If you read a lot of business and personal improvement blogs, you know they feed a lot of tips for living a better life. By “better” they mean making more money, getting a promotion, being more productive, whatever.
Are those things really what makes life better? If so, why do so many successful people burn out? John Belushi, River Phoenix, Amy Winehouse, Janice Joplin, Michael Jackson. Is it show business? Well, look what's happening to Elon Musk. And the blog Zero Hedge notices that banking executives tend to commit suicide at alarmingly high rates. If productivity and success are the keys to the good life, the people I just mentioned should be alive and happy.
But they're not.
Because they lacked something that makes life worth living. They lacked the key ingredient that prevents success from become a curse.
That missing ingredient that separates the crash-and-burners from the living legends is humility.
Humility Is Not What You Think
Most people think humility is self-deprecation. I thought that for a long time. But it's not. In fact, self-deprecation can indicate a lack of humility. Self-deprecation places you at the center of your thinking. It's all about you. Humility, on the other hand, places you in the periphery. Humility requires that you think not about yourself, almost having no opinion about your own worth.
That's not to say humility is thinking of yourself as worthless. Feeling worthless is a sin we must avoid. We are all made in God's image and likeness and loved by God. Who are we to tell God his opinion of us is too high?
So, if true humility is neither self-deprecation nor self-loathing, what is it?
Humility Is Recognizing that We Are Weak
Humans are weaker than we think. As a species and as individual specimen, we are weak.
- No, you cannot be whatever you want.
- No, you cannot make yourself a saint.
- No, you cannot change the course of history.
- No, you cannot develop an artificial-intelligence algorithm that perfectly predicts anything.
- No, there's no such thing as a self-made man.
Humility is the recognition that, since our very existence came about without our help, our entire lives are dependent on that which made us. Because anything with the power to create has the power to destroy.
Humility is recognizing that the acts of mercy we perform are inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Humility is recognizing that the promotions we get are the result of the Holy Spirit guiding our work and opening the eyes of our bosses.
Humility is recognizing that the outcome of elections depends on how we've accepted or rejected the word of God in our role as citizen electors.
Humility is recognizing that the state of our society is a reflection of the degree to which our society is cooperating with God's plan.
Humility Always Leads to Prayer
Prayer is the first and most necessary indication of sincere humility. Hubristic people don't pray. They think they can do it themselves. Prayer, on the other hand, is admission that you need help. In fact, it's an admission that you don't even know what else to do.
Prayer is the first sign that a person has been touched by the Holy Spirit. As creatures, we cannot pray without God's inspiration. We pray only because God has called us to pray and because we chose to answer his call. Therefore, prayer is evidence of humility.
Prayer Always Leads to Humility
If humility leads us to prayer, then prayer must lead us to humility. In this, prayer and humility work a lot like exercise and fitness. The more you work out, the better you feel and look and the more compliments you get. This leads you to want to work out and eat even better, kicking off an upward spiral of fitness, looks, and health.
Likewise, prayer, an act of humility, produces so many positive internal outcomes that we must be humbled by the power of the Holy Spirit. Which leads us to more prayer which leads us to deeper humility.
Humble prayer immediately reduces worry and anxiety because it reminds us that we cannot control outcomes. We can only control our own behavior.
Humble prayer immediately increases our feelings of self worth because it reminds us we are in constant communion with the creator of the universe through his son who became man, suffered torture, died, and returned to life for us. (God would not suffer such humiliation and pain for a creature who wasn't worthy, would he?)
Humble prayer makes us more resilient as explained in this Huffington Post article:
The effects of spiritual practice appear to be more than just the result of enhanced focus and concentration. Ken Pargement of _Bowling Green State University _instructed one group of people who suffer migraines to meditate 20 minutes each day repeating a spiritual affirmation, such as “God is good. God is peace. God is love.” The other group used a nonspiritual mantra: “Grass is green. Sand is soft.” The spiritual meditators had fewer headaches and more tolerance of pain than those who had focused on the neutral phrases.
And the same article goes on to list even more positive effects from humble prayer:
In one National Institutes of Health funded study, individuals who prayed daily were shown to be 40 percent less likely to have high blood pressure than those without a regular prayer practice. Research at Dartmouth Medical School found that patients with strong religious beliefs who underwent elective heart surgery were three times more likely to recover than those who were less religious. A 2011 study of inner city youth with asthma by researchers at the University of Cincinnati indicates that those who practiced prayer and meditation experienced fewer and less severe symptoms than those who had not. Other studies show that prayer boosts the immune system and helps to lessen the severity and frequency of a wide range of illnesses.
Weird, Isn't It?
Humility leads to prayer which leads to both more humility and to better health and behavior. And prayer protects us from narcissism that can result from looking and feeling better. Plus, prayer can protect us from holier-than-thou-ism by reminding us that God, not us, is why we pray.
Humility, in the end, is recognizing that the good we do comes from our creator through us, not from us. We are not the source of goodness but willing conduits of goodness. Whether we benefit from this goodness or others benefit, the thanks belongs to God. We deserve only a tip of the cap for cooperating. And our cooperation was, in turn, just a response to God's calling, not our original idea.
Humility and Elections
Humility would have prevented the two horrible acts that dominated news of the last week: the mail “bombs” and the synagogue shooting.
Both despicable crimes were acts of naked despair and hubris. Despair likely led Cesar Sayoc and Robert Bowers to believe God cannot or will not achieve their desired political result. And hubris led them to believe they could compensate for God's lack of cooperation. .
Getting too wrapped up in politics can lead to horrible outcomes. We've seen these horrible outcomes when Antifa and other leftist groups attacks conservatives. We've seen these horrible outcomes when a Nazi murders Jews in a Synagogue in Pittsburgh. We've seen these horrible outcomes when a crazed bodybuilder who lives in a van in Florida decides that Trump can't succeed without his homemade bombs.
Humility Is About Control
You cannot control outcomes, only inputs. The terrorists who made headlines last week thought they could control outcomes which led them to do evil, to fully and unconditionally cooperate with Satan. Like the mandible and maxilla of hell.
As a lifelong conservative activist, I understand how easy it is to believe that election outcomes are the most important things in life.
But they're not.
Stop believing that they are.
Nothing is more important than cooperating with God. Not even the survival of our country comes before that. Assuming to know that God's plan involves the perpetual functioning of the United States as a constitutional republic is to assume you know God's plan, not just for yourself, but for the entire world and all of history.
We know only that, in the end, the woman crushes the serpent's head and the good guys win.
Humility and prayer will free us from delusion. I know. They're freeing me if I let them.
And humble prayer might have spared those two infamous evil-doers and their victims.
So vote. Tell your friends to vote. Work for candidates and causes that promote freedom and excellence and human thriving. Let your vote be an expression of your humility. Which requires prayer. Which is inspired by humility. Which reminds us that we are creatures, not creators. And since we're not creators, he must not be destroyers, either.
Humility makes life so much better, doesn't it?