Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.
So I’ve been on a theme lately. Well.. not really a theme but more of relating the Holy Bible to my own personal life. This is my take on humility. St. James was on point with this verse, but I always struggled with truly understanding humility.
If you’re like me, then you too might have struggled with truly understanding humility. For awhile now, I never quite understood the difference between humility and self-denial. Aren’t the two basically the same? I have to deny myself to be humble. Right? How can I possess humility without self-denial? Is that even possible?
Self-denial vs Humility
So I was talking to my spiritual guide one day about this topic in particular and he really opened my eyes to understanding what self-denial and humility are and how one can practice both of these in their own spiritual life. I’ll do my best to relay what he told me along with some of my own opinions and understandings.
I think self-denial refers to denying the lusts of the flesh, desires of the body, and the pseudo-pleasures of this vain world that take us away from our Lord. Whether that be money, power, fame [place obligatory pleasure here]. For our Lord said “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark. 8:34).
Perhaps in this sense, Christ is telling us to deny ourselves of our desires and lusts for the reason that we cannot follow Christ if we have these lusts and desires. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”
For example. I cannot follow Christ if I myself am in love with money. Our Lord plainly tells us this in Matthew 6:26 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.“ I must first deny my love for money (or whatever) and then follow Christ.
Christ even gives us a straightforward example in Matthew 19:20 when talking to the rich ruler.
The Setup: So this rich ruler comes up to our Savior and is asking Him how can he have eternal life.
Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
What I got from this verse is that this person had deep ties to his possessions. He was so heavily attached to them. So invested in his possessions that he could not give them up. He could not deny himself these possessions which is why he “went away sorrowful”. His lack of self-denial in terms of his possessions prevented him from following Christ. He simply couldn’t forfeit his desires, deny himself, and submit to the Lord.
But don’t we all do the same? At least to some extent? (I know I do.)
Sometimes after a long day, when your body is tired and exhausted, you might want to just forget about talking to God that night. You’ll just say to yourself “I’m so tired today. I can’t even pray or talk to God at all. I’ll just double pray the next day.” In this case, you couldn’t (and I as well) forfeit your desire to sleep. You (and I ) were unable to deny yourself.
Another example. What’s the reason why, despite when we’re fasting, we still look for fasting substitutes like fasting chicken, beef, or cheese? I think the answer is simple. We simply cannot deny ourselves from these foods. Although we are fasting in the sense that we are not consuming actual meat, chicken, or dairy, we simply cannot forfeit these foods. Which is why we buy the fasting versions. (I do the same. Fasting mayo is the best!)
It’s quite easy to see that without self-denial, getting close to God will be quite a challenge, if not impossible.
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III has a great verse in one of his books titled “Release of the Spirit” (Chapter 11)
As love is the first commandment in Christianity, self-denial is the main path leading to love
[Unless you deny yourself, you will never enjoy the beauty of the release of the spirit.]
(If you would like to read the entire book, click here)
Okay. I get it. So then what’s humility?
I personally think humility and self-denial go hand in hand. Possessing humility without self-denial just doesn’t make sense in my opinion. On the other side, possessing humility will often result in self-denial. My spiritual guide basically told me this. Humility is attributing all glory given to you, to God. In its simplest form you give God the Glory for everything and you attribute yourself with being able to do nothing without Him.
I also think humility is a combination of self-denial. But that’s just me.
Let’s say you’re asked by one of the servants in the church to give a talk to the youth. You ask the Holy Spirit to help you prepare and give this talk. You give the talk and are finished with the meeting.
