Humble Solider - Humility
Photo Courtesy Archangel12 – Creative Commons 2.0


Humility – Often Misunderstood

This week an old friend prompted me to focus on a potentially confusing topic – Humility. Its an often misunderstood word. What does it mean to be humble? What’s in it for me? (First example: If you’re humble, you don’t ask what’s in it for me out loud, you just think it….secretly!)

Is humility sitting in the corner quietly? Does it mean taking abuse without response? Does it mean having no personal or professional boundaries? Does it mean being weak? No – humility isn’t any of those things. Not to me. But there are many sources of confusion.

Even definitions of the word are confusing. Google says its “having a modest or low-view of ones own importance”. I hate the phrase “low-view”. Really? This implies “inaccurately low”. Another site says humility is the feeling you get if you are around one of your heroes. Huh? Another definition: Humility is “the act of being humble”. So helpful….Another claims its synonymous with “unassertive”. Now that’s just wrong. Being assertive (or not) has nothing to do with true humility.

The Catholic encyclopedia on gives the following: The word humility signifies lowliness or submissiveness and it is derived from the Latin humilitas or, as St. Thomas says, from humus, i.e. the earth which is beneath us. Cool – sounds all spiritual. defines humility as the act of “being courteously respectful of others”. So, a hotel concierge is automatically humble? The sweaty teenager at Six Flags imploring you to “Have a Six Flags Day” is the definition of humility? Really?

A Practical Definition

Let me provide a PRACTICAL definition of humility. Humility is simply knowing that you aren’t “all that”. Its an internal belief system that causes you to consider others needs and wants before your own. It doesn’t mean you completely abandon yourself and never eat, sleep or drink Starbucks again. It simply means that you have a realistic view (not a “low” view) of how you fit into the world.

So, what is a realistic view? Here’s the deal – God is the source of all that is in you or me that is good. All of it. With that in mind, how can we be arrogant about any gifting we have? Intelligence, talent, looks, strength, speed, good skin, the ability to fart silently – all from Him. Yes, you may have developed or grown it, but the seed came from Him. Any position, money, stuff, relationship or praise you enjoy (or endure) because of your talents is no reason to think of yourself as better than others.

The beginning of true humility is realizing that God is the source. Compared to God, we are lowly and should be fully submissive. Compared to other people, you are equivalent to Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Happy Gilmore, Ghandi or whoever because YOU were created with innate gifts and abilities just like them…You were DESIGNED just like they were. You have the opportunity to walk the path He made for you just as they do. Does that mean we don’t respect their accomplishments? No. But it also means that humility isn’t a state of thinking you have no value.

You have tremendous value because you are an asset created by a loving God. You were made to do something. Keep in mind that God’s measurement system isn’t equivalent to the world’s system. Some highly revered men and women revered may not enjoy the same status in His Kingdom. Conversely, some of the people you may think of as humble or lowly will enjoy tremendous status in His Kingdom.

It’s a Heart Thing

Being humble is a heart condition that stems from a belief system that runs counter to American culture. Our culture thinks of humility as weakness – as being “less than”. True humility is a strong relative of meekness, which means simply strength in control. It refers to accurate understanding of your place. Of knowing that God is your source. Of knowing that with Him, you can do anything. And, apart from Him, you can do nothing. Humility is knowing that you are a vessel of His grace and a steward of His gifts. Its knowing that you will be asked to give an accounting of how you used those gifts and that sitting around in a corner “being humble” isn’t what God had in mind.

Humility is knowing that life isn’t about you. Its His story. You are just a character in the play. Your role impacts other characters…many other characters, but He is the star. Though the Main Character’s fate is certain, you have the ability to have an eternal impact on the other supporting actors and actresses. Your prayers. Your love. Your actions. Your gifts.

The Best Teammate

Biblical humility and its relation to your thinking is entwined in Jesus’ words in John 15:5-6: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

Buy into that. Its impossible to be arrogant (the opposite of humility) when you install this belief in your heart. When Jesus says you can do nothing, He means nothing of eternal value. You can drive your car through the car wash without Him. You can get married without Him. You can even make a bunch of money without Him. But the fruit of your life apart from Him won’t last. Think about that when envy of someone who seems to “have it all” grips you. Only God knows if their fruit will remain.

There’s a great scene in the action movie ‘Knight and Day’ starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. After escaping agents trying to kill them, her character is trying to determine whether or not to trust and remain with Cruise’s character. In this short clip he summarizes her life expectancy options:

With Me, Without Me

Our life’s value is like that. With Him, up here, without Him, down there. With Him, up here. Without Him, down there. Humility understands that. Its not about you. Its about Him.

Live Strong, Live Humble

Is a quarterback being a doormat when allows his offensive line to protect him from being flattened? No. Is a soldier weak because he needs another soldier to cover his flank? Of course not. Both would be fools to give up the protection provided for them. They would be fools not to rely upon it, to nurture the relationship with those protecting him.

God has afforded much protection for us. All we have to do it accept it. To “stay in the pocket” like the quarterback. To do what He has for us to do (with strength and gifts provided by Him) while we rely on Him to handle the rest. That’s a humble attitude. And, that’s an attitude that will carry you to success without picking up a bunch of ego along the way.

So, can you be loud and humble? If you are being loud for the right reasons – yes. Can you be assertive and humble? If you are being assertive for the right reasons – yes. Humility isn’t about being a doormat, its about knowing The Source of your strength. When you live as if your life is His, humility, courtesy, meekness, patience, and other good qualities will appear in your life, like tomatoes on a vine, as a natural part of the growth process. Plant the right belief, and the fruit will follow.


Jeff McKinney
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Jeff McKinney

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Jeff McKinney
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