The process hurts. When pride is disciplined, the sting bites. But it’s good to be brought down. It’s good when our self-serving — even if carefully-crafted and vigilantly-guarded — self-elevating-image shatters. For in the shattering, we’re freed to return to truth. Hear J.I. Packer’s wise words:
We feel that, for the honour of God (and also, though we do not say this, for the sake of our own reputation as spiritual Christians), it is necessary for us to claim that we are, so to speak, already in the signal-box, here and now enjoying the inside information as to the why and wherefore of God’s doings. This comforting pretense becomes part of us: we feel sure that God has enabled us to understand all His ways with us and our circle thus far, and we take if for granted that we shall be able to see at once the reason for anything that may happen to us in the future. And then something very painful and quite inexplicable comes along, and our cheerful illusion of being in God’s secret councils is shattered. Our pride is wounded; we feel that God has slighted us; and unless at this point we repent, and humble ourselves very thoroughly for our former presumption, our whole subsequent spiritual life may be blighted. (J.I. Packer)
I find that when I serve God in ways that bring success, I inevitably begin to believe the acclaiming words of others: “They said so, so it must be true that I did perform well. My accomplished moment proves I’m worthwhile. I have arrived. I have mature value in God’s kingdom.” Even though I know better — that my value is not based on what I can “do for God,” that my worth is based only on Jesus’ worth and the mercy He chooses to lavish on me — I forget. I begin to build a kingdom of acclaim for ME.
And when time after time I find myself working through the process of:
- being thrilled that I get to serve God in a certain way, followed by
- being happy/honored/humbled that He used me in His kingdom, followed by
- the creeping, insidious downfall into belief that acclaim for ME is deserved, followed by
- my gathering of that comforting pretense into the glory-to-me corner,
- I remember J.I. Packer’s thoughts about the danger of the comforting pretense that I’ve now somehow “arrived.”
When God’s Spirit shows me the danger of #3 and #4, and pointedly brings me to #5, I must repent and humble myself very thoroughly from my former presumption. For I don’t want my whole subsequent spiritual life to be blighted. I don’t want to marvel over a spiritual gift I’ve been given, or a way I’ve been of use in the kingdom. Just as Jesus admonished the disciples who rejoiced that they’d successfully cast out demons, I want to marvel in this alone: that my name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (Luke 10:17-20)
It is so easy to rejoice in success. Our self-identity may become entangled with the fruitfulness of our ministry…And then the danger, of course, is that it is not God who is being worshiped. Our own wonderful acceptance by God himself no longer moves us, but only our apparent success…they (the disciples in Luke 10) have surreptitiously turned to idolizing something different: success.
Few false gods are so deceitful. When faced with such temptations, it is desperately important to rejoice for the best reasons — and there is none better than that our sins are forgiven, and that by God’s own gracious initiative our names have been written in heaven. (D.A. Carson)
The words of Carson and Packer, used of the Holy Spirit, stop our pride short. Jesus’ words to the disciples in Luke 10 stop our pride short. And God’s words to the early Roman Christians remind us to humble ourselves at each prideful presumption:
“… I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment…” (Romans 12:3)
The sting of pride disciplined bites. Being humbled, and the process of true repentance, hurts. But the false god of success-worship must be shattered.
And when it is, we find that it’s actually really good to be brought down.