F.E.A.R.

Faithless
Expectation of
Armies and
Rain
…when the general loves you and you’ve got an umbrella.

Getting
Ready to
Eat your
Emptiness for
Dinner
…when your father is a billionaire and your mom’s making steak.

Languishing
Under
Slavery to self and
Tyranny over persons
…when there’s fresh air outside and we’re all in one family.

Painstakingly
Rationalizing your
Inoperative
Disease-infested
Ego
…when the organ isn’t necessary and the surgeon is in.

Father’s fidelity to
Outlandishly show off his
Redemption and to
Gently display the
Irrationality of our
Vices
Even as we
Naive young fools
Expect to
Somehow
Settle a deal
…though the debt’s all been paid and our bank account is brimming.

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pride and humility

In reality there is perhaps not one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself… For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility. -Benjamin Franklin

Pride. It’s what we notice first and hate most in other people, but notice last and defend most fiercely in ourselves. Pride is the chief spiritual sin from which all the others come because it dethrones God in our hearts, replacing love of God with love of self, glorification of God with glorification of self. Pride insists on its own way, listens only to voices that affirm what it wants to hear, feels entitled to things from others and God, baulks at submission, gets bored with compassion, loves only when its easy.

Want to get a grip on the nature of pride? Read Matthew chapter 23. In the margins of my Bible I have privately titled this chapter the “anti-pride chapter.” In it, Jesus blasts the pride of the scribes and Pharisees (i.e. the ultra religious people of his day). On the one hand it is a fun chapter to read because Jesus comes across as being so obviously superior to his petty adversaries. On the other hand, reading it is almost painful because of the intensity with which it exposes and condemns my false humility and religiosity, both of which are manifestations of the pride in my heart. There is no escaping it, if you’re honest with yourself. As Mr. Franklin noted, apart from Jesus and submission to him, pride rules our hearts exclusively.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:5-7

The opposite of pride is humility. People often misunderstand humility, confusing it with distortions of the real thing. Humility is not self-deprecation, false modesty, an inferiority-complex, or being a doormat to whoever wants to take advantage. “It is not pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools,” as C. S. Lewis said. Stirring up false humility in this way simply serves to turn a person’s attention back to himself or herself, just in a more subtle way. On the contrary – real humility means, simply, self-forgetfulness.

If you want to see what humility looks like, read Philippians 2:1-11 and John 13:1-20. Note Paul’s wording in Philippians 2:3. He does not say “in humility count yourselves as less significant than others,” but rather, “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” The focus is outward. Note also the reason for Jesus’ breathtaking humility in John 13:3 – “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper…” Jesus acted in humility and love in that instance and in every other because he knew his identity. He knew his relationship with the Father was certain and immovable; therefore he did not need to assert or exalt himself with other people. God was enough for him.

The same is true of us when we as Christians recognize who we are. We know, first, that we did not create ourselves; all our talents and abilities are gifts from God. Second, we know we are sinners who do not go a day without needing forgiveness. We know, third, that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are completely sufficient for saving us and there is nothing we can add or take away. When this head-knowledge begins to creep into our hearts, lives change. Real, healthy humility begins to take root.

Even in secular estimation, Jesus was a man of amazing humility. It did not make him passive or fearful – he spoke the truth boldly. He also served, boldly and constantly, outcasts and lawbreakers. His humility expressed itself in tangible acts of love and generosity. He did not live for the attention and praise of other people, but only for the pleasure and glory of God and for the joy of serving his Father.

It sounds backward, but God is good to let us fail or suffer if genuine humility results. It is so beautiful, and so free, to live humbly. In a life of humility there is freedom from those gnawing desires for attention, success, admiration, or whatever else, that make our lives so unnecessarily miserable and so perpetually sinful. There is frank and honest joy in the good things in life, whether or not we get the credit, and sadness in the sad things in life, whether or not they directly affect us. There is unobstructed worship of the King and love for people – and people always notice when they are being loved without an agenda, served without needing to be thanked. Humble love is so distinctively beautiful, and so incredibly rare, that it is impossible to fake.

grace

The Christian life is often a back and forth between despair and pride, self-loathing and self-righteousness. God’s answer to both is simply: grace.

Sometimes people feel that they need to “clean themselves up” before they can come before God in prayer, church, communion, or whatever else. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, they search for fig leaves with which to cover their nakedness and shame. If they feel that they can cover themselves up well enough or if they convince themselves they are not bare at all, then come pride and self-satisfaction: “God will be satisfied with my performance/listen to my prayer/not be mad at me because of all these things I did this week…”

If, on the other hand, no “fig leaves” feel big enough to cover their shame, then come despair and guilt. Feeling exposed, alone, disappointed in themselves, and intensely guilty, people will often withdraw from God altogether, or only come to him in a further attempt to placate their guilty consciences. They don’t truly come to prayer or church for God or true forgiveness, because they don’t believe themselves worthy of either. Enough time spent in the darkness of despair and bitterness at God may even result. As in James 1, they will claim that God is “tempting” them beyond what they can bear, or that his standard is simply too impossibly high for them. For others, maybe not. But it is certainly too high for them.

Both sides of the spectrum may feel holy. The self-righteous person feels just that – righteous. And the guilty person feels holy too, because they know God hates sin and therefore their self-loathing must somehow be right as well.

God, in his most wonderful way, completely does away with fig leaves altogether.

To the proud, self-satisfied heart he says, “You think you can have access to me because you managed to scrape out an offering this week? Nonsense – all your ‘righteous acts’ are like filthy rags before me. I owe you nothing and you owe me everything. You can come to me simply because I love you, I made you, and I have given grace to you, and for no other reason.”

To the despairing, withdrawing heart he says, “Is my arm too short to save you? Are you beyond my reach? Do you not know that I died for the very purpose of bringing sinners to myself? You have full access to me simply because of what I have done for you. My grace is sufficient for you. Come.”

God rejects our makeshift coverings of shame and instead clothes us with the very covering of Jesus’ blood, and Jesus’ righteousness. We are forgiven past, present, and future sins in his eyes because Jesus died to forgive us. We are declared pure and worthy in his eyes because Jesus lived perfectly in order to cover us. We do not get access to God or gain his approval through our performance and we do not lose it through our failures: fig leaves have nothing on grace.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:19-23

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves…
The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. Genesis 3:7, 21