Eight years ago when I started this website, one of the first things I wrote about was how humility was one of the most important characteristics a missionary could posses. This weekend I was asked to give a talk in my ward sacrament meeting about humility, so I thought I’d share the text of my talk here. I hope you enjoy it and find it insightful and inspiring.
*** Talk: The Blessings of Humility ***
In order for us to achieve our eternal salvation and happiness, there is a process that needs to be followed, a plan if you will.
Opposition in the Plan of Salvation
We needed to be sent to earth, away from our previous Heavenly home with God, to experience the good and the bad, pleasure and pain, righteousness and wickedness. As the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi taught in 2 Nephi 2: 11 “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so … righteousness could not be brought to pass.” Then continued Lehi in verse 15, “And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, … it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.”
Because of our fallen state in this earth, each one of us would sin. We would need this experience to teach us and help us on our path of progression, but in the process, we would become soiled and unworthy to return to God’s presence. We would need a Savior who would atone for our sins, someone who would suffer for our mistakes and plea before God on our behalf to grant us re-entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus Christ, the Beloved Son of God, Chosen from the beginning, humbly said “Here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:27) and volunteered to be our Savior and Redeemer.
Satan didn’t like this plan. He sought to bring about the salvation of mankind without allowing us to go through the opposition and hardships of earth life (Moses 4:3). He didn’t seem to understand that there are no shortcuts to salvation. The path to salvation has been shown to us by Jesus Christ and that path includes the crucial step of humbly coming down to earth before eventually being raised to eternal life.
Humble Circumstances, as well as Pride, are Universal
We are all humbled during our mortal journey. Those experiences of humility begin from the moment we are born, helpless, and totally dependent upon our parents for survival. As little children we enter the humbling experience of school and begin to learn all the things we didn’t even know we didn’t know. As teenagers, we long for independence but are constantly reminded of our humility and our lack of understanding of the things of the world.
Throughout life we have our ups and downs. Sickness, to one degree or another, affects all of us, keeping us humble and grateful for health. Loss of a job or trouble getting adequate employment is a humbling trial that many of us face. There are very few of us who haven’t experienced financial hardships that keep us humble and grateful for our material blessings. Then there is the humbling task of trying to raise children. As John Bytheway said, “before I had kids I had six theories on parenting. Now I have six kids and no theories on parenting.” Parenting is a deeply humbling experience for anyone who has had the blessing to try it.
Yet, throughout life, we grow older, smarter, stronger, and wealthier and most of us slowly lose our humility. The evil one exerts his influence on us and then “When we are learned we think we are wise, and we hearken not unto the counsel of God, for we set it aside, supposing we know of ourselves” (2 Nephi 9:28). Pride, the opposite of humility, begins to creep into our hearts. The Book of Mormon prophet Moroni saw our day and testified against us: “And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities” (Mormon 8:36).
President Ezra Taft Benson, in his landmark talk called Beware of Pride, said that “Pride is the universal sin.” Elder Kim B Clark, in a 2009 talk, pointed out that “the perils of pride [occur] both in prosperity and in adversity.” Yet, I believe the converse is also true, that humility can be achieved in both prosperous circumstances and in adversity. The Book of Mormon prophet Alma confirms this: “there are some among you who would humble themselves, let them be in whatsoever circumstances they might” (Alma 32:25). Regardless of your circumstances, God wants you to be humble so that he can lift you up to eternal life (James 4:10).So while pride universally plagues us all, there are a righteous few who are able, by the grace of God, to overcome it.
Yet for many of us, perhaps most of us, God compels us to be humble. And he does so for good and loving reasons. Quoting Alma again, “because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved” (Alma 32:13).
Blessed are the Humble
“Blessed are ye” for being humble. That got me thinking that I’d like to talk today about the blessing of humility. In preparing this talk, I did a quick count and came up with 33 distinct blessings from God that come by being humble. Today I will focus on only four of them, they are the blessings of Grace, Guidance, Growth, and Greatness.
In the New Testament, Peter said “Be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Another word for grace is atonement. Or, better said, the Grace of God comes to us by through the mission, mercy, and Atonement of Jesus Christ (John 1:17). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke of the grace of God in his April 2006 talk, Broken Things to Mend:
“We must change anything we can change that may be part of the problem. In short we must repent, perhaps the most hopeful and encouraging word in the Christian vocabulary. We thank our Father in Heaven we are allowed to change, we thank Jesus we can change, and ultimately we do so only with Their divine assistance. Certainly not everything we struggle with is a result of our actions. Often it is the result of the actions of others or just the mortal events of life. But anything we can change we should change, and we must forgive the rest. In this way our access to the Savior’s Atonement becomes as unimpeded as we, with our imperfections, can make it. He will take it from there.”
