I've been grazing recently in the Book of Proverbs. In this book of wisdom I've found ample acreage to browse and plenty to "chew on." One theme that keeps sprouting throughout its pages is that of pride.
"Pride," said Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, "grows in the human heart like lard on a pig." Pride is one of the few things that can grow in the human heart without any sustenance. And although it seems to flourish more visibly in some people, all the human race suffers under its malignant grip.
Pride has many different faces. It can try to demand control: "I want it my way" ... "I want to be my own god, run my own show, and submit to no one." It can be seen in the stubborn—what the Scriptures call "stiff necked" or "hard of heart." And it is most easily detected in those who carry themselves in an arrogant manner—when I was a kid we used to call kids like this stuck-up, snooty, snobbish, conceited, or cocky.
A life changed
It was the well-known evangelist Dwight L. Moody who commented on how God deals with pride in us, "God sends no one away empty except those who are full of themselves." A friend of mine named Jim Harvey learned that lesson the hard way. Jim and I have attended the same church here in Little Rock for over a decade. To any casual observer Jim's life looked pretty good. But God did some major surgery in Jim's life. Here's his story:
I grew up in a family where intelligence, good grades, and excellence in work was the measure of one's worth. Using these principles, life began to fall into place.
I was the top male student in school, and the top salesman in my first full-time job. I became a top sales manager, and soon was manager in a multibillion-dollar company. I was married and had a brilliant daughter attending an academically superior college. I was a deacon in my church.
I had tremendous confidence in my own ability. If I needed money, I worked harder. I tolerated no weakness; everything was under my control. I felt little understanding or patience with people going through problems. Failed marriages, children in trouble, unemployed men, addictions ... all were symptoms of weakness.
I knew that God must be pleased with me. Little did I know that I was about to go on a 10-year training program in which God broke down my arrogance and pride.
Suddenly I learned I had a daughter on hard drugs and a wife addicted to alcohol. A short time later my daughter left college and moved to Greenwich Village in New York City. My wife filed for divorce to marry an unemployed man she had met in a hospital for alcoholics.
I gained custody of my two younger children and was soon living as a single parent. My oldest daughter developed cancer and required surgery. Later she was tied up and raped.
I began to understand that when I had no strength and was helpless to deal with a situation, I could turn it over to God, and He would provide and meet my needs. Some of my arrogance and pride began to slip away, and I began viewing single parents, alcoholics, and drug addicts with more compassion.
I also became a serious student of the Bible, finishing five years of the Bible Study Fellowship program. Surely, I thought, God was through teaching me, and breaking down my pride. I was wrong.
The company I worked for decided to stop doing business in Arkansas, so I found myself without a job. I gained a new understanding of the emotions felt by the unemployed. As I had done during my previous problems, I turned the situation over to God. I began understanding Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians 12:10: "When I am weak, then I am strong."
Soon I was back earning a good income and doing well in my investments. I met and married Carole, a wonderful woman and a committed Christian. It'll be "smooth sailing" now, I thought. But God still wasn't finished with His training program.
When the stock market crashed in 1987, we lost most of our savings. Carole and I saw God's mercy when we had surgery for cancer that was successfully treated. Now we found ourselves understanding those who suffer from sickness or financial problems.
For years I tried to talk with my daughter in New York about Christ, but she had no interest. Finally, Carole and I decided to pray and ask God to work in her life.
Two months later I received one of the most dreaded phone calls a parent can get: "Dad, I have tested positive with the AIDS virus." I sat stunned, thinking, "God, where is the message?"
I had no strength to deal with this situation on my own, but God showed His faithfulness. With nowhere else to turn, my daughter received Christ as her Lord and Savior and has devoted her life to working and ministering in a hospital for dying AIDS patients.
Some people might consider this a harsh string of events, but I feel privileged to have learned the lessons each situation has brought. I'm better able to comfort those who find themselves in similar circumstances. With each trial, God has broken down my arrogance and pride, and has shown me His sufficiency. With God's faithfulness, no event should cause us to despair or doubt God's provision.
Honest stuff, huh? Jim's story sounds like that of Job in the Old Testament. Like Job, Jim learned the hard way that when everything you take pride in is stripped away, God is still faithful.
Death to self
Daily I attempt to put self to death and ask that Jesus Christ might have unhindered access to every area of my life. Then as I am tempted to get angry because things didn't go my way, I'm reminded that to give in to pride is death.
The following poem by John Newton illustrates our dilemma:
Once upon a time a paper
kite Mounted to a wondrous height,
Where, giddy with its elevation,
It thus expressed self-admiration:
"See how the crowds of gazing people
Admire my flight above the steeple.
How they would wonder if they knew
All that a kite like me can do!
And pierce the clouds beyond their sight;
But ah! Like a poor prisoner bound,
My string confines me to the ground!
I'd brave the eagle's towering wing,
Might I but fly without the string."
It tugged and pulled while thus it spoke,
To snap the string—at last it broke.
Deprived at once of all its stay,
In vain it tried to soar away;
Unable its own weight to bear,
It fluttered downward through the air.
Unable its own course to guide,
The winds soon plunged it in the tide.
Ah! Foolish kite, thou has no wing;
How couldst thou fly without a string?
My heart cried out, "0 Lord,
I see How much this kite resembles me!
Forgetful that by Thee I stand,
Impatient of Thy ruling hand,
How oft I've wished to break the lines
Thy wisdom for my lot assigns!
How oft indulge the fain desire
For something more or something higher!
But for Thy grace and love divine,
A fall this dreadful had been mine."
So what is the way of humility you ask? To know God, and to know who you are in relation to Him. Phillip Brooks once said, "The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is."
My pride wants to say, "I don't need God—I'm perfectly happy without Him." But what amazes me is that real happiness comes when I'm willing to humble myself and do what He wills with my life. The process may be painful, but it also brings real joy.
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