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.