Which Christian discipline comes hardest to you? Some answers spring to mind: prayer, generosity, worship, silence, benevolence, fasting, Sabbath keeping, reflection on the scriptures and the like.
My vote goes to Christian humility.
Jesus’ life defines the nature of Christian humility. He lays aside personal prerogatives and places himself at God’s disposal without preconditions. In the wilderness, he rejects the temptation to chart life plans that might ensure his safety and verifiable success in favor of serving God and accepting whatever consequences may follow. Later, in the garden, he reaffirms the decision.
My hunch is the two episodes give us a glimpse of Jesus’ daily struggle to embrace and practice humility. I believe this to have been the most difficult challenge Jesus faced. That he took it on suggests we must, as well.
How? No one has all the answers, but I’ll share some of what I think I’ve learned from others and experience.
Accept the necessity of practice. Christ-like humility does not come naturally. If we want to become humble, we must practice humility each day. Start with elements already present in your daily life. For example, a friend tells me she began to grow in Christian humility the day she chose to accept whatever seat an airline assigned her. Another friend, a genuine introvert, says his journey toward humility began when he decided to enjoy strangers who interrupted his routine.
Refuse the temptation to substitute coercive power for humility. The way of coercive power promises safe and sure shortcuts to success. In the temptation narratives, Jesus rejects three forms of power: economic, political, and self-promotion. The longer we practice Christian humility, the more we recognize the variety of ways in which the power temptation presents itself. When we reject power in favor of humility, we choose the way of Jesus.
Make and keep a few good friends. None of us can practice Christian humility on our own. We need the help of a few good friends, who know us well and dare to confront us. In my case, I have a handful of long-term friends. They willingly (and sometime gleefully) try to keep me honest with regard to humility. I do not always like what they say, but I am grateful for their honest counsel.
Focus on Jesus. Sounds simple (some might say simplistic), doesn’t it? It’s not. For example, we live in an era characterized by partisan politics, which typically incites and values division, hatred, and power plays. To practice Christian humility, we must tune out political rhetoric and seek instead to see and hear and learn from Jesus, as he is revealed in the four Gospels.
Pray. The longer we try to practice humility, the more we realize the limits of our wisdom, courage and strength. Prayer serves to keep us in touch with God, who blesses and resources the quest for humility.
May God grant us humility, that we might better continue the work of Christ in the manner of Christ.