Afterward many of the youth come up to you and say “Wow. That was a great talk. You really touched my heart.” If this was me, I would say something like this “Oh. No I didn’t. I’m actually not really good at speaking” True humility is attributing all of this glory to God. “I am nothing without God. He is the one that truly helped me give this talk and helped you benefit from it. Without Him, I couldn’t have done anything”
Another example. Let’s say your a deacon and a lot of people compliment you on your voice. “He has such a nice voice” etc… Rather than denying this, you simply give God the Glory “God has granted me this voice so I can praise and glorify His name. I do not have anything that was not already given to me by God”
One more. There is a big exam coming up. Everyone is studying and really working hard to do their very best. The exam date comes. The class finally takes the exam. The following week everyone gets their exams back and the professor puts up the averages on the board. “61! How is the average a 61%?!” a student proclaims. As students begin receiving their exams back, many of them begin to sob. One student even yells “How is this possible?! I studied so much” You on the other hand, receive your grade and find out you got an A. Others ask, how you did? Rather than telling them “Oh. I didn’t do so well” you can say “God has helped me through this exam and has granted me the ability to study hard and do well. I could not have done this on my own” In this sense, you give the Glory to God and in a sense are proclaiming His name. Giving Glory to God can be a form of evangelism in itself. It might be farfetched, but other students might say “Who is this God that he/she believes in?” and start asking you about your faith. Who knows.. it can happen. 😉
Basically what I’m trying to say is that sometimes you will get compliments on the things you do. Whether it be giving a spiritual talk to youth, receiving a good mark, or anything else. The main thing is, attribute these praises to God. God may have granted you the gift of speech in order for you to connect with people. He may have given you a nice voice to praise and glorify His name, or a sound mind to do well in school. All these things should reflect back on the one who gave them to you.
In any compliment, rather than brushing it off, give God the Glory. Say “Without you Lord, I would be receiving none of these praises. So take these from me lest I fall into pride. Rather you O Lord is due all Glory and Honor.”
This way you do a couple of things.
- You give God the Glory
- You ask the Lord to keep you away from pride
A good example of humility is Our Lady St. Mary. She humbled herself in the sight of the Lord. She, whilst pregnant with our Savior, visited her cousin Elizabeth. She was not boastful. She was not prideful of the fact that she was carrying “The Savior of the World”. She attributed all this to God when she submitted her own will and said ” Let it be to me according to your word”.
The Humility of Our Lord
The humility of Our Lord is quite easy to see and doesn’t really fall under the definition of giving God the Glory because He is God! Rather He shows us His humility by this very fact. The fact that He is God.
St. Gregory Nazianzus says this about the humility of Our Lord
“You being God did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Yourself”
That plus the fact that…
- He created the universe yet He was born in a manger around animals
- He who is omniscient took the form of a servant
- He who created all things rode on a donkey
- He who without offense was spat on
- He who saved all mankind endured the most humiliating form of death
When you hear about other gods in other religions, you hear about their wealth, their power, their prestige, their honor. Our Lord personally taught us humility by doing all of these things for our sake.
The Wisdom of the Fathers on the Virtue of Humility
I found this here and I really thought it was fitting so I added it and I’ll conclude with this verse
“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:12
The Wisdom of the Fathers on the Virtue of Humility
Once a brother asked saint Pachomius, the father of communal monasterial life, saying: “Tell us about a vision from the visions which you see, so that we may profit by it.”
The saint replied: “Those who are like me, a sinner, are not given visions. But if you want to see a brilliant vision from which you can truly profit, I shall guide you to it. If you see a humble man with a pure heart, that would be greater than all the visions; because through that vision, you would see the invisible God. Do not ask for a better vision.” (That is, he means that he sees the image of God in that man.)
Saint Augustine said, “You want to acquire everything. Ask for that by means of humility. When the Canaanite woman said: “Yes Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table”, she heard his word: “O woman, great is your faith!” (Matt. 15:27-28).
And also when the centurion said: “I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof”, the Lord said: “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Luke 7: 6-9).
Let us hold on humility. If we have it not till now, let us learn it. If we have it, let us not lose it.
Saint Ebraxius said, “The tree of humility which raises up, is lowliness”. He also said, “Imitate the publican, so that you would not be judged with the pharisee.”
Saint Anthony said, “Love humility, because it covers all sins.”
Saint Barsenophius said, “Acquire humility, because it breaks all the snares of the enemy.”
Saint Isaiah said, “Love humility, because it guards you against sin.”
Saint Pacomius said, “Walk in the way of humility; because God does not let the humble go back unsatisfied. But he lets the proud fall down, and his fall would be hideous. Beware of the haughtiness of the heart, because it is the most horrible vice.”
