10 Practices to Kill Pride

1. Work at Listening
C. S. Lewis wrote that upon meeting a humble person, you’ll simply think that “he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.”1 Lewis pinpoints one of the particularly refreshing qualities of humble people that you will quickly notice when interacting with them: they take a real interest in what you are saying. They listen.

Have you ever been talking to someone who isn’t really listening to you? This person misses all the nuances. He filters everything you say through his own categories and jumps in before you’ve arrived at your point. You may find it impossible to alter this person’s perspective with any new information. This is a good window into how pride works: it tends toward the gradual tuning out of everything external to the self. Humility is just the opposite: it wonderfully sharpens your attention to the vividness of what is around you, including the perspectives and thoughts of other people.

So our pursuit of humility should be part and parcel of our pursuit of being better listeners.

2. Practice Gratitude
A few years ago, I began to practice intentional gratitude, and I could write a book on all the ways it has been an enriching practice in my life. But I want to make just one point here: practicing intentional gratitude draws your attention to the blessings in your life.
Most of us tend to see the glass as half-empty. Our attention is instinctively drawn to what we lack or what we wish was different about our lives. When we practice gratitude, the opposite happens: our attention is drawn to the blessings in our lives, especially those that we tend to take for granted.

Having the ability to look around your life and say, “How am I so blessed?” is a wonderful pathway to humility.

Imagine getting to have dinner with your ten favorite celebrities. You are all sitting around a large dining room table, and you get to listen to the conversation, ask them questions, and get to know their personalities and backgrounds. Think of the sense of privilege you would have at the opportunity. You might think, “Who am I, that I get to be here and talk to all these people?”
This is what humility can do for us in every circumstance. Why should celebrities be the only people we feel privileged to be around? Every person you interact with is an imagebearer of God. Every room you enter is an amazing corner of this world that God has made. Every blade of grass and tree leaf you see is a miracle of God’s design. There is nothing not to be astonished at, if you really think about it.

Imagine the joy of walking into every situation wondering, “Who am I, that I get to be here? How did I get to be so fortunate? What a blessing to be alive, to be here, in this moment.”
The deliberate cultivation of gratitude like this helps us approach all of life with humility, and it is almost impossible for such feelings not to produce joy.

3. Learn from Criticism
When you receive criticism, make it your practice to assume there is probably something to learn from it.

Our instinctive habit tends to be to stiff-arm and reject criticism because it hurts. And, to be sure, there are some forms of criticism we should simply ignore, especially if it is hateful, dishonest, or demeaning.

But most criticism we can learn from. Even if the critic is mostly wrong, there is usually something you can get from it.

Proud people often repeat mistakes because they do not learn from them. They tend to be impervious to feedback, brittle, and inflexible. They plow ahead regardless of consequences.
Humble people, by contrast, make continual course corrections based on the input of others. For humble people, 1 Corinthians 13:12 (“now we see in a mirror dimly”) is not theoretical. They accept their limitations as an actuality and genuinely feel the need to incorporate the perspectives and insights of others.

This is why the word teachableness is nearly a synonym of humility. If you are looking for a basic indicator of humility, a good test is whether the person is teachable.

When someone criticizes you or you overhear some negative gossip about you, amid whatever else you need to do, can you take the time and vulnerability to ask, “What can I learn from this?” Over the long haul, this practice will be incredibly fruitful. Eventually it can become a habit. Just think of all you will have learned by the end of your life!

4. Cultivate the Enjoyment of Life
Humility can fully embrace the proper enjoyment of food, sleep, sex, vacation, throwing a Frisbee, enjoying a walk in the rain, or laughing at a hilarious joke. A humble person can receive it all, bit by bit, as a gift from God.

I believe that there is a profound association between humility and the enjoyment of life, including the pleasures of the body. God has made us as bodily creatures, and our bodily existence is a good gift from him.2 Pride, especially spiritual pride, tends to be contemptuous of the pleasures of the body. But humble people can gratefully receive them as gifts from God. There is even something about their proper enjoyment that is spiritually nourishing and conducive to humility.

5. Embrace Weakness
One of the most powerful ways to grow in humility is to embrace situations that make you uncomfortable or exhibit your weakness. We all have certain situations in which we feel vulnerable—times when we are not in control or not at our best, or that draw out our weaknesses.

When you think about it, life is filled with such moments. Pastors spending time with other pastors who are much more “successful” than they are. Parents when kids disobey them in public. Introverts going to social events where they don’t know anyone. Older people going to the doctor with a fear of getting bad news.

