He doesn’t mean that you should negate your true self, your God-created and God-redeemed self, what Paul calls your “new self” that is “in Christ.” He’s saying let your loyalty to the Sovereign Lord displace your false self, your ego or prideful self that stand’s apart from God, what Paul calls your “old self” (Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:9-10).
Even before the advent of modern psychology Andrew Murray had the wisdom to differentiate between self-condemnation that harms us and the genuine humility that draws us to take shelter under the Lord’s wings of mercy:
I fear that there are not a few who, by strong expressions of self-condemnation and self-denunciation, have sought to humble themselves, and have to confess with sorrow that a humble spirit, a “heart of humility,” with its accompaniments of kindness and compassion, of meekness and forbearance, is still as far away as ever. [See Col. 3:12]
Being occupied with self, even amid the deepest self abhorrence, can never free us from self. It is the revelation of God, not only by the law condemning sin, but by His grace delivering from it, that will make us humble. The law may break the heart with fear; it is only grace that works sweet humility which becomes a joy to the soul as its second nature.
It was the revelation of God in His holiness, drawing nigh to make Himself known in His grace, that made Abraham and Jacob, Job and Isaiah, bow so low…
Not to be occupied with your sin, but to be occupied with God, brings deliverance from self [and it’s pride or insecurity] (pp. 49-50)
“Come and let us flee to Jesus,” Murray urges, “and hide ourselves in Him until we be clothed with His humility. That alone is our holiness.” (p. 44)
Christ humbled Himself, therefore God exalted Him… Let us heartily consent, let us trustfully and joyfully accept all that humbles; the power of Christ will rest upon us. We shall find that the deepest humility is the secret of the truest happiness, of a joy that nothing can destroy. (p. 65)
For more help from Andrew Murray on fleeing to Jesus read “Jesus’ Humility: The Beauty of Holiness.”