Someone said, “Humility is the one virtue you can’t claim and still keep.”
That’s a bit frustrating to me given the call and command of God to be humble.
Jesus was the ultimate manifestation of humility. He told us that the life God can bless is, in part, characterized by this great quality. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5 NIV).
If we invite Jesus into our souls and seek to walk in and with his Spirit daily, his humble character will germinate and bloom in us over time as surely as all the other fruit of the Spirit.
“Humble, hungry and smart”
Patrick Lencioni is a leading thinker in the area of organizational health. He writes and speaks often in this space. We used Lencioni’s principles in the church I pastored, and we follow many of his ideas at Denison Ministries. It is a good model I recommend.
Lencioni’s field manual for building a healthy team and organization is called The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business. Check it out.
Perhaps his most popular book from a few years ago was called Death by Meeting. Every pastor and church leader has felt that way.
He wrote a follow-up book called The Ultimate Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues. In this leadership fable, Lencioni pictures the best coworkers as those who are “humble, hungry and smart.”
By “hungry,” he means that good workers are eager to make a meaningful contribution. They are driven by purpose.
By “smart,” he means people smart. Good teammates develop personal emotional intelligence and social intelligence about others. They learn to get along with others. In healthy ways, they become self-aware while they are also learning to consistently consider the needs and hopes of others, starting with their closest partners.
“Humility” in this model expands on both those ideas of being self-aware and people-focused. Humility is sometimes hard to define and assess in our lives. Just today, I realized that the opposite of humility is not just pride or arrogance. It can also be seen as grandiosity.
Grandiosity is a sinful desire to be noticed, to get attention, to be seen as impressive, to selfishly gain applause and affirmation to build up your ego. We can become affirmation addicts. The Bible describes this when it says that there were those in the crowds and among the leaders who were drawn to Jesus but didn’t want to go all-in and public with their trust in him. John says this about them: “For they loved human praise more than praise from God” (John 12:43).
Here’s a test you might use to see if prideful grandiosity is growing in you instead of Christlike humility. Do you find yourself being gratuitous in your preaching, teaching, and conversations?
I learned this word in a preaching seminar with Dr. Joel Gregory at Truett Seminary at Baylor. To be “gratuitous” in preaching is to tell stories or to make statements that draw attention to you rather than to Christ and God’s truth that you are seeking to communicate.
I’ve been guilty of that.
I also do it sometimes in conversations when I want people to notice me, or I want them to like me, or I want them to remember me. To be gratuitous in conversation is to speak or interrupt in a way “not called for by the circumstances: not necessary, appropriate or warranted,” according to Webster’s Dictionary.
Let’s watch out for that so that the attention, glory, and praise stay focused appropriately on Christ Jesus. Remember this passage: “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5–6 emphasis added).
Peter had his struggles with developing humility. That’s why so many of us identify with him. It’s interesting to me that Peter was inspired to invite us to put all our anxiety in God’s hands right after this call to humility.
When we are afraid for our reputation, insecure about our identity, and anxious to be impressive and important, that’s the time to pray. That is the time to remember and trust who Christ is, who he made us to be, and how blessed we are to be loved by him and invited to be his partner in the redemptive work he’s still doing in us and through us as church servants.
“For we are co-workers in God’s service . . . .” (1 Corinthians 9:3)