“Be clothed with humility…” 1 Peter 5:5

The world shouts “Me first!” from the pages of books and magazines, from the plots of the movies playing at theaters and from the characters on TV shows. Everywhere we turn, experts are spewing strategies on how to come out ahead in whatever game it is we’re playing. Selfishness—a trait that used to be considered rude—now seems to be not just tolerated, but in style.

In fact, I entered the key phrase “winning” into Amazon.com’s search box and received 3,643 titles outlining tips and tricks on how to be the winner in anything from a tennis game to a corporate merger. Next, I keyed in the phrase “self-esteem” and unearthed the titles of 2,671 books that offer advice on how to boost readers’ opinions of themselves. That those figures were on the high side didn’t surprise me. But it wasn’t until I searched for “humility”—a word I felt at least vaguely represents the opposite of the first two—that I discovered a stunning incongruity. Only 74 books addressing the topic of humility were on the list. That’s one book about humility for every 36 about self-esteem.

Now we all know that this selfishness is part of the sin nature with which we’re born. But as parents who are supposed to be trying to train our kids in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6), we need to teach our children that “first” isn’t defined as “best”—at least in God’s vocabulary, the only one that counts! That’s a tough challenge, especially when our kids see that it’s those who can elbow their way to the front of the line who usually DO get the first turn on the slide at the park, the best seats at the movie theater, or the biggest slice of supreme at Pizza Hut.

Christ addressed this very subject in His response to the disciples’ bickering about which among them was the greatest (sound familiar, moms?). He said, “…If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35b).

God’s Word tells us that we fare much better when we are “clothed with humility” than when we dress for success (1 Peter 5:5-6). Even though it clashes with the colors of popular opinion, we should outfit our kids with the attitude that humility is sublime, not shameful.

We can start doing this in simple ways, by weaving threads of humility, consideration, and an “others-first” attitude into the fabric of everyday life. Here are a few ideas how:

  • Start at home. And in simple ways. Teaching a daughter to be the first to apologize in a sibling squabble or encouraging a son to spend his own money on a gift for Dad may not be as dramatic as, say, organizing a food drive for a needy family. But nurturing a spirit of giving—and giving in—while the kids are young can help them develop a humble demeanor and sharpen their sensitivity to the needs of others.
  • Share the Scripture. The Bible has a lot to say about humility, being humble, and serving others. The following verses and passages make great focal points for Bible study time with kids:
    • Proverbs 16:19: “Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.”
    • Proverbs 22:4: “By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, and honor, and life.”
    • Luke 14:7-11: Through this parable of the ambitious guest Jesus lets us know that an attitude of humility is shaped not by chance but by choice: “go and sit down in the lowest place.”
    • Philippians 2:3: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.”
    • Colossians 3:12: “Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering.”
    • James 4:10: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall life you up.”
  • Spring into service. A great way to learn humility is from the position of serving others. We can help our kids discover their gifts for service, and present them with opportunities that veer in that direction. For example, we can enroll the mission-minded student in mission activities and organizations of our churches and in our communities. If a tyke has a tender spot for the underprivileged, we can join forces with an organization to which he—and the whole family—can donate time, money, household goods, or elbow grease. We can nurture a young nature lover’s concern for the world God made by organizing a clean-up day at the park. Penciling opportunities for service into the squares of the family calendar can help keep service where it belongs—in a place of priority. Not sure where or how you and your child can serve others? Your church is a logical first step in the search for ways to get kids involved in some sharing and caring projects. Join in outreach and mission activities, and ask your pastor or church secretary for names of organizations and families in need of help.Another place where kids can dedicate their time, energy, and talents is on campus. A school’s everyday routine gives kids many opportunities to volunteer—whether it’s by helping in the library or office, or by joining a club that emphasizes service. And how better can we model a servant’s spirit than by rolling up our sleeves and working at the schools ourselves?
  • Spotlight humble servants. A neighbor who cares for her invalid father-in-law; a classmate who helps tutor younger students; a character in a book who displays a sincerely humble nature; a community member who has placed personal gain and glory aside to help others who are in need. These folks don’t usually make the headlines, so it’s up to us parents to point out these servants in action to help kids identify and emulate the real heroes of the human drama.
  • Seek the Servant. Of course, the best way to nurture humility and shape a servant’s heart in our kids is to introduce them to the Servant, who “…came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Our number-one mission as parents should be this: Helping our kids get to know the One who “…made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; And, being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).

Avoiding snags

As we help our kids learn to put others first in a “me-first” world, it’s important to be aware of a few possible pitfalls that can tangle our kids’ perspective on the topic. First, the desire to serve won’t necessarily come easily or naturally. We need to remind our kids of this. Sometimes service doesn’t “feel good.” We can explain that our human-ness makes us selfish, but that when we give God control of our lives, we will want to become more like Him in many ways—including by developing a desire to serve others.

Second, we can share with our kids that even though we’re not born with humility, it’s okay to ask for it with full confidence that He will answer! (Matthew 7:7, 21:22; John 14:13, 15:16; 1 John 3:22, 5:14). We can teach them to pray, “Help me with my selfishness and give me a heart for service to you.”

Third, we need to remember that humility doesn’t equal worthlessness; there’s a difference as big as God’s love between the two. Robert P. Morgan, in his book, Empowered Parenting, points out that in Romans 12:3, the apostle “Paul didn’t say, ‘Don’t think of yourself highly.’ He told us to think of ourselves realistically as one lovingly created in God’s image, yet without self-centeredness for we are all sinners needing His redemptive touch.”

Fourth, and perhaps the most critical point: It’s easy for kids—as it is for all of us, at times—to develop some mixed-up ideas about service. We have to make sure they know that serving others doesn’t buy our way into heaven, score us bonus points with God, or somehow pay for the sins we commit (Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5). Rather, serving others with a humble heart is simply—and profoundly—a reflection of God’s love, “for He hath clothed [us] with the garments of salvation” (Isaiah 61:10). Talk about a fashion statement!

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