Years ago I remember a friend telling me that C.S. Lewis once said something to the effect: “When you meet a truly humble person you won’t walk away thinking about how humble he was. You’ll walk away thinking what a great time you had and how much you were able to share about yourself.” I had forgotten that this was from Mere Christianity, until today when Justin Taylor linked to the quote, as did a commenter on this blog. Here’s the real thing:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

Lewis’ point is well taken, and, as always, well put. The humble person does not draw attention to his humility; he draws conversation out of you.

There are hundreds of ways to love and a myriad of ways to demonstrate humility. But one of the most effective ways to accomplish both is to simply ask questions. True, it’s possible to be nothing but a smooth talking salesmen who cares little for the actual person across the table. But every virtue can be faked from time to time. So let’s not let that deter us from giving others the gift of our curiosity.

Almost everyone loves to talk about themselves. So loving others as we want to be loved should entail asking lots of questions. Ask how the couple met. Ask what their kids are like. Ask what their plans are for the summer. Ask what you do with a packaging degree. Ask where they learned to speak French. Ask when they first came to the United States. Ask what they miss about being at home. Ask if they’ve seen any good movies or read any good books. Ask where they’re from and what they are studying in school. Ask about their health and their jobs. Ask about sports or the weather or the local news. In time, ask about Jesus. Ask about their church. Ask about what they’re learning in the Bible. Ask how the difficult conversation went last week.  Ask how you can pray.

Hard for Some, But Doable For All

Yes, I realize that question-asking comes easier for some than for others. But I don’t think it comes easily for most of us. Even the extremely extroverted are rarely extroverted in ways that center on others. I’m a borderline extrovert-introvert (if you pay those tests any mind). I am outgoing around my friends and like to lead. But it’s much easier for me to be in my study than meeting new people. I don’t think I’m the best model for asking questions. My wife is probably better at it than I am. I’m sure too many people who know me could think of stories where I didn’t try very hard to engage them in conversation. But learning to ask good questions and make other-centered conversation is something I work at. And for all those who feel too shy or awkward to launch into question-asking at the oddly-seated wedding reception, I’m here to tell you that loving others with your questions is a skill you can develop.

It wasn’t until the end of seminary that it really dawned on me that I could ask adults questions or lead in conversation. My whole life I had allowed others to draw me out, include me in, or do the hard work of helping others talk. Teachers asked me questions. Parents  asked me questions. Adults at church asked me questions. I was a relational sponge, conversationally inert until someone cared enough to wring me out.

I’m not sure how I learned to ask questions. Maybe I saw it modeled in more mature Christians. Maybe God worked in my heart. Maybe moving across the country by myself gave me more sympathy for outsiders.  Maybe I just figured I need the skill to survive in ministry. Whatever the cause(s), by the time I graduated seminary I found myself more at ease in engaging strangers in conversation. Suddenly I noticed things I hadn’t noticed before, like the newcomer all by herself or the young man in the circle not saying a word. I still don’t think I am the most gifted conversationalist, but I certainly have better ears for listening and know how to ask better questions.

People Need to Talk

I remember reading an essay by Chuck Kloosterman not too long ago where he mused about why complete strangers will disclose so much to him in an interview. He surmised (or maybe it was the man he was interviewing, I can’t remember) that people feel an insatiable need to tell their stories. Most people will tell you more than you might imagine, simply because someone asked.

We are highly verbal creatures. Which is no surprise because we know God because he has spoken to us. Even with all the appropriate cautions about the disembodied relationships taking root in the new social media, the fact remains that most of us would rather talk to a friend over the phone or by email than sit a room together saying nothing. We love and feel loved, to a large extent, through words.

Like a Good Neighbor

And one of the best ways to love others and demonstrate humility in putting their desires before our own is to ask questions. Don’t be the Brian Regan Me-Monster intent on regaling your audience with tales of the airport in Zurich and how you get, like, a thousand emails a day. And while we’re at it, don’t be the One-Word-Willie wither who shuts down conversations with a series of monosyllabic “Fine’s” and “Good’s.” (I’m not saying we should be afraid to talk. Refusing to answer good questions can be as rude as not asking them.)

What I am saying is that most of us need to see conversation as a way to care for others and not as something we wait fo others to do for us. It would be an exercise of courageous humility for many Christians (especially the young) to make the family dinner table or the church foyer an audience of for our questions instead of our quietness. Not to put too fine a point on it, many of us, pastors by no means excepted, need to grow in our ability and desire to simply talk to others. Love your neighbor as yourself and make him the center of your attention.

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27 thoughts on “One Simple Way to Demonstrate Love and Humility”

  1. The Lewis quote is from “Mere Christianity”

    “…Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all. If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.” (page 128)

  2. Mark Rimmer says:

    Thanks Kevin for sharing your experience and in so doing exposing my own shortcomings. I have been excusing myself on being an introvert type although my desire is to be more loving in conversation. Still may the Lord be glorified as I seek his help in my weakness. The Lord bless you.

