This week, I want to talk about the issue of pride. It’s something that I believe is still deeply rooted in my old nature, and you may struggle with it too. For me, my pride is thinking of myself as better than another person, even for a moment. Now this is different than recognizing God may have given me skills another does not have, so I may be more adequate for a particular job. For example, I was better at bending over and digging in the dirt than my 89-year-old grandmother. It was just a fact. I didn’t think that made me superior, though. That would be ridiculous! I used my ability to serve her in her garden by digging and watering for her, and I know she wished she could have done it herself. She was a farmer’s daughter. It must have been very humbling for her to ask for help. No, when I say I have pride, what I mean is that I actually think I’m better than another because I’m smarter, or quicker, or you name it. It used to be much worse. Now, I like to think I catch it much sooner. But nonetheless, it appears.
I saw someone laugh at another person for a slipup, and I thought to myself, That person has been walking with the Lord for so long, and done so much for the church, and they still act like that? A week later, as I sat in church, our pastor paused as he used the day’s date in his message. “Today, this January—what day is it?” He gestured to a church member for help. “Thank you. In the year two thousand and—“. I laughed. I laughed out loud. “Eighteen,” he continued. Now I may have thought I laughed much louder than I actually did, and even if someone heard it, they may not have noticed what it was, but I nonetheless laughed. Throw me up there on stage, and see if I do better. But in that moment, I thought I could do better, or was better. And the new self within me is appalled at the old self for reacting such. As my pastor says, “How tacky is that?”
I stopped by the church office for some information, and I felt guilty for not visiting sooner. Having once worked in the office, I kind of feel like I’ve abandoned them, since I hardly visit anymore. Life just gets busy. One of the women lives just down the street from me, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen her. I’m at the church three days a week when the office is open, but I don’t stop by. Then another woman walked by, and I suddenly felt confident to talk to her, because she knew something good I’ve done. How pathetic is that? And I would think of myself as a mature Christian? And yet I’m rating myself on my works? In one thought, I’m guilty, and in the next, I’m prideful. I shouldn’t feel inferior in the fellowship because of my actions, and I shouldn’t feel superior because of my works. Christ accepts me. Christ forgives me. And Christ knows it all. You may not see any of this if you know me, but this is what goes on in my head. And maybe you are the same. Maybe you talk about it. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you think you’re all alone, or a bad Christian. Well, if you do, you’re not.
When you hear about Sodom, what do you think? Do you think of a depraved city saturated with homosexuality? After all, isn’t that why another word for homosexuality is sodomy? Isn’t that why the city was destroyed by God? No, God tells us why he destroyed the city, and it’s not for that reason. God tells us through the prophet Ezekiel, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” (16:49, English Standard Version). Then He goes on to tell Israel, God’s chosen people, “Was not your sister Sodom a byword in your mouth in the day of your pride, before your wickedness was uncovered?” (vs. 56-57). Israel considered itself more righteous than that old stinky Sodom, and yet God says, “As I live, declares the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done” (vs. 48). Let that sink in for a moment. Israel had become worse than Sodom in God’s eyes, and Sodom’s guilt was pride. I believe failing to aid poor and needy people was a side effect of the pride issue. But back to the point, Israel had become very proud. God says through Amos, “I abhor the pride of Jacob” (Amos 6:8), Jacob being another term for the nation of ancient Israel. “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” (Amos 6:4-6). Joseph is another term referring to the nation Israel.
Are you proud to be an American? That’s good. My fathers fought for this land too. Or maybe you’re proud of your abilities or possessions or status, and you have those things because you are American but you don’t explicitly think of it that way. But does it make you think you’re better than people in those other countries? And is there another country with more abundance of food than America? Or is there another land with prosperous ease like America? What are we doing with that? What are you doing with that? Are you considering anyone around you who doesn’t have that? Does that really make you or me any better than Sodom and Gomorrah or ancient Israel?
I thank God that He has mercy on me, that He is patient with me, and that He convicts me of my sin before it takes a deeper root in my heart. I pray that He has mercy on me so that He can be shown as a very good God through my life and my testimony. Here’s a poem I wrote roughly seven years ago about some folks in the Bible. It’s a cross comparison of Israel and the pagan city of Nineveh. Jonah, who was sent by God to the Assyrians, probably preached around 770-750 B.C., and Amos, his contemporary who was sent to preach to Israel, probably preached about 760 B.C. (Archaeological Study Bible). Uzziah was the king of Judah and Jeroboam II was the king of Israel (Amos 1:1; 2 Kings 14:25). Ashur-dan III (ruling 772-755 B.C.) was likely king of Nineveh and the Assyrians. Amos did not brag about being qualified to be a prophet (Amos 7:14-15). Rather, all he said was that he was doing what God told him to do. Jonah was likely a professional prophet who was trained up to preach for a living in a family and school of prophets. He may have already become popular for his prophecy that Israel would expand its borders (2 Kings 14:25). Did that make Jonah nationalistic? Did that make him proud? What we do know from the Book of Jonah is that he didn’t want his God or himself to have anything to do with non-Jews (Jonah 4:1-2). He wouldn’t go to Gentiles until God had a fish eat him (3:3). We know Ashur-dan was very repentant for his sins (3:6-9). He covered himself in sackcloth and ashes, which was a sign of mourning. His proclamation for a fast was also done during periods of grief, among other contexts. Conversely, King Jeroboam of Israel was evil in God’s eyes (2 Kings 14:24), and King Uzziah of Judah became so proud that he even tried to burn incense in the Temple, which was only the priests’ job. As a consequence, God gave him leprosy, which ensured he would never be able to return to the Temple again (2 Chron. 26:16-21). Now that you have all that background history, here’s the poem:
Amos preached in Israel
But none of them repented.
When Jonah preached in Nineveh
Of judgment, God relented
The punishment to come.
Ashur-dan of Nineveh
Was cleansed by donning ashes,
But Uzziah of the chosen race
Was given leprous rashes
And banned from Yahweh’s sight.
The Assyrians’ humility
Caused angels to rejoice,
Revealing God’s great mysteries,
But the prophet’s own parched voice
Cried out in great anger.
Its absence raised a sheep herder
To the royal court’s side.
Its presence swallowed Jonah.
What I speak of here is pride
And child of God, you’re not immune.
Next post, I will try to share with you some music, since this blog was also started about music.