May 24, 1994
Self-confident and immaculately dressed, the new preacher almost swaggered up to the pulpit. This was his first sermon in his first church. He had been an above average student in seminary, even received the faculty award for best preacher. He was certain he would revolutionize this congregation.
He smiled, more at his own assurance than at them, then opened his mouth to speak. But the words simply would not come out. He took a deep breath and tried again. Nothing but a croak. Finally he burst into tears and left the platform.
Two older women were sitting in the front row. One remarked to the other, “If he’d come in like he went out, he would have gone out like he came in.”
Isn’t it the truth? Whenever we become inflated over some accomplishment, the next time we try it, we usually do not do as well or even fall flat. The biblical adage “pride goes before a fall” is well-recognized.
Pride is too. While there is a healthy kind of pride, a respect for excellence we see in others, or a respect for a job well-done, negative pride is not healthy. The question is, how does a person maintain any balance? Most of us tend to swing back and forth between arrogant self-congratulations and unhappy self-pity.
Last week, I taught a workshop at a writer’s conference. All my faculties were focused on the task at hand. I was not thinking about me or about what anyone thought of me. I was only thinking about my audience and about communicating the information I had in the clearest way possible.
A few weeks before, I gave an oral presentation. I was concentrating on myself, whether or not I did well, and what others might be thinking. The workshop was a success but that presentation was a flop. I wanted to make a good impression and was more concerned with how I did than what I was doing. My pride interfered.
In between that awful presentation and the workshop, the Lord used His Word to show me what He thinks about humility and pride. I had some wrong ideas. It was clear that whenever vanity governed my attitudes, God would not allow success, but what did He have against pride? what is humility? and what does He want me to do with ego problems?
One of the first verses I read was Proverbs 29:23. It says, “A man’s pride brings him low; but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.”
Amazing. God says pride itself is a destructive force. For some reason, I had thought it was God who brought me low because of pride, but that verse says pride itself does it to me. No wonder He warns us to avoid pride; it is harmful.
Instead, God tells us to have a lowly spirit, but He does not mean self-pity or self-depreciation. Lowliness has nothing to do with success or failure either. It is simply serving others without being concerned what happens to me, proving I trust God to take care of me.
As far gaining honor with a lowly spirit, anyone who serves unselfishly is doing something God highly values; with God’s recognition and applause, what higher honor could anyone have?
Working without any desire for recognition, applause, or glory makes me immune to the warnings about pride; it cannot bring me down. But with His kind of lowliness, I can be sure God will bring me up.