Setting the sail rather than rowing the boat
A book called “Willpower is Not Enough” written by an LDS family counselor named Dean Byrd, has a good analogy about grace and humility. Said Brother Byrd:
“When it comes to changing our lives, our energy is often better spent in setting the sail than in rowing the boat. Throughout our days, we spend most of our effort on rowing the sailboat of our lives. We spend our energy on this concern and that, worrying, working, and trying to control. In the frantic midst of all our doing, we would do well to stop rowing and instead set the sail to pick up the winds of God’s power. How? By learning his will, and then being submissive to it. By letting his power have place in us. By letting him do his work in us, rather than keeping him out while we try to do it ourselves. When we try to conquer the problems of our lives through willpower alone, we’re essentially trying to be our own saviors. When we set our sail in Christ, allowing his blessings, power, and grace to come to us, we’re turning to him and letting him be our Savior. Putting God and his will first in our lives. Letting his power direct and guide and bless us. That is setting the sail. And that’s the true path to lasting and divine change.”
I pray that we may be humble and receive that divine blessing of grace.
The second blessing of humility I want to discuss is guidance from God through His Holy Spirit. The Lord said in Doctrine and Covenants 136:33 “My Spirit is sent forth into the world to enlighten the humble and contrite.”
Alma said “But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering” (Alma 13:28).
The Lord told William Law through the prophet Joseph Smith, “let him be humble before me, and be without guile, and he shall receive of my Spirit, even the Comforter, which shall manifest unto him the truth of all things, and shall give him, in the very hour, what he shall say.” (Doctrine and Covenants 124:97)
Certainly the scriptures make it abundantly clear that being humble is a necessary ingredient to receiving the guidance of the Holy Ghost in our lives. And the Holy Ghost will teach us all the things we need to do to return to our Heavenly home and live with God in celestial glory (2 Nephi 32:5).
What Lack I Yet?
In the October 2015 General Conference, Elder Larry R. Lawrence Of the Seventy gave a talk entitled “What Lack I Yet?” in which he spoke about humility and seeking God’s guidance in our lives. He said:
“As we travel along that strait and narrow path, the Spirit continually challenges us to be better and to climb higher. The Holy Ghost makes an ideal traveling companion. If we are humble and teachable, He will take us by the hand and lead us home. However, we need to ask the Lord for directions along the way. We have to ask some difficult questions, like “What do I need to change?” “How can I improve?” “What weakness needs strengthening?”
Let’s consider the New Testament account of the rich young ruler. He was a righteous young man who was already keeping the Ten Commandments, but he wanted to become better. His goal was eternal life. When he met the Savior, he asked, “What lack I yet?” (Matthew 19:20)
Jesus answered immediately, giving counsel that was intended specifically for the rich young man. “Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and … come and follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
The young man was stunned; he had never considered such a sacrifice. He was humble enough to ask the Lord but not faithful enough to follow the divine counsel he was given. We must be willing to act when we receive an answer. …Every one of us, if we would reach perfection, must at one time ask ourselves this question, ‘What lack I yet?’”
Elder Lawrence then gave several examples of people who, in a humble desire to receive direction from the Lord, asked some introspective questions and got clear answers from the Lord through His Spirit. This got me thinking about what I lack and how the Lord would have me to improve in my life. I then wrote the following questions down in a journal entry:
- What do I need to do to be more happy?
- What do I need to do to strengthen my marriage?
- What does the Lord want me to change in my life?
- What do I need to do to become the person God wants me to become?
I know that when I asked those questions, I got specific answers. The Lord prompted me with inspiration from His Spirit on how to change and improve and be a better follower of his son Jesus Christ. Guidance from God is a wonderful blessing of humility.
The next blessing of humility is growth.
Muscles grow after being broken down
As any of you who are weight lifters will know, in order to grow and increase your strength, you have to first break down your muscles. Muscles that are stressed beyond what they are accustomed to become damaged and that’s why your feel soreness after a workout. But your body, in a miraculous process, begins to repair those muscles and the new muscle grows back stronger and more capable.
