You produce water!
That was one of the first commands I heard when I was still a cadet in a quasi-military academy. “You produce water!” means you need to sweat. Problem is how are you going to do it directly? Can you really do it? Just sweat? Or you need to do it indirectly…by doing other things that will make you sweat.
Humility is a difficult topic. It’s difficult for some reasons also difficult to explain. One is: who has the authority to teach us humility? Can an arrogant person teach us humility—a trait he does not have? If not, then only those humble people have the moral authority to teach us humility. That leads us to another dilemma.
The other reason why it’s difficult to attain comes from the old saying, “The moment you think you are humble is the moment you can be sure you’re not.” This implies that humble people are somewhat unaware of their humility.
Now, if arrogant people cannot teach us humility because they don’t have it, while humble people are not aware that they are humble, who is then left to teach us humility? How then will we learn and practice it?
How can God give me a command for which I cannot be aware of obeying? How can the Bible urge me to learn something when nobody seems to be qualified or available to teach me? How will I develop my own humility if I cannot be aware of my own progress? Should I always ask myself, “Am I humble yet?” and then what, confidently proclaim that at last I have attained it—and then feel proud about it?
The Bible is full of Paradoxes: give your life to gain it; the first will be last; the greatest of all is the servant of all; humble yourself and you’ll be lifted up.
The Bible seems to be a famous source of difficult commands as well as difficult-to-understand commands. And “Be humble!” Is one of those. A logical person may ask, “How can I obey a command if I cannot be aware I already achieve it?”
I think, humility cannot be treated through a logical formula. Like grace, humility is beyond human logic. And the best way, perhaps, to approach it, is to focus on other things. In other words, we’ll attain it indirectly.
Humility is an extremely elusive quality: the more we think we have it, the more we cannot be sure we really have it. Perhaps that’s why very few people have it.
Honestly, I’m one of those people who have struggled a lot about humility. Because every time I check whether I have already attained it, I always end up being proud of myself—thinking and believing that I have achieved something most people couldn’t achieve, only to be humbled again by striking realization that by practicing “awareness” in achieving humility, I achieved the very opposite.
How then will I approach humility indirectly?
In one of my old articles (Can We Manage Science?), I mentioned that creativity cannot be managed. If you want to manage it, you have to concentrate not on managing creativity itself but rather the environment that fosters creativity. In other words, you need to manage the other factors that will make creativity to be unleashed.
You produce water! You sweat! How do you do it? No, you don’t do it. Do push-ups, squat jumps, or other activities that will make you sweat.
John Haggai, In his book Lead On, suggests a similar approach to nurturing humility. Instead of achieving it directly, he encourages us to concentrate on the paths that will lead us to humility:
- By enthroning Christ in your heart
- By obeying Christ
- By assuming the attitude and behavior of a little child
- By following Christ’s example on prayer
- By following Christ’s example in personal relationships
- By serving others
How can I tell whether I am humble yet?
You don’t need to tell, let others tell it for you. What you need to do is focus on other objectives and let them flow smoothly into the direction of humility. When you get there, you are no longer thinking about humility—but there you are…already having it.
When people notice it, they will tell it. When they do, you will return the glory to God because your focus is not about attaining humility; your focus is to glorify God.
Humility? It’s tricky, the more you chase it, the more it repels you, so don’t focus on it! Forget it. Instead, focus on the other virtues that will foster humility. Focus on Jesus and his principles. Then humility will naturally follow.