  3. Denise M says:

    Awesome post, thank you for sharing this!

  4. Todd B says:

    Jane Austen observed that the art of conversation requires practice, which anyone can do:
    “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”

    “My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault — because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.”

  5. Very, very good thoughts. Your post made me think back to people I know and you are correct: The ones that ask a lot of questions do not come across as humble. Rather they leave an impression of kindness. I pray that I become more like what you described, by the grace of God.

  6. Kim says:

    Kevin, what a convicting and stirring post! May God continue to grant you the wisdom and refined words to talk about what is most important to Him and the marks of every genuine believer. I am deeply ashamed of my past conversations and look forward to “loving my neighbor as myself.” Blessings!

  7. Logan Miller says:

    Thanks for sharing this today! It was very encouraging and plenty convicting.

  8. Chris from Canada says:

    Fantastic message on humility, Kevin. It’s amazing how easily someone like myself can go from genuinely trying to ask questions to becoming the me-monster. I often do this so quickly and tt gives off a complete stench of self-interest and conceitedness. In If we really love and care for the people we are engaging we need to ‘count others more siginificant than oursrelves’ (Philippians 2:3). Loving people in this way can be shown (or certinaly not shown)simply by how we converse with others.

    I truly beleive this skill of learning to lovingly speak with others is crucial because the Gospel is something that needs to be spoken (1 Cor 1:21). We share the gospel by speaking it in words to others. To accomplish this we need to do it in a spirt of humility as Lewis referred to. I know I certainly need to learn to be more Chrsit-like in how I talk to both believers and non-believers.

  9. Kyle Tennant says:

    Eugene Peterson’s book has an excellent chapter on how small talk engages pastors in the everyday lives of everyday people. This was an important chapter for me to read because I like to move past small talk into “real things” as quickly as possible.

    Peterson was the same way. He says that he never liked talking about everyday things–tires and weather and sports–but would be in the thick of discussion as soon as views of the Atonement or End Times came up.

    The problem with this, he says, is that we distance ourselves from the lived experience of those we shepherd. So often I find myself wishing that a conversation would “get real,” when the topic is, to the person I’m speaking with, very real.

    To most people, the latest headlines are more real than what I deem to be real. As much as we have tried to distance ourselves from the secular-sacred divide of past centuries, it seems that we most zealously assert such a divide when in the midst of conversations after the church service is over.

  10. Sam says:

    Please don’t discount the fact that it can be a sort of pride to always be the one “drawing people out” – indicating that you are not the one who needs to be drawn, but the one who “ministers” to other people. Vulnerability is a key component to true humility, and truly good and useful conversation goes both ways.

  11. Vicky Silvers says:

    I am an editor for Christian.com which is a social network dedicated to the christian community. As I look through your web site I feel a collaboration is at hand. I would be inclined to acknowledge your website offering it to our users as I’m sure our Christian reformed audience would benefit from what your site has to offer. I look forward to your thoughts or questions regarding the matter.

    Vicky Silvers
    [email protected]

  12. Listening = loving.

    Great post.

  13. David Axberg says:

    @ zach still praying for your time in the move. God Bless Now!

    Kevin,
    Thanks, great post, in my business I have found the one thing that people want and long for is to be listened to and then steps taken to help them. Property Management is great to get into lifes and listen, I need to be able to then follow up on the listening with action to show I heard it. I think that action is what draws the unbeliever to the Gospel and ultimately through the Holy Spirit to a saving Grace.

    Listening = Loving in action ;-)

  14. Greg Gentry says:

    Great post, but, Sam hit my thoughts right on the head. There is an aspect of this that there needs to be a warning about. As with most virtues, they can be manipulated and can become a vice. Using questions to deflect the light of conversation away from yourself and shine it on others is a wonderful tool and can indeed show a very humble heart – however, if the person wielding that tool uses it to the point where he is disengaged himself and refuses to allow others in to engage him and to know and to love him, then it is not humility at all – in fact it is pride. It is a false humility that says ‘you need me more than I need you.’ And is nearly as bad as one who only talks about himself.

    One anothering is exactly that – it requires giving and receiving. Too much of either leaves people weak and vulnerable. Love others, indeed! But you must also allow others to love you.

    Of course, there are admittedly far more who need to do this than hear this warning of over-doing it! Thanks brother!

  15. JLJ says:

    Really great post. Humbled :)

    Luke 6:38
    Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

    Believe those words and surf on over to http://www.hybridhondas.com. Click on a link or two. It costs nothing but it sure will help a fellow brother out so he can continue helping others.

    Spread the word to other brothers and sisters. Be blessed.

  16. Kevin, fantastic article. My father-in-law, a self made man in landscaping in Southern California, always says that people love to talk about themselves. So get them to do it with good, caring questions. You build trust as you show an interest. Once that trust is established, you will get an opportunity to share. And that is when you can share the Gospel and let God’s power impact people.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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