Throughout my life, pride has plagued me. It often shadows and colors my thoughts, ambitions, dreams, and desires. If not for God’s grace, I think it would have destroyed me long ago. And yet, I find something safe about pride. Dr. Larry Waters once taught me that certain sins act like “pacifiers” in our lives. We return to them in times of great stress as a distraction from the issues at hand.
A Comfortable Sin
In a way, pride is that sort of familiar, comfortable sin that I tend to chew on when life feels overwhelming. In a much darker sense, I have found that pride develops a fibrous root that reaches far and deep and produces a harvest of other sins. Beneath a surface of piety, hidden pride proves the most malignant means to my selfish ends.
I want to acquit myself, when falsely accused. When I speak before praying or even thinking, I want to distract people from my stupidity with a joke. When I give in to temptation—no matter what kind—I run to cover it up. In the Garden of Eden, the first couple sewed fig leaves. Pride is my fig leaf, and it fails just the same.
Challenged to take an inventory of my life, I went through the painful process of excavating my sins, tracing them out, discovering the deadly role they play in my life, and learning to “walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4, esv). The deeper I dug, the more I learned of the cancerous reality of pride. It had not just impacted my actions, but it had affected, and continues to influence, my motives.
In the Beginning
For me, it started during my formative years in childhood. And by the time I got to my junior year of college, pride had already skewed my ambition and tainted my motives. It was destroying me from within. I continued in an ungodly relationship founded on my desire, lust, and selfishness—a relationship attached to my pride.
At the time, I dreamt of attending dental school and joining the US Navy. I wanted and craved the title of the first medical doctor in my family that includes a long line of teachers, businesspeople, and journalists. My desire to help people in need and work in pop-up clinics in third-world nations around the globe only made me look better in the eyes of other people. Although not all my dreams seemed sinful, my motives proved otherwise.
Over the next three years, instead of achieving my aspirations, I watched them crumble. In that season, I lost two close friends to tragic accidents—a car wreck and a drowning. My relationship with my girlfriend ended, and both of my grandmothers went to be with the Lord following painful, debilitating diseases. I never did make it to dental school despite applying to about fifteen universities in three years. I didn’t receive a request for an interview or a callback.
God had another purpose, other plans for me. By His grace, He broke my heart, allowing my dreams to shatter before my eyes, and called me to communicate the message that changed my life, the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s when DTS came into view.
In Check and Challenged
In His sovereign resourcefulness, God had excised the pride that had rooted deep in my heart, but it didn’t end there. Once in seminary, I can recall the turbulence of my first week of classes.
I heard a confident, “No.” The president of the seminary had asked a question in class, and I thought I had the answer. His response fell heavy, like the door of a concrete vault on the tomb of my pride. Although I sat near the front in Bible Exposition 101, I felt as if I were watching the whole scenario from across the room.
I felt a strange sensation swirling inside me that seemed to indicate something between melting and burning. My face reddened as reality sunk deep. I’m a twenty-four-year-old, dental school “wannabe” who thinks he could handle seminary. And look! Dr. Mark Bailey just dropped another shovel’s worth of dirt on the grave of my pride.
I know God called me to DTS with classes like Dr. Bailey’s to challenge and check my heart because who I am does not match who I desire to be. I have come to realize that even something as innocent as holding the door for an elderly couple will cause my head to swell with egotistical thoughts. (I’m amazed that I can still squeeze it into a sweater!) My eyes remain open to the depths of my depravity, and I pray every day that God will continue to deal with me.
Unfortunately, however, I have discovered that God’s dealing with sin doesn’t produce a painless procedure. It’s a dangerous and risky undertaking. He cuts open hearts and pours the contents out before the eyes of those He loves. Why? Because His children need to see it the way that He does. That’s when change happens.
A. W. Tozer once said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” This thought doesn’t sell in today’s market where God is treated more like a holy vending machine and less like who He is—Sovereign Holy Creator. However, in the process of God’s dealing with my prideful heart, I have found this to be true: God uses any and every situation to bring me back to Himself.
In His kindness, He will not allow me, His beloved child, to continue in sin—a habit, an addiction—that leads to a life of separation from Him and the purpose He has for me—to look like Jesus (Rom 8:28–29). His heart toward me exudes a gracious blessing, which means that sometimes my wayward, pride-filled heart will need to die to look like His.
Even now, I still wrestle with these questions: What do I do with my pride? How do I deal with it? As the root of all my other sins, how do I heave it from the soil of my soul and kill it? After all, what has pride accomplished in me?
In his sermon “Pride and Humility” Charles Spurgeon explained pride this way:
Pride is a thing which should be unnatural to us, for we have nothing to be proud of. . . . In almost every other sin, we gather up the ashes when the fire is gone; but here, what is left? The covetous man hath his shining gold, but what hath the proud man? He has less than he would have had without his pride, and is no gainer whatever. . . . Pride is the maddest thing that can exist . . . Pride wins no crown.
Indeed, pride has left me broke, broken, and breaking. It has robbed my heart of joy. It has emptied my soul of assurance. It has eroded my character. Pride has taken all and left nothing but decay in its wake. What can I do?
Taking this question before the Lord and opening the Scriptures, the answer will always appear clearly. What can I do? Nothing. In and of myself, I can do nothing. I cannot solve the issue of my pride.
In the same way, a patient cannot perform delicate surgery on themselves. I need Someone able, qualified, and strong to meet me in my unable, unfit, weakness. My pride requires a broken heart, and even then I am incapable of breaking it myself.
Pride will continue as a deeply rooted issue for me. It distracts my thoughts and derails my worship. Although it often rears its head in the quiet of my heart where no one around me can see, I have learned how to identify pride in its early stages. How?
If any thought, word, or action offers me a platform to elevate myself to the point that I do not consider the loveliness of Christ, the outcome is always pride. That may seem extreme or abstract, but it is true.
Bernard of Clairvaux, a medieval Christian mystic, described this as the lowest level of love: to “love ourselves for our own sake.” When something causes us to love ourselves and not consider Christ, pride is at work.
Once I see the problem, I work at combatting it with three stages of remembrance.
I remember the sorrow of my sins. Recalling past mistakes is healthy if we do not fall back into them. When I remember how pride has ruined many good gifts in my life, it causes me to repent and reorient my gaze.
I remember the sweetness of community. Through prayer and Scripture reading, in the context of the believing community, I find help to kill my pride. I cannot always see the effects that it has in my life. Being alone with God, however, seeking Him in prayer and His Word, and staying committed to an authentic Christian community will reveal the blind spots in my life, and it will provide space for confession.
I remember the splendor of my Savior. Dr. John Hannah teaches that “preaching and teaching, telling the story of Jesus, is giving people Someone beautiful to believe in.” When I remember the beauty of my Savior, it reminds me of who I am because of Christ’s work, and this crushes my pride.
Although pride has plagued me throughout my life, from a position of brokenness I have discovered the wholeness of God to be utterly satisfying. God has opened my eyes to my need and has taught me to cry out to Him with a heart broken like David’s.
“Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which You have broken rejoice. . . . For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps 51:8, 16–17, nasb).
And so, like David, I continue to pray for a breakable heart—a heart that sees the world and people and circumstances the way that God does. The Lord will continue to break my prideful heart, and in the breaking I have hope in knowing that I will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him (Jas 1:12).