Humble Yourself Before God: How to Practice Humility

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Get Out of Your Head" by Jennie Allen. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why should you humble yourself before God? Why is humility so important?

Rampant in 21st-century consumer culture, self-importance is the idea that you’re awesome, and even more: that fixating on your own awesomeness is a great thing. To combat this, it’s important to humble yourself before God. Humility involves having a proper estimation of yourself through recognizing that God is awesome and that your calling on earth is to serve other people.

Keep reading to find out how to humble yourself before God—and why you should.

Humble Yourself Before God

Self-importance is something that gets in the way of your relationship with God. If you want to humble yourself before God, it’s important to overcome self-importance. Some typical thoughts associated with self-importance include the following. Look for these in your own mind:

  • Why don’t they listen to me? 
  • I’ll prove them all wrong.
  • But what about my needs?
  • You don’t really care about me.
  • None of it is my fault.

It’s often suggested that self-esteem is your life compass, your primary tool for navigating and achieving a good life.

The lie of self-esteem has several sources. In our sinful state of fallenness, the automatic trajectory of our thoughts is toward ourselves. Self-importance sneaks into our minds so easily because we’re naturally inclined toward self-gratification and pride.

On top of this, or rather because of it, our culture of narcissism cooperates fully with this self-obsession. Ads, movies, music, social media, and even self-help and religion all chant and rave about how great we are, and about how important it is that we recognize this. A continual cultural drumbeat of praise for “accomplishment” and “success,” for talent and “being special,” surrounds you. This attitude has even invaded the church, where it may appear as the desire to “do great things for God’s kingdom.” In all cases, the focus is really on achieving your goals, realizing your dreams, and enlarging your influence. Instead, it’s important to humble yourself before God.

The Negative Effects of Wrongful Self-Esteem

Obsession with self-esteem results in impaired relationships. For instance, the author once spoke sharply to an IF: Gathering colleague but then held off on apologizing because her mind rationalized away the sin. (“I wasn’t wrong. She probably didn’t care.”) Later it turned out the colleague did care, and so there was a fence to mend. The seductive desire for preserving her own self-esteem had prevented the author from remedying the situation by apologizing sooner.

Taking self-esteem as your life-guide also results in a life, both inner and outer, that’s based on egocentrism. The author’s ten-year-old son Cooper, for example, became obsessed with getting Air Jordan shoes because, as he put it, he “needed” them. What he actually needed them for was to look awesome to his middle school peers. His case calls out an important truth: We’re all a bit like middle schoolers. We’re all naturally obsessed with ourselves and inclined to do all we can to impress others and make ourselves the object of admiration and envy. This is a spiritually bankrupt way to live.

The truth opposing the lie of self-esteem is that real and lasting joy only comes from choosing God and other people over yourself. God didn’t create you to be the center of your own world. What’s important isn’t for you to be empowered but for you to rest in his power.

A key scripture supporting this truth is Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 2 for us to share Christ’s attitude in our interpersonal relationships. Just as Jesus humbled himself as a servant of everyone and became the ultimate example of humility by willingly suffering crucifixion for our sins, so we should humble ourselves and devote our lives to serving others. The instructions in 1 Peter 2:21 for us to take Christ’s suffering and service as our example, and to follow in Christ’s steps, reinforce the same point.

Brain research also illuminates the importance of esteeming God and others by showing that a focus on your own importance actually impairs the action of the mirror neurons talked about in Chapter 9. Self-centeredness physiologically reduces your ability to feel empathy with others.

Also notice the connection between all this and Chapter 11’s focus on cynicism. Self-importance and cynicism both put you at the center of your own world and build up a wall between you, God, and other people. In both cases, the way out involves recognizing that your life isn’t actually about you, but about God.

How to Humble Yourself Before God

The way to defeat your enemy of self-inflation is to choose to value and serve God and others instead of yourself. Below, we’ve listed some ways to serve God and others effectively.

Bear in mind that although “serving others” may sound clear enough, as a strategy for defeating self-importance it’s inseparable from choosing others over yourself, which is a subtler thing. There are various ways to make this choice. Here are the best ways to serve God and others:

Accept Other People’s Attacks

Remain silent and just take it when people speak against you. In doing this, you directly follow in the footsteps of Christ and take him as your model. When he was accused and attacked, he didn’t defend himself (see, for example, 1 Peter 2:23 plus the gospel accounts of Jesus’s legal trials).

Soak in Scriptures on Humility

Soak yourself in scripture passages about humility, service to others, and denying yourself. Consciously emulate Christ’s servanthood. The following are some good examples to get you started:

  • Matthew 16:24: “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’”
  • Ephesians 4:1-2: “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”
  • Philippians 2:5 (mentioned but not quoted above): “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus [who] emptied himself, by taking on the form of a servant.”
  • In Philippians 3, Paul explains how he came to “count everything as loss,” even the things that would nominally seem to make for a good and happy life, “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord.” He goes on to explain that his whole life has become devoted to the goal of knowing and exalting Christ, not himself.

Dwell on God’s Awesomeness

Replace the lie of your awesomeness with the truth of God’s. Here are several practical and spiritual ways to do this:

  • Explicitly ask God to kill your self-centeredness, your concern for your reputation, and your self-seeking dreams, so that your life truly exalts him.
  • Use the basic thought-replacement techniques introduced in the preceding chapters to identify your self-inflating thoughts, and to replace them with scriptural thoughts of humility, God’s greatness, and the beauty of service to other people. 
  • Read Andrew Murray’s book Humility. It’s a treasure chest of wise guidance for practicing the title virtue and recognizing the multitude of ways in which even Christians remain unconsciously bound in service to their egos. Murray identifies two stages in the Christian’s pursuit of humility. In the first stage, the Christian prays for humility but secretly hopes to be protected from the experiences that would produce it. In the second stage, the Christian comes to delight in personal weakness and take pleasure in whatever humbles. The only thing that produces this advance is a new revelation of Jesus, the activation of a newer and deeper level of Christian understanding and experience. We can’t achieve this ourselves. We can only ask God for it and trust him to provide it.
  • Realize that you’re unable to become humble on your own. You can’t conjure it in yourself. It comes to you only through God’s gracewhich he indeed provides. (Read this one in light of Andrew Murray’s insights described above.)
  • Recognize, seek, and accept the benefits of humility, which helps you to see yourself accurately, as distinctly not awesome. This purifies your relationships with God and others, putting these relationships on a more sustainable footing. You’re freed from impressing others to service your ego. Humility also helps you see people as God sees them and treat people the way Jesus would treat them. When we “cast away self,” as Andrew Murray puts it in Humility, we’re freed from our self-preoccupation and can now notice others and recognize how God may be calling us to serve them.

Here’s a visual showing the negative spiral of self-importance and how you can reverse it by choosing to humble yourself before God:

Humble Yourself Before God: How to Practice Humility

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Here's what you'll find in our full Get Out of Your Head summary:

  • Satan’s master plan for poisoning your mind with toxic thoughts
  • How to replace ungodly lies with scriptural truths
  • How to “put on the mind of Christ” and fulfill God’s plan for you

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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