Not long ago, I had an interesting conversation with a beautiful Christian lady from Nigeria who has recently moved to Scotland. We spent some time sharing experiences and contrasting the differences between the church (as a whole) in the UK and in Africa. She described how the believers in Africa prayed with much more of an “urgency and dependence”. She said, that though there are a lot of false teachers and wacky teaching, most people would have some sort of belief and respect for God. Since coming to Scotland, she’s been shocked by the disregard for God in our country and how many of her new neighbours, work colleagues and friends get on with their daily lives without even a thought of God.
As we discussed why the spiritual state seems so different in the Western world than in third world countries, we reached the conclusion that, generally, people in the West truly believe they don’t “need” God. She said many turn to God in Africa out of desperation and need, whereas obviously in our privileged country the “need” doesn’t seem as great. On the whole, people can get on with their lives just fine on their own, thank you very much.
Where Pride Leads Us
As I pondered this, I realised that this isn’t just a problem for the unbeliever. I was challenged by how often I can live with this proud attitude. When I forget the gospel, I forget my desperation. On the surface, when life is good, I continue floating through the days, in my own strength, forgetting my need for the Lord.
Worse than the fact that pride can lead to a lack of dependency, pride also can lead to self-exaltation. Not only do I not recognise that without God I am nothing, I also believe the lie that what I have, I have built. My friendships, my ministry, my home, my talents (my family, my career, and on the list goes). Before I know it, pride has taken a new level and my boasting subtly comes out in conversations, public prayers, or social media posts. I’m sure deep down you all know what I am talking about. Whether we feel good or bad about ourselves, the majority of us spend far too much time simply thinking about ourselves. No matter how hard we try to suppress our pride, it often pops back up to rear its ugly head.
John Piper hit me in the face with this quote;
“All self-exaltation is a re-crucifixion of Christ because He died to kill pride.”
Jesus died to kill pride. Let that sink in.
Does your pride feel like it has been crucified on the cross? Mine certainly doesn’t always. In fact, I would even say sometimes the longer we are saved the more pride seems to grow. As we mature in our faith, people begin to look to us for advice, wisdom and prayer. We learn more of the Bible, and before long we think we do a pretty good job of answering some of those tricky questions in Bible study and praying elegant theological prayers that get a big “amen!”. We get asked to share our testimonies, speak at conferences, and write blogs—and all the time our egos are subtly growing bigger and bigger. Who doesn’t want to be liked and appreciated? Who doesn’t want to feel like they are needed and have some pearls of wisdom to offer others? Pride isn’t just found in the unbelievers in our workplace who disregard God. No, the worst thing about it is that pride can often be seen the most in us, followers of Jesus.
But Piper says Jesus died to kill pride. Therefore, the only proper place for pride in the life of the Christian is the grave.
How then can we actually have freedom over pride in our lives? Can we have victory? Is there hope?
Well, whilst I don’t have all the answers, I do know there is hope! If we are in Christ, the Holy Spirit is our hope and our helper. The one who can and will humble our proud hearts. If you want to grow in humility today, here are two places to start
1. Know your sin
Three chapters into the Bible we find out mankind has a serious sin problem. One that could not be taken lightly by the God of the Universe, one that drove Adam & Eve out of the garden and away from the presence of God. The next 1,186 chapters of the Bible are one big story of our sinful wanderings and God’s redeeming love.
It’s easy when we talk or think about sin to palm it off on the “immoral” around us. “Those people are in a mess, they need help.” But interestingly, throughout the Gospels, it is most commonly morality that keeps people from Jesus, not immorality. Pride is the killer. We point the finger, judge others, put ourselves on pedestals, not recognising moment by moment our pride and so-called “morality” is drawing us further away from our Saviour.
Believer, do you recognise your sinful, vile, proud state before the Holy God today? Can you specifically identify and own your sin, in a concrete, vulnerable way?
Robert Murray McCheyne told us to;
“Learn much of your own heart, and when you have learned all you can, remember you have seen but a few yards into a pit that is unfathomable.”
The first step to humility is despair. We need to know our sin. Not so we can spiral into self-pity but so that in our sickness we will run to the doctor. In our blindness, we will ask for sight. In our arrogance, we will beg for cleansing. In our death, we will cry out for life.
2. Know your Saviour
In the endeavor to “crucify pride” there is the danger of getting trapped in an inward, self-examining guilt complex that leaves us in a pit of despair. Whilst we need to despair of our state before God, we also must move forward from there. If we don’t move past despair, we practice “inverted-pride”—I’m such a sinner, I never get it right, I’m unloveable. Notice here the focus is still on self, therefore pride is still at play. Imagine going to the doctor’s and talking for so long about how bad your symptoms are that you leave no opportunity for the doctor to diagnose the issue and prescribe a cure. Even when he tries to cut in, you don’t listen and talk over him about your problem. This would be a pointless appointment and totally frustrating for the doctor who wants to help.
In our attempt to crucify pride, how often do we think that humility just equals thinking that we are losers, and focusing on feeling bad about ourselves? C.S.Lewis puts it simply; “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
Mychene says; “For one look at self, take ten looks at Christ.”
Stop feeling sorry for yourself and getting lost in your own inward despair. Own your sin, despair, then look at Christ, look at Christ, look at Christ, look at Christ, look at Christ, look at Christ, look at Christ, look at Christ, look at Christ and again, look at Christ!
“He redeemed you. He won’t leave you. He has saved you. He will keep you. He will guide you. Walk beside you. He will lead you safely home.” (Look Again, 20schemes Music)
As I write this blog, I have been mulling over the example of King Nebuchadnezzar's humiliation in Daniel 4. Nebuchadnezzar speaks from experience and warns each one of us; “those who walk in pride he [God] is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:37b)
Friends, the reality is, if we don’t humble ourselves before the Lord, He certainly will. And it won’t be pleasant. It is far better to humble ourselves than experience the Lord’s humbling.
How do we crucify pride, how do we humble ourselves before God? Firstly, know our sin, and despair over our pride. Then we “lift our eyes to heaven” (Daniel 4:34) and turn to our only hope and help, our Saviour Jesus Christ, asking Him to do what we cannot do alone …
“Destroy in me every lofty thought,
Break pride to pieces and scatter it
to the winds,
Annihilate each clinging shred of
self-righteousness. . . .
Open in me a fount of penitential tears,
Break me, then bind me up.
What does humility believe.”
(The Valley of Vision)