June 12, 2017 • Life for Leaders
The LORD Almighty planned it, to bring down her pride in all her splendor and to humble all who are renowned on the earth.
Last week we saw how God judged Shebna, the temple administrator, for his pride and for trying to use his authority for his own glory. Today, the Lord, through Isaiah, condemns human pride once again. But, whereas in Isaiah 22 the pride of a single leader was indicted, this time it’s the pride of a nation.
Years ago, when I was a college pastor, I led a Bible study on a passage that identified pride as sinful. One of my students interrupted me by asking: “What’s so wrong about pride? I thought we were supposed to take pride in ourselves. What’s so bad about feeling good about the things I have accomplished?” At the time, I was unprepared for such a blunt question. But I’ve thought about it for years since then. When, if ever, is pride okay? When is it sinful?
In part, I think the rightness or wrongness of pride depends on what happens in the heart of the individual. Sinful pride takes way too much credit, forgetting God’s grace and gifts. Sinful pride says, “I did it! I am great!” Yet there’s another quality of pride that is mixed with humility and gratitude. This sort of pride says, “I did it, by God’s grace! I did it! How blessed I am!” It’s the kind of pride we hear when Paul writes to the Philippians: “I can do all this through [Christ] who gives me strength” (4:13). The emphasis here is not upon “I can do it all,” but rather upon “Christ, who gives me strength.” Such pride is consistent with the command of Scripture: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:31).
I don’t think it’s wrong for us to delight in the work we do, or, as we might say, to take pride in our accomplishments. After all, we have been created in the image of God who recognized his work as good and, indeed, very good (see Genesis 1). Yet, if our joy in our work leads us to claim all the credit for ourselves, if we become puffed up with our own self-importance, then we have crossed the line from healthy pride to that which hurts us and dishonors the Lord.
Recently, I spent a couple hours with a man who has been fabulously successful in his business. He built a business that is now worth several billion dollars. I expect he feels a certain pride in his work. But, as he talked about his success, he kept pointing to God’s grace in his life. At one point, he choked up with gratitude as he acknowledged the Lord’s goodness to him.
I want to be like this man. Sure, I hope I’m successful in my work. But, no matter what, I want to be utterly convinced that whatever I achieve is a result of God’s grace at work in me and around me. I want to be filled, not with pride that keeps me from God, but with pride that is permeated by gratitude and humility before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
When you feel pride, what happens in your soul?
Does your pride draw you near to God in humility and gratitude?
Or does your pride lead you away from God as you glory in yourself?
What might help you to have pride that honors God?
Gracious God, you know my heart. You know what happens in me when I feel proud. Forgive me, Lord, when my pride is selfish, when I take credit for that which comes from your grace in my life.
Help me to see myself and my accomplishments in the clear light of your truth. Whether I feel pride because the lawn I just mowed looks good, or because I’ve contributed to your work in the world, may my feelings of pride be marinated in humble gratitude. Let me live each day, thankful for how you are at work through me, yet continuously aware of just how much I depend on you in all things.
Above all, may you be my pride and joy. When I boast, may I boast in you! Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: The Wise Worker is Modest (Proverbs)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
I too have struggled with this very issue. Especially when it involves my children and grandchildren who have accomplished something good. My first inclination is to tell them I am proud of them for their accomplishment, and sometimes I stop short in my own self analysis that maybe I am perpetuating something not good.