John Bunyan, in the second part of his book The Pilgrim’s Progress, describes the time when Christiana and her companions must descend into the Valley of Humiliation. Bunyan describes that place as “a steep hill, and the way was slippery.” In other words, it’s never easy to humble oneself, and when our path demands humility of us, we can easily slip up.
Humility can be defined as the absence of pride, just as darkness is the absence of light. We cannot become more humble by focusing on humility, as it becomes a source of pride when we believe we have achieved it. C.S. Lewis describes humility not as thinking less of ourselves, but as thinking of ourselves less. With that definition in mind, the Bible has much to say about seeing ourselves in proper perspective. Holding the biblical perspective humbles us.
Humility increases when we are willing to be humbled by God, circumstances, and others. Our sinful natures do not want to be humbled. We tend to protect our pride as though it were our best friend, but pride gets in the way of our relationship with God. He resists the prideful but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). He will work with us when we desire humility, but the development of humility will be painful. Despite the discomfort, we find an added measure of grace to sustain us as we suffer through the refining process.
The first step in humbling ourselves is to challenge our motives for the things we do. Whenever we see that our actions are geared to elicit favorable opinions from others, we should bring it to the Lord. We can pray something like this: “Lord, You see what I’m about to do here. Is this for Your glory or for mine? Examine my heart. Am I desiring to give You praise or keep some for myself?” It’s not always wrong to want to make a good impression, but when we make the majority of our choices based on pleasing people, we may have a pride problem. We can confess our wrong motives and commit to doing only that which glorifies the Lord and not us. That may mean staying off social media for a while, refraining from bragging about our latest promotion or vacation, and deferring the praise we get to another who also deserves it.
Another step in humbling ourselves is to evaluate our response when we are slighted, overlooked, or underappreciated. We admit to ourselves and to God that the sting of self-pity we feel is pride demanding to defend itself. Rather than give in to it, we instead choose to embrace the opportunity to learn humility. We can pray something like this: “Father, I’m hurt and angry right now because they left me out (or didn’t appreciate me, etc.). Thank You for this opportunity to deal with some areas of pride in my life that I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. If I’m overlooked, I take comfort knowing Christ was also overlooked, rejected, and misunderstood.”
Learning to be more humble involves capturing prideful moments and bringing them to the Lord so they cannot grow. We allow Him to turn something harmful into something beneficial for our growth. Recognizing areas of pride is a critical part of defeating it, so we must be prepared to agree with the Lord when He points them out to us.
The Bible gives examples of proud men who nevertheless humbled themselves when faced with the judgment of God. King Hezekiah struggled with pride, but he humbled himself and turned away God’s wrath from Judah and Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 32:25–26). The wicked kings Ahab (1 Kings 21:27–29), Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 12:1–12), and Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:10–13) all wisely chose to humble themselves and seek the Lord’s mercy. In each case, mercy was granted.
The Bible lavishes praise on the humble. Jesus, of course, modeled humility (Matthew 11:29). Moses was “more humble than any other person” (Numbers 12:3). Paul reminded the Corinthians that, even though he was an apostle and their spiritual elder, he was humble when he was among them (2 Corinthians 10:1). Jesus taught that those who wish to be great must be the most humble (Matthew 23:12). Many places in Scripture command us to humble ourselves (Ephesians 4:2; 1 Peter 3:8; 5:6). If we don’t humble ourselves, God will do it, and that can be even more painful (Luke 1:52; 18:14).
When we abandon ourselves to the will of God, there is no room for pride. He may require us to do some humbling things, but it will be for our betterment. We cooperate with Him in the process by seeking unimportant jobs, working behind the scenes, helping when no one else does, and reminding ourselves that our reward is in heaven (Matthew 6:4). Those whose gaze is locked firmly on eternity find it easier to embrace humility on earth.
As we learn to be more humble, we discover that the place of the humble is a place of beauty. To continue Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, once Christiana and her friends make their descent into the Valley of Humiliation, they find it to be a peaceful, abundant land. The author describes it: “This Valley of Humiliation . . . is the best and most useful brave piece of ground in all those parts. It is fat ground, and . . . consisteth much in meadows. . . . Behold how green this Valley is, also how beautified with lilies (Song. 2:1). I have also known many labouring men that have got good estates in this Valley of Humiliation . . . for indeed it is a very fruitful soil, and doth bring forth by handfuls.”