C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, wrote:
“There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice.”
What was C.S Lewis talking about? He’s was speaking about the sin of pride.
One of my key verses for life and ministry is James 4:6 which says: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6)
Notice the active nature of God’s opposition to those who are proud! God does not just ignore them, it says he opposes or resists them! However, it then goes on to say that whereas he opposes the proud he gives, in great measure, grace to the humble. This is a deeply challenging passage, especially for those of us who have the privilege of being involved in helping to shape and mould the life and ministry of a church community! Together, our greatest contribution we can make to the mission of our church is to cultivate humility in our hearts! Why, because where the soil of our heart is abundant in humility, grace grows even more abundantly, and that’s what your church needs more than any effort you can muster!
So, noting Lewis’ observation that as people, we struggle to acknowledge pride in our own hearts, I want to zoom in a little further to one particular form of humility: obtaining wisdom
Listen to what Proverbs 26:12 says:
“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for the fool than for him.” (Prov 26:12)
Why is being wise in your own eyes such a dangerous thing? I want to suggest two primary reasons:
- It shunts God from the central seat of your heart. It is the day-to-day language of an idolatrous heart! The idol is me-myself-and-I.
- It closes us off from the many and various channels of ‘grace’ that God provides for his wisdom to flow into our lives. We become worse than the dead sea, because at least it had an inlet.
None of us are in danger of living lives like this, are we? Well, I want to suggest this is a problem that we all face in different seasons and situations of our lives – happy to learn from others about a book of the Bible, but don’t think you can tell me how I should be as a husband. Happy to learn new things about my work role, but if you touch on how I speak to my family, then you will know about it. Humility is the constant process of opening our lives up to the streams of grace that God wants to flow into our hearts. What kind of streams am I talking about?
This can be from books, podcasts, or deliberate conversations with people who are going to stretch you. However, my observation from my own life, is that it is vital that we keep stretching ourselves. It is very easy to get comfortable with enough understanding to feel confident about our way of thinking and ideas. However, when was the last time you sat and talked with someone who had a very different view to you on: salvation, sexuality, creation, church authority, mission philosophy? When was the last time you read a book by someone who you disagreed with? When was the last time you sat with someone who you find a little uncomfortable and really talked with them –the homeless person who smells bad, the ex-addict, the super confident and successful business man, the gay couple who are doing a brilliant job bringing up their kids, the divorcee whose life is not as they would have wanted. Isolating yourself from these challenges does not lead to Godly wisdom but a rather narrow parochial view on life. And let’s be honest, in biblical language: pride.
I believe we live in a generation where superficial ‘social media’ friends can cover over the lack of really genuine and deep friendships. Friends who are able to encourage you when you are stuck in a place of self-pity. Friends who are able to challenge and bring correction. Living a life without these type of relationships is a dangerous thing and using the biblical word, prideful!
Challenge / Correction
How do you handle challenge or even correction? In many ways, this is one of the best ways of testing your own heart’s condition. What’s your response to challenge or correction? Self-defence, push back, anger, frustration? Or is it the quiet contemplation required to allow the challenge, or even correction, to do it’s work. Now, please note, not all challenge or all correction is correct. However, as Billy Graham once said, almost all challenge and correction has some kernel of truth in it, if you’re humble enough to find it! So when challenged, what happens in your heart? Pride looks to deflect the light, humility looks to linger in the light and allows God to be at work in you.
It’s impossible to lead and not receive any kind of criticism. However, how we handle the criticism is vital. On the one hand it can crush us – because our sense of identity is wrapped up in other people’s opinion of ourselves. At the same time, and just as dangerous, we can brush it off –because our sense of identity is wrapped up in our own opinion of ourselves! Criticism is a great tool for allowing God to soften our hearts and to force us back to seeking his opinion of us. It is also a great tool for learning how to say sorry, repairing broken relationships, acknowledging our part in something that has got damaged and more.
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6)