In his most famous work, The Rule of Saint Benedict, the father of Western monasticism, Benedict of Nursia, gives his own 12 steps towards humility for monks to follow. All Christians would do well to follow these steps so I thought it would be helpful to re-work them to fit the context of Jesus followers today. I hope you find them as helpful as I have.
Step One: Never forget who God is and who you are.
God is a loving and personal God. But He is not your buddy. He is Lord. It is important for the Christian to remember that he/she has surrendered their life to God. In doing so, they have pledged to obey the Lord in fearful reverence of His authority. The world does not revolve around you. It’s only even here because God chooses to sustain it.
Step Two: Never forget Who you serve.
As Jesus said, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me,” (John 6:38). If you are a Christian, your will is no longer what you seek to fulfill. Your will is to be morphed into God’s will. What matters to you now is not what you want, but what God wants. After all, your will is corrupt with sin and ignorant of what is best for you. But God has a perfect plan and knows exactly what you need.
Step Three: Submit to earthly authority.
On top of submitting to Himself, God calls us to submit to those people who hold authority over us. Whether it is the government, your boss, your teacher, or your parent, you practice humility best when you cheerfully and respectfully serve those above you. Sure, there is a place for civil disobedience when earthly authorities don’t agree with God, but one of the best ways to show Christ to the world is by imitating His obedience (Phil 2: 5-8).
Step Four: Endure hard times without complaining.
This is difficult for most of us. In our entitlement culture, we think we deserve an easy road and a life filled with what we want. But the reality is, we deserve death. All humans have natural rights and we should continue the fight for equality. But we must not lose heart when we are mistreated or when life gets hard. We should count those times as a blessing because they teach us to cling to the only One who can save us. They also remind us that even though we sometimes lose, He always wins and He allows us to share in that victory.
Step Five: Confess your sins to others.
I don’t suggest that you find a platform somewhere and tell the whole city everything you’ve done wrong. But I do suggest that you find someone you can trust to hold you accountable for your sin. Being able to confess to someone else, out loud, serves as a constant reminder of your sinful state and of your desperate need for God’s grace. I know that might sound depressing or discouraging, but it’s actually the opposite. Confession gives us a sense of relief and freedom, like after you finally reveal a secret you’ve been holding in for so long. This reminds us of the freedom we have in Christ and pushes us towards obedience.
Step Six: Be content where you are.
I am not a natural follower. I like to lead. And it is often frustrating for me to hold a position where there is someone else making all the decisions. But a terrific way to practice humility is to find purpose in your subordinate position and build your superiors up, even when you disagree with them. Now this doesn’t mean ambition is bad. It’s good. But we are all called to follow someone else’s lead, even naturally born leaders. The trick is to realize that even the lowest of positions is important to getting the mission done. Work cheerfully, even from the bottom of the totem pole.
Step Seven: Hold others above yourself.
It is rare, in today’s world, to hear even a Christian regard everyone else as better than himself. But that is the proper attitude of a Christian. We are called to honor others above ourselves (Romans 12:10). This doesn’t mean that we lower our self-esteem. Humility is not about thinking less of yourself as much as it is about thinking of yourself less. But it does mean that we recognize the reality that we are all sinners and don’t deserve any more than anyone else. With that in mind, we are free to love others without worrying about our own needs. This is the model that Christ gave us (Phil 2:6-8).
Step Eight: Work for the good of the community.
For the monks who first read Benedict’s Rule, this was easy. They were a part of a community (a monastery) where they had to depend on each other and seek the good of the whole group. However, for today’s Christian, it might be a bit more difficult. To start, we have to be involved in a community. It is not humble to spend life alone. You can’t serve others above self when you are alone. Those of us in a community need to create an environment of interdependence so that we may look out for each other. And again, it’s not ok to have no one to look out for.
Step Nine: Don’t talk too much.
Be “slow to speak” and “quick to listen” (James 1:19). There is a lot of talking going on in our world. It might do us some good to sit in quiet attentiveness for a while. Humility has to involve listening to others, which frankly means that some of us need to shut up.
Step Ten: Be careful what you laugh at.
It is easy for my friends and I to joke at one another’s expense. This isn’t harmful in itself. We all need to be able to laugh at ourselves. But being humble includes knowing that you have as many quirks to laugh at as the next guy.
Step Eleven: Don’t draw attention to yourself.
“Let your light shine before men” (Matt 5:16). But don’t draw attention to yourself by what you say. Don’t be the person who uses big words, long-winded monologues, and loud speech to show yourself off. When someone else is talking, don’t interrupt. And when you disagree with someone, don’t talk louder than they are just to win the debate. Remember that there are other people around and that many of them might not want to hear your every opinion.
Step Twelve: Provide an example of humility to others.
Discipline yourself to be an example of Christian humility in front of others. Not to glorify yourself, but so others will see God rather than you. This is the greatest way to lead people, in humble service. Let those who are watching you (there are those people) see Christ in your humility and be lead to imitate you as you imitate Christ (1 Cor 11:1).