The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
There are so many angles we can discuss when it comes to humility. Humility is the opposite of self-aggrandizement. Rather than call attention to ourselves, we humbly go about our business, not expecting recognition or reward. In choosing to thrive, and to do so with humility, means to focus on the internal reward for hard work, to be self-satisfied rather than going after the external reward. There is nothing wrong with external reward. We all need to hear from people outside of ourselves that we have done well. However, there is a line between what is healthy and what is obsessive and many people struggle to find that line. Then there needs to be thought given to the eternal reward, and confidence to know that God sees and knows all that we do. In seeking “reward” we must ask ourselves these questions and in this order: 1)Is God pleased? If so, that should be enough. 2)Do I feel internally good about what I did? If others are pleased with us but we are not pleased with ourselves, of what value is their praise? And if we are internally fulfilled with what we’ve done, do we still require the approval of others? 3) Do others feel good about what we’ve done? This answer is a little more tricky. If we’ve done something to help someone else, then of course we want them to feel good about what we’ve done for them. However, we don’t want a need for approval to be the driving force behind what we do.
Humility can mean simplicity. A humble existence is where one has enough to get by. Life is about having what is sufficient and then being generous with the rest. A humble life is based more on service than on luxury. Many people have a hard time defining what is “sufficient.” It seems that many times, the more we have, the more we think we need. A roof over our heads and food in the fridge evolves into “I need a house with a pool, a three car garage, a home movie theater, etc.” and “I can easily spend a few hundred dollars on an evening out,” money that could feed a hungry person for a month. There is nothing wrong with a nice night out, or having a nice home. But when houses and social life become our central focus, then there is something off. In the Orthodox wedding service, we pray for the couple to have sufficiency with enough to spare to give to those who are in need. Every couple that becomes a family and establishes a life for themselves, we pray that they will not be poor, that they will have enough to get by, but we pray also that they will give to those who are in need. We don’t pray for them to reach a certain ceiling and then become generous. We pray for them to be generous in helping others all the way along the line. The balance between sufficiency and generosity is one we will all struggle with as well.
A third angle on humility is what we’ll call the “quiet angle.” Sometimes the most humble thing we can do in a situation is just be quiet. For instance, when we have an opportunity to put someone down, we take the humble route and remain silent and don’t participate in gossip. Each of us has opportunities to make noise and argue with others. Humility tells us to stay away from this, unless absolutely necessary. Some people go looking for a fight. Humble people avoid a fight. That doesn’t mean that they are weak and avoiding controversy is not the same as avoiding a fight. Facing confrontation is a normal part of life. Doing it without a fight is something we should aspire to. How to confront without fighting is a like a work of art. Humility guides us to take a “one down” approach instead of a “one up” approach. We take a step backward, rather than a step over someone. Finally, humility is what allows us to tip our hat to the winner when we’ve lost. We’ve forgotten how to be gracious in defeat, and we’ve also forgotten how to be gracious in victory. A winner who can be gracious and a loser who can tip his hat to the winner are again almost like a form of “art” because both are so precious and rare in the world today.
In choosing to thrive, humility needs to be part of the equation. We are in competitive situation constantly, and humility will help us no matter which end of the score we are on.
Lord, You showed us humility when You, the Lord of all, washed the feet of Your disciples. You showed humility when You rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. And You showed extreme humility when You carried the cross to Golgotha for our sins. Help me to be humble. Give me a desire to serve others and eyes to see others who need help. Help me to be quiet and not run my mouth in ways that tear down other people. Help me to be humble in both victory and defeat. Give me a spirit of generosity, not to offer for recognition or reward, but out of a sense of gratitude to You, who has first given me every good thing that I have. Amen.
Choose humility—be generous, quiet and be gracious in both victory and defeat!