The Obsession of Humility

In the weeks leading up to Easter, we’ve been reflecting on a characteristic that marked the life of Christ: humility. So, how do you go about trying to cultivate humility? For many years, I thought humility was created by going over all of my faults and shortcomings, rehearsing my past sins and failures. But insecurity and arrogance both wear the same lens. Both have eyes that are full of self. 

In the Old Testament, Moses is one of the best examples of why focusing on our faults does not produce true humility. Moses’ early years must have been difficult. Despite being raise as a son in Pharaoh’s house, he didn’t fit into the Egyptian world and his royal status in a pagan nation alienated him from his own people. I’m sure Moses felt like an outsider wherever he went. In an attempt to prove his allegiance to his Hebrew kinsman, he murdered an Egyptian, and was forced into exile.

When God called Moses back to Egypt, he responded with every excuse in the book for why he wasn’t the man for the job. What God asked of him was incredibly difficult—to go back to a land where he would either be seen as an outsider or a criminal does not feel like a promising career path. All Moses could see were his faults and insufficiencies. This lens with which he viewed himself also skewed his view of God.

In The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness, Tim Keller argues that true humility isn’t found in thinking less of yourself (self-loathing), but in thinking of yourself less (self-forgetfulness). The person with crippling insecurity isn’t more humble than the arrogant person, because both are obsessed with themselves. Because of his insecurities, Moses’ only cared about himself. He never once acknowledged God or the million people back home who were suffering. 

Because we are insecure, we look for affirmation from someone outside of ourselves. But no matter how much affirmation we receive from others, it is never quite enough. We become obsessed with improving and this hyper-focus produces a see-saw of emotions. When we feel we’ve done well, we are riding high. When we don’t measure up, we hit rock bottom. Which leads to more insecurity and fear, and the destructive cycle starts all over again.

Jesus taught that self-obsessed thinking is a barrier to faith. In John 5:44 he said, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”. When we need the glory and accolades of others to settle our insecurities, we are creating a vacuum where faith shrivels and dies.

Andrew Murray writes, “Faith and humility are at root one; pride…refuses to allow God to be what he is…[and] makes faith impossible.” We can only be free from self-obsession when we see God for who he is and clear the way for him to be all in all. Humility is acknowledging that God’s opinion isn’t just the first of many that matter—his voice is the only one that matters in the end.

Moses grew in confidence and humility simultaneously. As he watched God work miracles again and again, he stopped caring so much about the opinion of others. He stopped focusing on his short comings and past failures. A great turning point in the life of Moses occurred after he spent forty days on Mt. Sinai alone with God. During this time, he cultivated a heart that knew the voice of God so well, he could hear it above the clamor of a million people. He emerged less self-focused and far more God obsessed. His faith grew.

In that same conversation quoted from John 5 , Jesus said, “If you believe Moses, you would believe in me, for he wrote of me.” (John 5:46) Moses saw, with eyes of faith, that he needed more than self-confidence to lead God’s people. He recognized that the real issue was not political slavery, but our spiritual bondage to pride. Pride keeps us slaves to the opinions of others, to exhausting self-reliance and the see-saw of arrogance and insecurity. Moses knew he needed someone greater than himself to become the humble leader that God had called him to be.

But let’s be honest, we enjoy feeling self-confident. I want to feel like I can rely on my gifts, my intellect, and my winning personality (wink, wink). But the trouble is, I am often not enough on my own. I feel my “not enough-ness” on a regular basis. And at the end of the day, I long to be someone who ushers in the Spirit of God wherever I go. I don’t want people to remember me. I want them to remember Christ in me. When I leave a room, I want people to feel like Jesus has been present with them.

So, how do we make space for God to be God in every situation? Like Moses, we begin by setting aside time to behold the glory of God. Moses saw God’s glory on Mt. Sinai, but we see the ultimate expression of God’s glory on Calvary. There the Son of God broke the power of pride and set us free. On the cross, Jesus proved the love of God for us—you are not accepted by God because you preform really well. God accepts you because you are his child. At the foot of the cross, we look up and see the cost of our arrogance and as we watch the perfect Son suffer, we learn to hate our self-obsession. Our eyes become fixed on his face and his voice becomes the only one that matters. The more we gaze on him, the more we become obsessed with Christ. We see him everywhere and recognize his handiwork in all things. As our eyes are filled with him, we simultaneously grow in humility and confidence.