Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pride vs. Humility

Of all the virtues that I have mastered, I shall never master the virtue of humility. For if I were to conquer humility, I would be too proud of it.
- Benjamin Franklin

Pride is a creeping disease that can infect and kill the healthiest faith before its presence is ever detected – which is why we must guard against it at all times.

While pride may be endemic to the lives of all people, I believe that it is especially dangerous in the lives of pastors, where it often finds residence. Not too long ago I was listening to a speech given by an administrator of one of our seminaries who charted the course of pride through a typical student’s life. He said:

"When a new student comes to seminary, he is usually wide eyed and ready to soak in all they can. However, as classes start and their education continues, there is a change. That wise pastor back home who they respected so much suddenly doesn’t know what he is talking about. Faithful men and women in the pew become ignorant masses. Every practice of the church that he does not fully support becomes blasphemous. Until finally he becomes the sole protector of the true faith once delivered to him."

Sadly I have seen this attitude in the hearts of my fellow students while in seminary.

Devastatingly, I have seen this progression in my own heart.

Once in the world of church work, we get no better. Our conversations turn to baptismal numbers, tithing stats, membership and on and on, so everyone knows how good of a pastor we are. I suppose that we can take some comfort in knowing that this plague afflicts many ministers, even those whose reputation for holiness over towers so many. I found this gem of a quote on Timmy Brister’s blog a while back, and thought that it would be worth sharing here.

"I found, that, when I met with enlargement in prayer or preaching, or answered a question readily and suitably, I was apt to applaud myself in my own mind. I affected pre-eminence above what belonged to my age or worth. I therefore endeavored to take a view of my pride–as the very image of the Devil, contrary to the grace and image of Christ–as an offence against God, and grieving of his Spirit–as the most unreasonable folly and madness for one, who had nothing singularly excellent, and who had a nature so corrupt–as infinitely dangerous, and ready to provoke God to deprive me of my capacities and opportunities. I therefore resolved to carry my distempered heart to be cured by Jesus Christ, that all-sufficient Physician-to watch against my pride–to study much the nature and aggravations of it, and the excellence of the contrary grace."
- Cotton Mather

Pride is easy to get – humility is not, so the question has to be asked, "How can I develop the discipline of humility in my life?" Well, I won’t tell you that I have all the answers, but there are two things I focus on whenever I feel the creeping presence of pride in my life.

First, I focus on others instead of myself.

Philippians 2:3-4 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

First a quick question. At its essence, what is pride?

Essentially, pride is a focus on yourself.

So the proud person focuses on:
What do I want?
What do I need?
What can I do?
Where can I go?
What can you do for me?
What will bring me the most happiness?
What will make me more important?
What will bring joy into my life?

And through all of that, we can see that pride is essentially self centered. It begins with a belief that we are the center of the universe, and everything in the universe – whether it is people, money, or God - everything is here so that I can use it for my betterment.
When we are focused on our selves, our desires and our victories, we will naturally become prideful people.

But on the flip side of that, when we become focused on others, on their desires and their victories, then we will naturally become more humble people.

So the humble person focuses on:
What do you want?
What do you need?
What can I do for you?
What will bring you the most happiness?
What will make you more important?
What will bring joy into your life?

The humble person focuses on others.

So Paul tells us that we should regard other people as more important than ourselves.
How can we do that? By exercising what use to be common manners.

Things like holding doors open for other people.
Things like letting others go ahead of you.
Things like giving up your seats for others.
Things like being interested in what other people have to say.

And that is one point in our culture that we are failing miserably – actually listening to other people.

If you are in a conversation with someone else, do you actually stop and listen to them, or do you only listen long enough to have something for you to talk about?

This is one of my pet peeves in life, people who interrupt others while they are speaking.
Because people who interrupt, whether they mean it or not, are communicating that what they have to say is more important than what you have to say. That your thoughts and your opinions are not important – or at least not as important as their thoughts and opinions.

Second, I remind myself that whatever I am taking pride in came from God, and not my own abilities.

Deuteronomy 8:10-18 10 "When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. 11 "Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; 12 otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 15 "He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. 16 "In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. 17 "Otherwise, you may say in your heart, 'My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.' 18 "But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.

When we have very little, it’s easy for us to look at what we have and say, "I wouldn’t even have this if it wasn’t for God." But when our stomachs are full and our minds are at ease and our bills are paid, we have a tendency to forget God. We have a tendency to think that everything’s going good for us because we’ve done everything right.

And in the same way, whenever we do something right or we preach a good sermon or get a paper published or grow a great church, it is easy for us to forget that God did all of this, and foster pride in our lives.

There are a lot of people in the world who look down at their paycheck and say, "man, I am such a hard worker." We have a lot of Christians that look at their bank accounts and say, "man, I’ve been so smart with my money." We have a lot of Christians who look at their homes and possessions and say, "This is mine. I bought it, I earned it, I deserve it."
And in reality, what we should all do when we look at this stuff is say "Man, I am so blessed."
God has given me so much, God has given me a good job and good health and everything else – I am so blessed.

We should remember that we have what we have not because we are all stars, but because we are on the right team. We have got to realize that the things we have in life is often there despite us, and not because of us.

That it all comes from God.

And when we remember this, it should drive us to exalt God over ourselves. It should drive us to humility.

"I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above another, and the taller we grow the easier we can reach them. Now, I find that God’s gifts are on shelves, one beneath another. And the lower we stoop, the more we get."
- F.B. Meyer


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