“This has got to be one of the stupidest things I have ever done.” Don’t get me wrong, I have an extremely long list, but this one ranks at the top. It was about 15 years ago, and I was sitting on the platform about to preach at a friend’s church with tears very inconveniently running down my face.
I’m about to give you some advice that I don’t actually recommend you follow, at least not if you enjoy comfort and blissful ignorance. I mean do it, because it’s good advice. But don’t do it, it’s not a good idea.
My Story: Overcoming Pride
When Karen and I first started Grace Community Church almost 20 years ago, my mother gave me a book by Andrew Murray simply titled, “Humility.” (Think she was trying to tell me something?) A few years later, I finally got around to reading that book. It is a really good book, and quite convicting. Like many of you, I’ve pretty much struggled with overcoming pride, to one degree or another, all of my life. Murray’s book inspired me to finally try to do something about it.
And that’s when the insanity began…
For some reason I decided to pray. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of prayer. After all, I’m a pastor for crying out loud! But some prayers are more dangerous than others – far more dangerous. Not knowing any better, I asked God to show me my pride. And because I’m a little bit thick, I asked Him to show it to me the way He sees it, in its darkest and nastiest form.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t hear God (I mean really hear Him) all that often. But let me tell you, He loves to answer prayers like these. You want to get better at hearing God! Toss a few of these puppies up and you’ll be on the fast track to divine auditory perception before you know it.
I was serious about this request (and still am). Pride is not only a relationship killer (by its repulsive nature); it will actually set you up to where God is against you. Most of us know the verse in James that says; “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” But we miss the severity of that verse. God is opposed to the proud. God is opposed to the proud. If I want to get anywhere in life, it behooves me to pursue humility. Not only will overcoming pride ensure that God won’t oppose me, it places me in a position to receive more of His grace (and that’s something I can use truckloads of).
So I prayed that God would show me my pride. I prayed for it daily. You see, from my perspective, I would rather humble myself than be humbled. So, for months, I kept praying.
It was during this time that one of my friends and I decided to preach in each other’s churches. So one fateful morning I found myself sitting up on the platform (because that’s where the preacher sits in their church), wearing a suit and tie (when in Rome…), and smiling politely as they go through all the things they do during a Sunday morning service. I was doing a really good job controlling all my thoughts (because my mantra is “different, not better”), until I let a stray thought slide through. “This stuff is so corny. How do they actually relate to people around here?”
And that’s when it happened!
God chose that moment in time and that thought, that seemingly harmless thought, to show me my pride. And it’s not like He said “Gotcha!” or anything. Oh no! He used that specific moment to show me the depths of my sin. And it wasn’t just a slap on the wrist, you shouldn’t say that, kind of thing. In a split second, He showed me the dark, putrid, nastiness that was my pride. And He showed me how deep into my soul it went. It was intense!
With tears streaming down my face, I said, “This is NOT a good time!” There was silence. Casually wiping my eyes and hoping no one sees me, I think, “Can we talk about this later?” And again, crickets. Finally in desperation, and just a little bit of anger, I said, “Come on! This is embarrassing. I’m about to have to stand up and preach to these people!” It was then that He chose to speak. He said clear as day:
“Son, until you deal with the arrogance in your heart towards them, you have nothing to say to them.”
You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard God speak to me as clearly as he did that day. I was so profoundly impacted in that moment that I will remember it for the rest of my life. Beginning in that moment, God has continually shown me the depths of my own selfishness and what it has cost, and is costing me. I don’t think any of us really get it. I don’t think we really understand the destructive nature of pride. And we haven’t got a clue about the extreme strength and spiritual power that comes from the pursuit of humility and overcoming pride.
As I sit here is Starbucks finishing this blog, I can’t help but wonder if what God said to me in relation to the church, is true for each of us in every situation.
What would happen if we applied the words God spoke to me, to every relationship, every interaction, every conversation, every social media post, even every political statement? How much conflict would we avoid? How much more honor and love would we show? And, better yet, how much more like Jesus might we become?
Since that day, I have continued to pray that prayer every day, and I would like to invite you to join me. It just might be one of the smartest things you have ever done in your life.