By Sam Crabtree
We default to thinking so well of ourselves it can be difficult to think God might not think quite so highly of us.
When others sin, we easily conclude that’s just the way they are generally, but when we sin, we excuse ourselves by saying that’s not really the way we are – the sin was an exception to our normal goodness. Such is the blinding deception pride inflicts upon us.
We English-speakers can easily trip over the vocabulary, for the word pride carries more than one meaning in our culture. First, pride can mean finding pleasure in achievement, and there’s nothing immoral about that.
To do something well – with excellence – in the strength God supplies can be quite satisfying. That kind of pride (“Don’t be sloppy, but take pride in your work, son.”) is commendable.
In this sense, the humble can be proud without sinning. Paul said he labored more than them all; then he immediately gave all the credit to the grace of God at work in him.
Second, pride can mean a group of lions. Even the prideful king of beasts doesn’t hunt alone and can be made to run by a charging elephant or the horns of a gnu.
Third, pride can mean the kind of smugness identified often in our culture as arrogance, or braggadocio—a self-preoccupation that’s either insensitive to others or simply doesn’t care. Often relatively benign, in its more egregious forms it’s abrasive and even oppressive.
The proud want to get in the last word, one-up the previous story told by someone else, enforce their way of doing things, and ensure they’re given credit for their song or sermon or script. This kind of pride is easier to spot in others than in oneself.
Pride doesn’t die once, but must be slain daily. What practical steps can be taken to overcome this dangerous blindness?
The humble listen. They learn.
The proud appear to listen, presuming to have already learned. Knowledge puffs up. Be quick to admit you don’t know. Be slow to speak at all. Beware of trying to give the impression you know more than you do.
One time I heard a pastor say, “I know exactly what to do,” [emphasis his] but when he implemented his solution, it failed, thereby damaging his people’s confidence in him.
Apply the suggestions of others. This is a byproduct of listening.
A colleague heard me give a talk and knew I was scheduled to give the same talk again. She recommended I make changes that seemed to me like a significant makeover.
Knock knock. Who’s there? Pride. Pride who? Pride that thinks “it’s your talk and not hers, and you know very well what you’re talking about and who is she to undo all your good work and, really, who does she think she is, anyway?”
God gave me the grace to ask Him to help me slay my stubbornness, and so I took her suggestions. It didn’t hurt a thing, and the subsequent talk seemed to have the advantages she highlighted. It was better, thank you.
Learn to defer. Defer gladly.
In my former job I had jurisdiction over more than 250 employees on the payroll. I had the right to overrule, but rarely did. God helped me learn to hire people better than me and unleash them to do things as they see best, then monitor and give feedback when necessary.
Years ago I won first place in a nationwide newsletter design contest, yet when my staff designed our publications I didn’t micromanage their designs as though there’s only one way – my way – to achieve excellence.
Find pleasure in endorsing the good work of others.
4. Let others take credit
Find ways to give others credit (while remaining happily silent about your own role). Pass out accolades, honest ones.
- Say thanks. Make it a practice. Say it a lot. Write thank you notes. Call people just to say thanks. Proud people aren’t grateful people.
- Admit, “I’m not in charge (ultimately).” Pastors are leaders, but that thought can introduce pride into your frame of mind. Constantly be reminded: we’re all under authority.
- Take an interest in others. The way to become humble is not to spend a lot of time thinking about humility or to do a self-assessment on some kind of humility scale, but to get busy taking an interest in others, loving them well and being interested in their lives.
- Cheerfully yield your “rights,” like the right to be left uninterrupted, or to be understood, or to be appreciated.
- Live in a humble house and drive a modest car.
- Steward accolades. Commendations received are a prime opportunity to give credit to God and others. Beware of gloating. Years ago Chuck Swindoll challenged me to take my graduation diplomas off my office wall. They can become trophies of pride. I’m sure I’ve kept them somewhere, but I don’t even remember where.
- Don’t overlook prayer. Ask God for humility. If there’s one thing of my neighbor’s I should covet, it’s his humility.
- Remember you are not your own. Everything we have is a sacred stewardship.
- Conduct an attitude check. Am I genuinely glad when others are honored? Do I welcome criticism as an instrument in God’s hand for my sanctification? How difficult is it for me to admit mistakes or ask forgiveness? Am I easily angered? Am I inflexible? Do I have to be in control? Can I let someone else drive? Do I have to have the last word? If I’m the boss, do I feel a need to remind people of it? Am I quick to express gratitude?
The word “absolutely” is overused in our culture, draining it of its helpful meaning. When I place an order with a waiter, their response is often “perfect.” Really?
These days nothing is cool, or fun, or nice; it’s supercool, super-fun, or super-nice. Further, I find it extremely foolish to say, “You can become anything you dream.” Baloney.
You can dream you were never born, or that you are a goldfish, but you cannot succeed at such things at all. All the presidential candidates who died without becoming president are testimony that you can want something badly, work hard for it, and yet not succeed. How many pro athletes sincerely work hard for the championship ring, but never get one?
You can work, work, work to get to heaven, but to no avail; only faith in the finished work of Jesus will suffice. To keep on insisting, as our culture seems to, that you can achieve anything you can conceive is irrational. And prideful.
What To Think About
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis famously wrote:
“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: He will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”
You will never know when you’ve achieved true humility, for you won’t be thinking of yourself at all.
Sam Crabtree serves as executive pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He is the author of Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God and Parenting with Loving Correction: Practical Help for Raising Young Children.