Updated: Mar 25, 2021
As we enter the final days of our Lenten journey, it seems appropriate to engage in a traditional spiritual practice of the season – humility. To fully appreciate Christ’s resurrection, we must embrace the reality of His experience in the final days… the Passover meal with His disciples, His tears and prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal, imprisonment, trial, rejections, beatings, and death.
What humility. What cost. What love.
As Easter weekend approaches, I invite you to prepare yourself for a greater encounter with Christ by taking on spiritual practices of humility. But what does that look like? For some, we think of humility as having a low view of ourselves. But that interpretation can cause us to become absorbed in false humility, in which we get caught up in comparisons or various forms of self-abasement (humiliating ourselves or putting ourselves down). None of these things are true humility.
A better definition of humility is “freedom from pride or arrogance.” I am drawn to that definition because of the use of the word freedom. What an unexpected grace - that humility would bring freedom into our broken lives. When we embrace humility, we experience freedom. Christ’s decisive act of humility, death on a cross, purchased our freedom.
Practicing humility begins with thinking on Christ, the definitive example of humility, who humbled himself and became obedient to death on a cross. In Philippians 2:5-8 Paul writes, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
We are to have the same mindset as Christ – but how can we have this attitude in relationships, in life? How can we be obedient to death? We do so by devoting ourselves to humility - because to exercise humility is to put to death to our pride. Pride always stands in the way of humility. It is pride that keeps us from spiritual practices of humility and it is pride that keeps us from having humility in life circumstances. Consider the traditional practices of confession and repentance – what stands in the way of our coming to God and confessing our sin? Pride. What keeps us from going to our neighbor, brother, sister, or friend to reconcile and ask forgiveness? If we are honest, it is usually our pride.
In a devotional on the topic of humility as a spiritual discipline, Kevin M. Antlitz names two things that are helpful for our growth in this area. First, he says that humility requires acknowledgement of the reality of our sinful state: “we are sinners decisively saved by grace once for all but we also continually sin and continually need grace.” Second, he writes that humility requires action on our part - actions of confession and repentance. I would add a third, that humility requires practice. In my case, lots and lots of practice.
So, what are ways to practice and grow in humility? In this Lenten season, you may already be intentionally engaging in practices that encourage growth in humility – such as confession, fasting, or service to others. Or perhaps Lent isn’t a practice that you observe but you have a desire to prepare your heart in some way for the coming Easter celebration. Below are a few ideas. I encourage you to spend time prayerfully noticing which of the practices below the Lord would invite you to take on in the next week.
1. In three different conversations this week, keep the focus entirely on the other person/people. Resist bringing up your opinions or turning the conversation towards yourself. Reflect on what that experience was like for you. What did the Lord show you?
2. Notice times when your thoughts and actions compel you to fix something in another person. Choose to stay silent and resist thinking, “I know better.” In a time of reflection with the Lord, journal about what He reveals to you.
3. Ask forgiveness – do you have a mess to clean up? Is there someone whose forgiveness you need to ask? Go to the person (not in a text message) and name what you’ve done (or failed to do) and ask their forgiveness. Afterwards, journal about the experience and let it become a topic of prayer between you and the Lord.
4. Confession – if you don’t have a regular rhythm of confession as a spiritual practice, set aside time each day for one week to pray Psalm 139:23-24 and invite the Father to reveal your sin to you. Confess these things to the Lord, ask for His forgiveness, and repent. At the end of the week, write down your reflections about engaging in the practice of confession. How did the Lord meet you?
5. There are numerous scriptures on the topic of humility on which to meditate. Here are just a few:
o Colossians 3:12 - Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
o Ephesians 4:2 - Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
o Micah 6:8 - He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
6. Mother Teresa, one whose life epitomizes humility, wrote the wise words below. Choose one of the practices she suggests and make it a habit for the next week.
These are the few ways we can practice humility: To speak as little as possible of one's self. To mind one's own business. Not to want to manage other people's affairs. To avoid curiosity. To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully. To pass over the mistakes of others. To accept insults and injuries. To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked. To be kind and gentle even under provocation. Never to stand on one's dignity. To choose always the hardest.
― Mother Teresa, The Joy in Loving: A Guide to Daily Living