We all know the acute vulnerability of such situations, and it is tempting to seek to eliminate that feeling from our lives. But it is unfortunate when we avoid stepping outside our strengths. Embracing weakness and vulnerability is a profound way to learn humility. It teaches us to rely on others. It reminds us that we don’t have to be good at everything. It helps us find our identity not in our skills and gifts, but rather in the gospel.

It is wonderful to be able to say, “I’m not very good at this, and that is okay. I will do it anyway.”
The deliberate cultivation of gratitude like this helps us approach all of life with humility, and it is almost impossible for such feelings not to produce joy.

6. Laugh at Yourself
There are ways to laugh at yourself that should be avoided. Humility is never self-contempt or self-shaming.

On the other hand, there is a way to laugh at yourself that is healthy and life-giving. We all do things that are preposterous. We all have quirks. We all are, in some way or another, a bit ridiculous. It’s healthy and freeing to not take ourselves too seriously and to not worry too much about whether others notice our oddities.

Sin is folly, and we are all sinners. All our lives we will be unlearning foolishness and not taking ourselves too seriously. The earlier we can start, the better!

7. Visit a Cemetery
Have you ever walked through a cemetery and read the names and dates on the tombstones? It sounds a bit morbid, I know. But doing so offers a healthy, vivid reminder of something that we know but often forget: everybody dies. All of the tombstones represent real people who had dreams, aspirations, fears, and goals.

Some years ago, I was preaching through James and found myself deeply gripped by James 4:14: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
Have you ever walked out on a cold night, exhaled, and noticed how long your breath lasts? According to the Bible, that is us. What a humbling thought! Regularly taking stock of our life like this is profoundly humbling.

But strikingly, the fact that life is a vapor is not a reason to despair or to reject our existence as pointless. On the contrary, the tilt of Scripture’s outlook is like this: your life is a vapor, so enjoy it!

8. Study the Universe
This one just never gets old. I’ve given up trying to describe how absolutely tiny I am and how absolutely massive is the world God made, because the words tiny and massive seem so inadequate. But making the effort to study this is still worth it.

So if you have twelve minutes to spare, search for “If the earth was a golf ball Louie Giglio” at YouTube.com and let your mind be blown.

I absolutely love Louie’s words at 11:22: “When you see this, I don’t know what happens to you, but I will tell you what happens to me. A shrinking feeling comes over me. And it’s not a bad shrinking feeling. It’s a good shrinking feeling.”

Have you ever felt this good shrinking feeling? This feeling is part of being on the pathway of humility.

9. Meditate on Heavenly Worship
Whenever I find myself struggling, for whatever reason, to enter into corporate worship, I have developed a practice that helps me: remember the angels’ heavenly worship of the ascended Christ that is happening right now. Even if the song I am hearing is cheesy or my heart is sluggish, it’s rare that this thought doesn’t help my perspective.

The reality of heavenly worship is always a powerful reminder. It has a wonderful way of putting earthly things in perspective. Consider that right now the mighty angels are bowing down in adoration, and that one day every knee will bow before the Lord Jesus. This puts both our accomplishments and our struggles in their proper context.

It’s more difficult to think too much of yourself when you remember what is currently riveting the attention of the mightiest angels.

10. Bathe Everything Else in Humility
The early church theologian Basil of Caesarea preached a famous homily on humility. One of its great themes is that humility is the great converse of the human fall. The fall was caused by pride and resulted in the loss of our created glory. In contrast, the return to God is caused by humility and results in our heavenly glory.

After speaking of the fall of humanity, Basil wrote, “And now his surest salvation, the healing of his wound, his way of return to his beginning, is to be humble; not to think that he can ever of himself put on the cloak of glory, but that he must seek it from God.”3

Basil thought of humility like a medicine to our deepest and realest need—“the healing of his wound.” This is why it is the pathway to joy. Since the essence of all sin is pride, the essence of all progress against sin must always be humility. Humility is the remedy to what is most deeply wrong with us.

Therefore, just as pride permeates our lives and affects all that we do, so should humility. Humility is more than simply one more virtue to aim at—it is to be the atmosphere and quality in which we experience all of life. Humility is not just another thing to do: it is the way we should do everything.

Thus, humility is a whole new way of approaching life: an acceptance of our status as sinful and yet loved in the gospel, and consequently a self-forgetful, nonpretentious bounce in our step that lives life to the full, embracing it as a wonderful gift from God.

Notes:
  1. Lewis, Mere Christianity, in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics, 72.
  2. For a helpful book on this topic, see Sam Allberry, What God Has to Say about Our Bodies: How the Gospel Is Good News for Our Physical Selves (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021).
  3. Basil the Great, Homily 20.1, “On Humility,” http://www.lectionarycentral.com /trinity11/Basil.html.

This article is adapted from Humility: The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness by Gavin Ortlund.
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