Embracing Christlike Humility
By LESLIE LUDY
“Sorry, we cannot help you. It would be too humbling,” the pastor replied bluntly in response to Amy’s question. Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India in the early 1900s, was trying to find Christian women who could assist her in caring for the many needy babies and children that had been brought to her doorstep. She had written to many pastors and Christians in her area, asking whether anyone would be willing to work alongside her. In essence, they all said the same thing, “That kind of work is too lowly. We have more important things to invest our time into.”
Though she was disappointed at their response, Amy could relate to the sentiment they were expressing. During her first few years in India she’d had the opportunity to reach thousands of people, traveling and speaking at Christian meetings across the country. As a gifted speaker and evangelist, Amy could have made a name for herself and gained honor and respect from Christians in India and England alike. But at the same time, helpless babies and children had begun to show up at Amy’s door. She was soon faced with the choice between evangelistic touring and staying home to change diapers and rock children to sleep.
Many Christians felt that caring for babies was too degrading a job for someone like Amy. They told her she was wasting her talent and her life. She was giving up fame, honor, and large-scale impact in order to serve the very weakest of society. But as she wrestled with the decision, she was reminded of the example of Jesus when He took a towel and washed His disciples’ feet:
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself” (Jn. 13:3–4).
“He took a towel — ” Amy wrote, “the Lord of glory did that. Is it the bondservant’s business to say which work is large and which is small, which is unimportant and which is worth doing? The question answered itself, and was not asked again.”
Later in her life, Amy built upon that principle with these powerful words, “If I covet any place on earth except the dust at the foot of the Cross, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”
Amy’s decision to choose the “dust at the foot of the Cross” opened the door for her to rescue hundreds and hundreds of children from death and destruction, and disciple them, while also impacting countless Christians around the world, even decades after her death. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Despite what we commonly believe, our lives will only bear eternal fruit when we choose to follow in the dusty footprints of our humble Lord.
The word “meek” in this verse means humble, gentle. And it is the same word used in 1 Peter 3:4 to describe the inner loveliness of a Christ-centered woman: “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (WEB, emphasis added).
When I used to hear the phrase “meek and quiet spirit” I pictured a somber, mousy woman sitting in a dark corner knitting. Not exactly an appealing image! It was hard for me to see that meekness could actually make a woman shine with incorruptible beauty.
But true meekness is not timid and mousy. A woman who is truly meek exudes the beautiful, quiet strength of one who is fully surrendered to her Father’s will and lives for His glory alone.
It was meekness Christ demonstrated when He left His throne, became of “no reputation,” and was born in a humble stable. (See Philippians 2:7.) It was meekness He expressed when He bent His knee and washed His disciples’ feet. It was meekness He showed in the Garden of Gethsemane when He said, “…not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luk. 22:42).
In Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the phrase “blessed are the meek” he says: “The meek are those who quietly submit themselves to God, to His Word and to His rod, who follow His directions, and comply with His designs, and are gentle towards all men … having the rule of their own spirit.”
Women of Meekness
Mary, the mother of Jesus, demonstrated this quality of meekness when she “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Lk. 2:19). Rather than broadcasting the fact that she had been chosen to be the mother of the Savior of the world, she chose to obey God quietly, without pomp or fanfare.
Some of the most beautiful glimpses of godly femininity I’ve ever seen came from women who possessed meekness as one of their chief qualities — and God used their humble yieldedness to change the world.
In the late 1800s, a young English painter named Lilias Trotter chose the path of meekness. She was given the opportunity to become one of the most famous artists of the Victorian age. A well-known artist and philosopher, John Ruskin, offered to groom her to become a world-renowned painter and “do things that were immortal” with her talent. But after wrestling with the decision, she came to this conclusion, “I cannot give myself to my art in the way that he means and also ‘seek first the Kingdom of God.’” So she humbly chose to give up her art career and serve God in obscurity, among the poorest of the poor in Algeria. Not only did she eternally impact hundreds who never would have heard the Gospel otherwise, but she also influenced countless others around the world to pursue a life of sacrificial love and complete devotion to Jesus Christ. Lilias Trotter never became famous for her art, but she was surely well-known in Heaven.
A few decades later, a woman named Biddy Chambers — the wife of Oswald Chambers — made a similar choice. After her husband’s death, she chose to quietly serve at a mission house, cooking, cleaning, and counseling — and in her spare time painstakingly typing notes from Oswald’s lectures into daily Bible readings to share with Christians around the world. These notes became the famous devotional My Utmost for His Highest and remain among the most beloved collections of biblical insights within the Christian world.
Biddy wanted no recognition for the countless hours she spent compiling My Utmost. She wrote the forward for the book and signed only her initials, “B.C.” As her husband’s biography states, “Nowhere in the book did it mention her name or her work of taking shorthand notes, typing the talks, and often merging paragraphs from three different messages into a coherent reading for a single day … Even so, [the author was Oswald Chambers] She saw herself as a channel through which his words were conveyed to others. That was her way.”
In recent decades, Corrie ten Boom demonstrated the same incredible meekness, even though she was one of the most well-known Christian figures of her day. She spoke to thousands of people at a time but was never too busy or important to reach out to one of the many lonely souls that she encountered in her travels. She shared Christ’s love with refugees, prisoners on death row, the sick and dying, and even hostile customs officials at the airport. On one occasion, when she was introduced in glowing terms to a large crowd in South America, she humbly confessed that she was not as perfect or impressive as people thought she was and that she struggled with sin and selfishness just as they did.
These women all had different stories, but the core quality of meekness was a hallmark of their lives. And it was because they chose to quietly submit themselves to God that He was able to work so powerfully through them.