Similarly, to grow spiritually, we must come down in the depths of humility. We must be meek and lowly of heart, repent, and then we can begin to grow spiritually. Growth is a type of change, it’s progression, a good type of change. And another word for change in the scriptures is to repent.
The Righteous are Whoever are Repenting
The Lord has called on all people everywhere to repent (D&C 18:9; 133:16; Moses 6:23, 57; 3 Nephi 11:32). Repentance has been the call of prophets and missionaries from the beginning to the present day. Church scholar Hugh Nibley once said that “the righteous are whoever are repenting, and the wicked [are] whoever are not repenting” (Scriptural Perspectives on How to Survive the Calamities of the Last Days, BYU Studies 25 (Winter 1985): 7-27). He then cited this parable from Luke chapter 18 where the Savior teaches that a humble, repentant attitude is necessary for spiritual growth and exaltation.
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
The prophet Alma also taught of the importance of continually, humbly, repenting. He said:
“Mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice. For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved” (Alma 42: 23-24).
Never stop improving. Never stop repenting.
There is a large home improvement store with the motto: “Never stop improving.” It strikes me that in our spiritual lives, we should never stop improving either and we can accomplish that if we never stop repenting.
Repentance and humility go hand in hand and help us grow closer to God. After briefly describing the Savior’s humble life in a 1963 talk at BYU, Elder Spencer W. Kimball gave the following definition of humility:
“If the Lord was meek and lowly and humble, then to become humble one must do what He did in boldly denouncing evil, bravely advancing righteous works, courageously meeting every problem, becoming the master of himself and the situations about him and being near oblivious to personal credit. Humility is not pretentious, presumptuous, nor proud. It is not weak, vacillating, nor servile. …Humble and meek properly suggest virtues, not weaknesses.” (Humility, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo, 16 Jan. 1963], pp. 2–3.)
Humility + Faith –> Weak Things Become Strong
Ether 12:27 perhaps sums up best how humility leads to growth. This is where the Lord tells Moroni, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
The last blessing from humility that I wish to speak about today is greatness.
The greatest in the kingdom of heaven
You’ll recall that when Jesus was on the earth, his disciples came to him one day and asked “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt 18:1) Jesus, then, “called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them” (v2) and said whosoever “shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (v4).
To achieve greatness in the kingdom of heaven, one must be humble like a little child. Of course, to achieve greatness in this earth life, one must also be humble, though God’s definition of greatness is, of course, much difference than the world’s definition. The Savior taught by word and deed that “he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11).
Jesus “descended below all things”
Jesus, who is without question, the greatest man to ever walk this earth, showed us a perfect example of humility. He went “forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people” (Alma 7:11). Jesus suffered “temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people” (Mosiah 3:7)
Jesus “descended below all things” and thus was the most humble man to ever walk this earth. Jesus “ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:6)
President Spencer W. Kimball, who’s talk on humility I referenced earlier, shared a wonderful poem about the humility, yet greatness of our Savior Jesus Christ and his faithful followers throughout the world.
Humility is royalty without a crown,
Greatness in plain clothes,
Erudition without decoration,
Wealth without display
Power without scepter or force,
Position demanding no preferential rights,
Greatness sitting in the congregation,
Prayer in closets and not in corners of the street,
Fasting in secret without publication,
Stalwartness without a label,
Supplication upon its knees,
Divinity riding [a donkey].
Eternal Identity. God’s Perspective.
I was once sitting in the foyer of our church building and I noticed a man sitting across the way from me. I don’t know his name. I had never spoke with him. He looked tired and worn out by life. As I gazed on him, I felt like the Lord gave me a glimpse of his eternal identity. I felt reminded that he, his spirit or intelligence that is, has been alive for eons. He has had countless experiences and has gained much knowledge during that time. Unfortunately, the veil of forgetfulness we all pass through when we come to our humble mortal life, causes us to start over in many respects. But as I contemplated this, I felt humbled by what marvelous truths this man could teach me if he could pierce that veil of forgetfulness. I felt a little of what God sees as he views each of us, his children, with an eternal perspective.
Joint-heirs with Christ
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17).
Truly, our eternal potential for greatness is infinite and that blessing is accessible through humbly following Jesus Christ.
I pray that we can all faithfully accept our humble circumstances, and that by so doing we can receive the promised blessings:
- Grace from our Savior Jesus Christ through his Atonement
- Guidance from God’s Holy Spirit
- Growth through repentance and positive change
- Greatness as heirs of the Heavenly glory and joint heirs with Christ.