Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less

Buddy breathing
Buddy breathing

I have been getting into disagreements with the woman I am mentoring in apologetics, where she has been telling me that accurate assessments of my strengths are “proud” and that I need to be more humble. So I thought I would explain what I take humility to mean.

Here’s something from J. I. Packer:

“Being humble is not a matter of pretending to be worthless, but is a form of realism, not only regarding the real badness of one’s sins and stupidities and the real depth of one’s dependence on God’s grace, but also regarding the real range of one’s abilities. Humble believers know what they can and cannot do. They note both their gifts and their limitations, and so are able to avoid both the unfaithfulness of letting their God-given powers lie fallow and the foolhardiness of biting off more than they can chew.”

— J.I. Packer, “A Passion for Faithfulness: Wisdom From the Book of Nehemiah”

I think I can give an example here. Ever since I was young, I have wanted to do the PhD in computer science and become a Christian professor. I already have the BS and MS and I have been working in industry full-time for over 10 years. The money is there to do the PhD in computer science five times over, but I have not done it because I am not sure that I have what it takes to be a researcher. Sometimes people ask me what I studied and what I do for a living. I am accurate about my degrees, my resume and my savings, and what I am doing and can do with my resources. But I am also accurate in saying that doing a PhD takes a whole different level of commitment and sacrifice. And I am humble enough to know that it is beyond me, at least at this time. I lack the support to do it. God hasn’t given me a mentor or a wife. So I am humble about not “biting off more than I can chew”. That is real humility. But trying to pretend I don’t have any skills, haven’t made any good decisions, or that I am lousy with money is not humility.

Here’s her most favorite theologian, A. W. Tozer:

“The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and as helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring.”

— A. W. Tozer, “The Pursuit of God”

So let’s talk about some cases where I feel I am humble, but my apologetics mentoree doesn’t see it.

I know that there were things that I wanted, and things that I wanted to do in this life. Getting married early was one of them, and keeping chaste as my 20s passed by has been hard. I really wanted to be married by now and to have children and a home. If you are looking for some sort of evidence of humility in a person, that is a good place to look: how far has this person been willing to go along with God’s purposes and rules, even when it meant not fulfilling their own needs and goals? Humility means not thinking of your own goals and needs. It means following the rules even when you know you aren’t being fulfilled. Although I have the resources to just grab for happiness, I won’t break God’s rules to do it.

Let’s get specific with that. There are lots of things that I would like to do for fun that cost money – like learning how to fly a plane, or buying an even faster car than I have now, or taking scuba diving lessons. For some people, it might be surfing, hang-gliding or skydiving. These entertainments cost money, but that money could just as easily be donated to a Ratio Christi event or a Faith Beyond Belief event. That’s humility – putting God’s needs above your own needs in stewardship of resources. Even though you have a right to be happy with what you earn, you can humble yourself and share and go without thrills and entertainment. I almost never spend money on entertainments. The argument “but you only live once, you have to experience this now” means nothing to me. I like to stay home.

Humility also comes into play when deciding what I should do with my life. I think all of us would like to be William Lane Craig or Stephen C. Meyer or Jay Richards or Michael Licona. Standing up on stage, smashing atheism into the floor with both hands. I would love to be that. To do that, though, I would have to go back to school and spend tens of thousands of dollars on PhDs, and then write books and papers. That would eat up the savings that I need for a family. Then I could be famous and awesome, like my heroes. But I choose not to sacrifice tens of thousands of dollars on my dream, when my money and the money of other Christians who might support me could be better used for God’s Kingdom by the more skilled scholars who already exist. Maybe there is someone getting a PhD in Biochemistry who I could help out instead, just by keeping my job and doing with a little less entertainment. Humility means being content with your part in the Kingdom, and not trying to be something you’re not. Letting other people have the spotlight, while you just quietly help them from the shadows. It takes real faith in God to be that humble… to work in secret, and to depend entirely on Him for your accolades.

So how to be more humble? One good way is to sit down with someone you trust and confess things that you have done wrong, or things that you failed at. That’s what I do with her, and it helps to remind me of my limitations. I try to confess my failures in achieving the things that I wanted to achieve all the time. I recommend that to everyone. It’s not hard for me, I think a lot about my failures. The missed opportunities, the things I never got to do. Sometimes, you can have the best of intentions, and things just don’t work out. It’s good to confide in someone else when that happens. So if there is someone who you would like to be more humble, maybe the best thing to do is to ask them about their mistakes and regrets, and then just listen to them. That will work.

