Cultivating Humus


Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom (James 3:13 NIV).

When I think of humility, I sometimes picture a plowed field. Rich, ready soil. Fertile furrows, open and waiting for the good seed.

I guess that’s because I’ve read that the word “humility” is derived from the Latin humus (earth). It’s the attribute of being down-to-earth, grounded, realistic – no nose in the air or head in the clouds.

But not all “humility” is fertile soil. Sometimes it’s more like artificial turf… Look-alike, but not real. Manufactured. We’ll call it “AT” (artificial turf) humility.


  1. “AT” humility can come from humiliation – from being shot down, shown up, or run over until the cocky grin is wiped from our faces.


  1. “AT” humility can come from our situation – we recognize that we are in over our head, so we temporarily step back and yield to others.


  1. “AT” humility can come from pretense – “Oh, it was nothing. Anyone would have done it.”


  1. And from pressure – “All right, I give up. You’re right and I’m wrong!”

Those sources – humiliation, impossible situations, pretense or pressure – produce a humility that’s superficial and often short-lived. As soon as things are looking up or the situation changes or we’ve had a pat on the back to restore our self-assurance, we are strutting about again. We’ve got this.


  1. But James talks about genuine humility – rich, plowed-field This is the humility that comes from wisdom. From godly wisdom: a realistic assessment of ourselves, a consciousness of our defects and shortcomings, a recognition of our innate helplessness, an acknowledgement that we are not superior to others (in fact, see Phil. 2:3 – what a challenge!), a perspective on ourselves, others and life that comes from God himself.


True godly wisdom produces a rich, ready humus. And it’s only into that kind of soil that James urges us to plant our good deeds. Then those deeds won’t spring up, superficial and short-lived, to die without producing a harvest. And we won’t have to be afraid of crop failure, for the Word says:

“Whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Cor. 9:6 NIV) and “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9 NIV).

If we sow our good deeds in the humility that comes from wisdom, God will one day look at our harvest and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


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Sandy Mayle and her husband, Dave, live in Summit Township and attend First Alliance Church in Erie. They have three grown sons, two daughters-in-law, and three grandchildren. Sandy is a freelance writer and has written for Discipleship Journal, War Cry, Pray! Magazine and many other publications. Contact her through her Facebook page -