Of Pride and Prima Donnas

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:5-7

There was a time when I loved skiing. When we moved to Boulder in 1999, I was a big skier – a BIG skier. My first year there I managed 43 days on the slopes. Of course, the work thing interfered from time to time, but not much. I got really good, and was very impressed with myself and my skills.

I later relocated to Austin and tried keeping up my love for skiing, organizing semi-annual trips the first couple of years, until life finally intruded. Eventually, I just packed away the heavy weather gear, the boots, the helmets, the gloves, the slinky little underwear, you know the drill.

Then I organized a team “business meeting” in Crested Butte. No, really – a real meeting. In fact, the management at the Lodge was impressed with our ability to meet 9 hours a day for two days with the lifts 50 yards outside!

I couldn’t stay the weekend with the rest of my team, so I got there early to squeeze in a half-day of slope time before the meetings started.

Nothin’ But Pride

A funny thing happens when you haven’t skied in a couple of years. Apparently there’s this brain–body disconnect where the brain believes one thing and the body believes another. To my brain, six years away from skiing was really nothing, just a blink of the eye. I remembered – with pride, course – my glory days. My brain told me I was “Powder Dude” and “Steeps Dude” and “Air Dude.” Of course, my body had already moved out of state and was focused on more important things like lounging in front of a TV with a nice adult beverage.

Needless to say, I got reminded who was boss. After half a day of skiing, nothing too strenuous, of course, I tried one last run, just to prove I still had it. You can guess what happened next. A caught edge, a wonderful somersault, and *splat* “Air Dude” becomes “Crash Dude” with a separated shoulder.

“Dude, I kept my skis on!”

To be sure, the nurse and the doctors and the nice ski patrol guy were all very understanding. They didn’t care much about my pride, though. I, on the other hand, was very concerned. I mean, I’m a skier for 18 years! This doesn’t happen to me!

That’s the topic of this message: Pride. What it is, why it lies at the root of nearly all our shortcomings, how it separates us from God, how it separates us from each other.

The word “Pride” is mentioned nearly 80 times in the NIV version of the Bible. Related topics like “proud” and “prideful” and “boastful” increase that count significantly. Scriptural commentary on Pride is rarely positive.

In the passage quoted at the beginning of this message, Peter is writing to the Elders and leaders in the expanding region of the early Church across Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (collectively known today as the country of Turkey), attempting to encourage new followers who were under severe persecution and wavering in their faith. The younger followers were at odds with their elders, allowing pride to fuel disagreements and arguments about who should lead.

Peter is pointing out a subtle but crucial point. Pride (or its corollary the lack of humility) is at the heart of all sin. It leads us from God instead of running to Him. Arrogance, disobedience, rebellion, mistreatment of others – all are rooted in a lack of humility.

Humility is Hard

Humility isn’t a popular topic in today. It’s not touted on The View or Ellen, it’s rarely mentioned in speeches, it certainly hasn’t found it’s way into the endless blathering from would-be social critics attacking this politician or that celebrity, you don’t find seminars dedicated to finding humility. Take a look at this link on self-help books – not a single topic on humility.

Why is this?

Perhaps because true humility can only exist when God is present. Humility is like a shadow we cast when God’s light shines on us. When we turn from God, the shadow of humility is replaced by a darker, more insidious shadow – the shadow of Pride.

Pride leads us to believe we can define ourselves apart from our “created” nature. Ironically, as we cling tightly to the fantasy of self-importance and self-sufficiency, we begin feeling anxious about anything threatening that illusion. This anxiety fuels the motives leading us into lives of mistakes and shortcomings as we try to avoid the reality that we’re not really in control of our lives.

One area of Christian life where Pride is most dangerous is … faith. Peter saw this among his followers, as the younger men allowed pride to cloud their sense of community.

We’ve all known folks like that – proud Christians who are good people yet who stand on self-made alters of self-righteousness. Their faith is not so much about God as it is about them.

The Self-Exalted Are Humbled

This is wonderfully illustrated in the 18th chapter of Luke. Jesus is teaching when his attention turns to “some who were confident in their righteousness and looked down on everybody else.” In response, Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee and Tax Collector going to the temple to pray. The Pharisee, filled with a sense of his own self-righteousness, thanks God he isn’t like the other men – adulterers, evildoers, even tax collectors. Meanwhile, the tax collector stands in the back of the temple, afraid to raise his eyes to God and begs mercy for his sins. Jesus clinches the story with this line: “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

Pharisee and the Publican, James Tissot, 1894

Those who exalt themselves will be humbled by God. That’s a powerful message. And we’re just one broken promise, one misstep away from devastation. Getting to the root of Pride lying buried in each of our hearts is hard. Yet as I’ve reflected on how Pride often controls my relationships with God and those around me, I’ve found three ways to attack my own lack of humility. Let me warn you, these aren’t easy to do consistently, and they must be done together. And while they may seem simplistic, they work. This week, I encourage each of you to consciously try them:

1) Be grateful to anyone and everyone. Treat even the things people are expected to do as great gifts. Be grateful for your meals, grateful for the change you get back at the drive through, the smile at the ticket counter, rain, life itself. Thank everyone.

2) Beg forgiveness of God for the sin of Pride. Go before Him in prayer every day or every few hours and implore His mercy. The more this offends you, the more Pride you have.

3) Ask God for a spirit of Humility and Gratitude. Read Philippians 2:3-11 and imitate it. Understand that without God’s Grace, we’ll never cast away our illusions. Ask God to break your pride and vanity using whatever it takes: illness, loss of friends, loss of family, public humiliation. This is unbelievably difficult to request, and every fiber of our being fights it. We protest it is not fair, or “God doesn’t work that way.”

As Jesus reminded us, what good is gaining the world and losing our soul? In the end, all but true love for God is lost, so count all else but God as loss now.

Colossians 1:17

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