9 thoughts on “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less”

  1. You’ve certainly listed a lot of good things that do get to the heart of what it means to be humble. One of the things I’ve been blessed to hear from one of my professors at school was, “where the world is proud, the Christian is thankful.” What a wonderful opportunity we all have as Christians when we are just in regular conversations to point people to the source of every good and perfect gift. God has certainly blessed me with a wonderful job, and when someone asks me what I do for a living I can share that with them. Then it’s not only small talk but it also boasts in the Lord and his abundant blessings to an undeserving sinner.


  2. This issue comes up a lot. I just tell folks who question this that I am proud of my humility. :-)


  3. I found this article interesting, but I have a couple of follow-up questions about how a Christian should spend their money:

    1. There are certain expenses we have to make as necessities, such as clothes, food and the costs of our home. How much should we spend on these items, and should we pay more if there is a valid reason to do so? (eg. buying a house in an area without crime or commonplace natural disasters)
    2. You obviously focused on entertainments that cost money, but what is your opinion on those which are essentially free? (eg. borrowing books from a public library or visiting a national park/area of natural beauty)
    3. Whilst you advised against spending money on various different goals, if there is one goal we believe that God is leading us towards should we be prepared to pay money and educate ourselves in order to better accomplish it? (eg. achieving a BA or BSc through attending college/university)

    Many thanks if you or anyone else chooses to respond.


    1. This is just my view, Query, and my wife might well disagree with it. :-)

      1. Once the item in question becomes more an issue of storing up one’s treasures on earth than in Heaven, I believe we have GREATLY exceeded our spending authority from God. Before purchasing any item, consider what Christians in a third world country have access to. Then be thankful you have a little more. I live in the Southern U.S. and was about to spend a large sum of money on air conditioning for my car. Instead, I gave the money to Christians in a very poor village in India who have neither air conditioning nor cars, much less clean drinking water. I cannot tell you how much fun it is to sweat now that I have seen their gratitude and pictures of what they have done with the money.

      My entire wardrobe is from Wal-Mart. Their $5 shirts look a lot like what I wore growing up. What’s the problem there? Do all my academic degrees make me better than the poor illegal immigrants who shop at Wal-Mart?!? In fact, I bought some really cool $7 shirts there recently that look just like those worn by some missionaries in third world countries – I am SO excited to look like them! (Those are my dress-up, going out on the town, shirts, BTW. I take them seriously, because they were “so” expensive compared with my day-to-day $5 shirts – 40% more!)

      So, pick a median closer to what third world Christians have and a LONG way below what so-called Western “Christians” have. (A side benefit to this is that it lets you retire younger – I retired at 47.) But, yes, be savvy in terms of safety and pragmatics. (No one is perfect: I have violated my advice in this area many times, forgive me Lord!) Oh, buy a really small house in a safe neighborhood. You will thank me later for this. Yes, you will! :-)

      2. The best things in life are free – Amen!!! Yes, do those things, do them often, and if you can find a way to combine them with a Gospel purpose, as my wife and I did on our 30 year anniversary drive around the country – all the better! Free is good – provided it does not conflict with Scripture, of course.

      3. If you believe that God is leading you in ANY direction, pray about it, get accountability from strong Christians who are not shy about sharing their opinions, and read Scripture to make sure that it really is God leading you and not the other guy. If you are running up a $185K student loan bill to pursue an academic career, you are violating at least a fairly large number of areas of Scripture – so that is the other guy leading you. Make sure that degree is for God’s purpose and not for your own pride – and that the funds used to secure it could not be better used elsewhere. (I have sinned in this area – both before becoming a Christian, numerous times, and after. :-() And do not attend any public university until you have studied apologetics – and seriously.

      God Bless you, Query!


  4. Wintery Knight,
    Don’t you understand that when a woman (or a feminized man) accuses a man of being “arrogant” (or, as in this case, “proud”), what she (or he) means is something like this: “How dare you! use logical reasoning and evidence to support a position at variance from what I want to believe” and “How dare you! even implicitly imply that your reason-based conclusion is better than my conclusion-based reasoning!

    The “arrogance” accusation is just one more way of *dismissing* reasoning one cannot refute with better reasoning.


  5. Wintery Knight, big fan of your blog but you blew it on this post. It is not humble to speak of yourself in high terms and give examples lauding your own actions. The principles you speak of are true but give examples of other people’s actions, not yours. A humble man doesn’t explain why he is humble as the exercise itself is one of pride. Or, as my father used to say, “A man who vocalizes being offended that his honor has been challenged, likely has no honor and many challenges.” Your lady friend may well be correct on this one. (to be clear on my father’s saying…insert the word humbleness instead of the word honor)


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