He also said: “Be humble in order to be joyous; because joy goes with humility. Be humble so that the Lord would protect you and strengthen you; because He says that He regards the humble. Be meek, so that the Lord would fill you with wisdom, knowledge, and understanding; because it is written that “The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way.” (Ps. 25:9)
Saint John the Short said, “You must first of all be humble; because this is the first commandment about which our Lord said ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'” (Matt. 5:3)
Saint John Saba (also known as the “spiritual old man” said, “My brother, wear humility at all times; because it clothes your soul with Christ who gives it.”
Saint Isaac the Syrian said:
“Love humility in all your arrangements, and you will be delivered from all the unknown snares, which always exist outside the ways of the humble.”
“Do not ask to be honored while you are internally filled with wounds. Hate dignity, and you will be dignified. Do not love it, lest you would be offended. Dignity will run away from him who runs after it, and she will go after him who knowingly runs away from it, and will recommend his humility to everybody.”
“Be lowly when you are exalted, and do not be haughty when you are disdained. Humiliate yourself, and belittle your value to all people, and then you will be elevated above the chiefs in this world. Be illiterate in your wisdom, and do not feign wisdom while you are illiterate.”
“O miserable man, if you want to find life, persevere in faith and humility; so that by them, you may find mercy, aid, and a voice from God in your heart; and if you want to acquire these two (faith and humility), begin by holding on being uncomplicated; and walk in front of God in simplicity and not in understanding.”
Saint John Saba said: “The prophet says: ‘Woe to him who is wise in his eyes. Therefore be like a slave at the hand of his master, and not like a brother beside his brothers. Be rather in the jobs which others disdain doing them, and be the last to arrange and array things. Always wear humility. and it will make you an abode of God.”
He said also: “As a young man must fast and be devout, so old men should be humble and conceding; because they are always associated with suspicion and vain glory, and they need spiritual warfare more than corporal warfare.” Also; “A treasure which is hidden underground, does not diminish, and there is no fear from thiefs about it; and the treasure of knowledge which is inside the heart, cannot be stolen by the thoughts of vain glory.”
Saint Ephrem said, “Just as a body needs clothing, alike in hot or cold weather, so the soul always needs the apparel of humility. Humility of mind is a spiritual property chose to walk nude and without footwear, rather than to be denuded of it; because the Lord covers those who love humility.”
He also said: “When you see yourself crowned with virtues and exalted in them, at that time you need humility of mind the more, in order to lay sound foundations for your knowledge, and the building would stand firm and unshaken. Do not exalt the condition of your soul; because a severe trial may happen to you, and then those who think well of you, would be reprimanded. Love humility because it is an indestructible hedge in front of the enemy, and a rock of offense which breaks the stratagems of Satan.”
Saint Macarius the Great said: “Fasting without prayer and humility, is like an eagle with broken wings.”
Saint Isaac said: “If you walk well in the deeds of virtue, and do not feel the taste of its assistance, then do not be astonished from that; because if man does not humble himself, he will not receive the reward of his deeds. The reward is not given for the action, but for humility; and he who has lost humility, has lost his pain and his action.”
He also said: “If you pass by all the dwellings of virtue, you will encounter no rest from your pain, and no delivery from the schemes of your enemies, until you arrive to the dwelling of humility.”
Saint Anthony said, “If we forget our sins, God will remind them to us; and if we remember our sins, God will forget them for us.”
Beware of forgetting your sins, lest you become self-satisfied and have thoughts about yourself, or become just in your eyes.
If dignity and self-justice combat you, say to yourself: “I do not deserve anything because of my sins; and if God, because of the greatness of his love and mercy, has covered my sins from people, yet I know them well and I do not forget them, lest I become vainly proud.”
Saint Isidore said, “The honor of humility is great. The fall of the proud is very horrible. I advise you to keep humility, so that you would never fall.”
Saint Augustine said: “Humiliate yourself to the humble God, so that you would be exalted in your glorious God.”
Until next time,
Your brother in Christ
Pray for me