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Psychology Today once asked 52,000 Americans, "What does it take to make you happy?" Their answers varied, but the interesting thing is that most of them dealt with external situations instead of internal issues.

The popular idea of happiness involves having the right circumstances. It's what I call "when and then" thinking. "When I get out of school, then I'll be happy." "When I get a job, then I'll be happy." "When I get married, then I'll be happy." "When I have kids, then I'll be happy." "When the kids leave home, then I'll be happy."

Yet, happiness is not based on circumstances but choices you make. Happiness is a choice. You choose to be happy - often in spite of your circumstances. Right now, regardless of what you are facing in your ministry, you're as happy as you choose to be.

Life is difficult. Parenting is difficult. Ministry is difficult! There are a lot of things that don't go right and don't go your way in life. If your happiness in ministry depends on everything going your way, you'll be miserable for much of your ministry.

Of course, the greatest instructions on how to be happy are the first twelve verses of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus began his most famous message with "Eight Ways To Be Happy." He is concerned with your happiness, not just your holiness.

Of all Jesus' eight steps to happiness, I believe the first step is the most important. Matthew 5:3 says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." What does He mean by "the poor in spirit?" He's not talking about low self-esteem, or about putting yourself down all the time. Jesus did not die for junk. The Cross shows your value to God. Jesus was talking about humility. True humility.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It simply means to be totally dependent on God. That is true humility: admitting that I don't have it all together, that I haven't arrived, that I haven't learned it all, that I'm a long way from perfection, and that I'm not God!

The Living Bible says, "Happy are the humble." Happiness and humility go together! They're twins, soul mates. If you want to have lasting happiness - in life and ministry - then you need to learn true humility.

How can humility increase my happiness?

Humility reduces stress
When I'm humble I don't have to have all the answers; I realize that the world, or even the church I pastor, does not depend on me for its existence. Humility allows me to resign as general manager of the universe. I let God be God.

When I choose to humble myself, I am able to live with the tension between the real and the ideal - my ideal for my marriage, my kids, and my ministry as opposed to the way things really are right now. You will always have that tension. Humility is accepting life with gratitude even though things aren't perfect.

Did you know that the words human, humanity, humor, and humility all come from the same root word? Humility is, in essence, being in touch with your humanity. It is having a realistic view of both your strengths and weaknesses. The Bible calls it "having a sober judgment of yourself."

Humility is also not taking yourself too seriously. Humble people can laugh at themselves. Prideful people often are often humorless people. They are too impressed with themselves or too insecure to let down and laugh at themselves.

I've noticed that we pastors are particularly susceptible to over-inflating our importance. We take ourselves way too seriously, and we don't take God seriously enough. That is the source of so much stress in ministry.

You spend so much emotional energy trying to impress people with your importance, your spirituality, or your knowledge that you feel drained all the time. On the other hand, when you walk in humble dependence upon the Lord, your stress goes down, and your happiness goes up.

Humility improves relationships
No one enjoys being around arrogant people. Selfish, self-absorbed people are an irritation. They wreck relationships and destroy fellowship. Because self-centered people are unhappy, they make everybody else unhappy, too.

On the other hand, all of us love being around genuinely humble individuals. When you are humble, you get along better with other people. Humility doesn't mean you think less of yourself, you just think more about others! And when you become interested in others, you become interesting to others!

When you're poor in spirit, it reduces your stress and improves your relationships because you are more likely to ask for forgiveness when you are wrong. You don't have to be right all the time. It's easier for you to say the two hardest words, "Forgive me" or the three hardest words, "I was wrong" or the four hardest words, "I need your help."

St. Francis of Assisi had an unusual method of maintaining humility. In his memoirs, he said any time someone praised him, in order to stay humble, he would have a fellow monk sit down and tell him all his faults. Of course, the reason he had to ask a fellow monk was because he never married!

Actually, it is not your wife's job to keep you humble. That's your job! Humility is a choice. Ruth Graham about Billy Graham: "My job is to love Billy; God's job is to keep him humble." But God only steps in to humble us when we have failed to humble ourselves. Over and over again in the Scriptures we are told to "humble ourselves." Again, humility is a choice to think of others instead of yourself.

I've discovered when I'm walking humbly before the Lord, just being who God made me to be and depending upon God, I'm almost immune to insults. They don't bother me but pass through me because my focus is on pleasing the Lord, not gaining the approval of others. Whenever I become extra sensitive to criticism, it's a sign that I've stopped walking in humility.

Humility releases God's power
Humility releases God's power in your life. James 4:6 says, "God gives grace to the humble, but He opposes the proud." Would you like to have God's grace poured out in your life and ministry? The secret of spiritual power is to walk humbly before the Lord, focusing on others and depending on God.

On a previous birthday, Kay fixed me breakfast. My kids had cards and presents for me. As I began reading the cards, my eyes filled with tears and I began to cry uncontrollably. My kids wondered what in the world was happening to their dad.

Sitting at that breakfast table, two thoughts captured by mind:

First, I felt overwhelmed by the graciousness of God in my life. I thought of all the good things I've not deserved. God allowed me to be born in America, to have a Christian family, and to have the privilege of serving him as a pastor of a local church. The goodness of God in my life overwhelmed me.

But the other emotion I was feeling was the deep sense of responsibility I feel as a pastor, knowing that people need wise leadership and expect to hear a word from God on a weekly basis. I felt a deep sense of inadequacy and fear. Some may think that is bad way to approach ministry, but I feel it is the key to power. God takes over when I admit my inadequacy. This is what it means to be "poor in spirit."

Sitting at that breakfast table, I shot up a little prayer that I have prayed literally thousands and thousands of times. I prayed, "Father, I want to remind myself that I am just a servant. Saddleback is Your church. It belongs to You. Although You used me to birth this church, I reaffirm Your right to move me out of the picture at any given point. If You think there's somebody else who could do a better job leading the next phase of our growth, I willingly step aside because I belong to you."

I pray an extended version of this prayer every time I drive to church to speak. It is a meaningful ritual to me. I offer my resignation to God, "God, you have used me in the past, but I never presume upon your graciousness. Whatever will bring you the most glory is exactly what I want." Then I recommit my life to the Lord and ask Him to empower me. I have a memorized list of affirmations and confessions that I pray, but the bottom line is that I humble myself before the Lord in solitude.

If you have to prepare and preach fresh messages on a regular basis, you already know how essential it is to express total dependence upon God. Nobody can possibly meet all the different needs in a typical congregation. But God can.

God's power is seen in your life not because of who you are, but because of who God is! The secret of strength is admitting your weakness. The secret of power is admitting helplessness. The secret of happiness is humility. And the secret of victory is total surrender to God.

I urge you to get alone with God right now, choose to humble yourself and say, "God, as your humble servant I surrender my will completely to yours. Please help me!" There's nothing God won't do for that kind of person! The kingdom of heaven will be yours.

This article is used by permission from
Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox by Rick Warren.
More information available at

Author Biography

Rick Warren
Web site:
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Beginning with just his wife, Kay, in 1980, the congregation now averages 22,000 attendees at its 5 weekend services.

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