For most of us, this beautiful quality of meekness does not come naturally. Even those of us who are more naturally shy or reserved are not necessarily inwardly meek. That is because meekness is not a personality trait — it is an inner character quality that can only be cultivated by the Spirit of God. Only the enabling grace of God can give us a heart that constantly cries out, “Not my will, but Yours, be done!” And that is the essence of true meekness.
The first step toward building inner meekness is to submit completely to God and ask Him to work this amazing quality within our hearts. Secondly, we can practice cultivating meekness in our daily life in several practical ways.
Meekness in Daily Life
1. Practice Taking the Lowest Place
In God’s Kingdom, humility is the only path that leads to true honor. Jesus said, “…whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Matt. 20:26–28 NASB). It goes completely against our fleshly, selfish tendencies to purposefully choose the last place instead of the first, which is why we need to practice cultivating this principle as often as we can.
One of the best ways to “take the lowest place” is to serve someone who can’t repay you, to humbly give without expecting anything in return. Ask God to show you the opportunities that are around you right now — visiting an elderly patient in a nursing home, encouraging a prisoner or refugee with truth, investing into the life of a foster-care child, etc. Or consider serving behind the scenes at a local ministry that needs volunteers and be willing to do anything that needs to be done, even if that means mopping floors or doing tedious data entry. It’s all too easy for us to approach even ministry work with a selfish mentality — assuming that if a specific task doesn’t personally appeal to us, then we shouldn’t need to do it. But ministries are always looking for workers who will happily do whatever needs to be done, rather than demanding a job that personally caters to their likes and dislikes.
Another thing to consider when you are seeking to serve others is Jesus’ command to “give in secret.” He said, “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:3–4 NASB).
It might be tempting to broadcast your servant-hearted deeds on your social media page or in casual conversations. In our modern world, this is not usually seen as boasting but as “sharing life” with our friends and family. Of course, it’s not always wrong to let people know what we have been up to or to ask for their prayers. But in many cases, God asks us to serve in obscurity — “without our left handing knowing what our right hand is doing” — to give in secret for the eyes of our Father alone.
Are you willing to serve sacrificially even if He is the only one who sees? Once the answer to that question is a joyful yes, you will have taken a huge step toward cultivating meekness in your inner life!
2. Practice Answering Gently
Proverbs 15:1 tells us, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” When someone treats us rudely, it can feel like the most unnatural thing in the world to respond gently instead of harshly. And yet, responding in love and gentleness instead of anger is one of the best ways to build meekness within our inner lives.
Amy Carmichael once told of a young ministry worker who was spoken to unkindly and tempted to respond with a flashing, angry remark. But in that moment she heard the still, small voice of God’s Spirit saying, “See in it a chance to die” — it was an opportunity to die to herself and choose meekness over selfishness. And she realized, “A cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water however suddenly jolted.”
Decide in your heart ahead of time how you are going to respond the next time someone says or does something rude to you. Ask God for the grace to give a gentle, soft answer instead of an angry comeback. Giving up the temporary satisfaction of answering someone rudely in exchange for cultivating a meek and quiet spirit is well worth it, because meekness is very precious in God’s sight.
3. Practice Daily Surrender
When I was 16, I knelt by my bed and surrendered every area of my life to the rulership of Jesus Christ. I remember that moment vividly; the freedom and joy of laying down my own will and desires and submitting to His.
But since that day, there have been many times when I have attempted to take back control over my life, clinging to my own agenda and fighting for my own way. I have learned that surrender is not a one-time act; it is a daily decision to die to myself and yield completely to Him.
It is impossible to have meekness without surrender.
If you are trying to cultivate meekness in your life but are not willing to surrender your life, your agenda, and your will to Jesus Christ, it will be a futile effort. Think about the various women I have shared about in this article:
Mary, the mother of Jesus, surrendered her right to be recognized for being the mother of Christ, choosing to obey God without fanfare and applause.
Amy Carmichael surrendered her right to do exciting evangelistic work in exchange for the tedious work of childcare.
Lilias Trotter surrendered her right to be a famous artist and chose to serve in obscurity, reaching the poor in the slums of Algeria.
Biddy Chambers surrendered her right to receive any credit for compiling one of the most powerful devotionals in Christian history.
And Corrie ten Boom surrendered her right to be treated as an important leader, remaining humble and approachable throughout her entire ministry life.
Prayerfully consider what specific areas God may be asking you to surrender.
Remember, one of the enemy’s most common tactics is to convince us that offering our most precious possessions and desires to God is the worst thing we could ever do; that it will lead to misery and lack. But the opposite is true. When we surrender our lives to God without holding anything back, He blesses us far more than we could ever hope or imagine. It doesn’t mean that our lives will be filled with ease and pleasure, but rather that we will find a far deeper satisfaction than anything this world could ever offer. I can fairly confidently guarantee that if you asked any of the women mentioned here — Mary, Amy, Lilias, Biddy, or Corrie — they would not harbor any regrets for humbly laying their dreams and desires at Jesus’ feet but would declare it to be the best decision they ever made.
Meekness is a truly beautiful quality, one that is completely opposite of the self-promoting “beauty” our culture pushes us toward. It is not a quality that comes easily or naturally, but it is something that Christ is eager and willing to build within us. All we must do is ask! Remember, meekness has nothing to do with personality, but everything to do with a quietly yielded heart. While charm and self-promotion will quickly fade away, the incorruptible beauty of a meek and quiet spirit will last into eternity.
Where does a meek and quiet spirit begin? With a heart-attitude that says, “Not my will, but Yours, be done.” Let this become the motto of your soul, and you will soon begin to showcase the amazing, lovely, supernatural meekness of your King.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.