Confronting and confessing our failings
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I was thrilled to be a Canadian delegate at the World Evangelical Alliance’s General Assembly in Indonesia this past November. Gathering with fellow believers from more than 90 nations was an indescribable joy.
At one of the sessions we viewed videos produced for training leaders of national evangelical alliances around the world. Canada was featured, including an interview with me. I was honoured at the prospect of even briefly appearing on screen. But when my face appeared, my heart sank.
There in front of hundreds of people, my last name was misspelled. I felt annoyed and irritated. If you asked me ten minutes later, I could not have told you about the rest of the video. All I focused on was my bungled name.
It’s not a big thing, I tried to tell myself. Let it go.
It stayed with me though the rest of the day. I complained to someone about the error, and then wished I hadn’t. So now I was not only upset my name had been spelled wrong, but was also disappointed with myself for being consumed by it. What was my problem?
The problem of pride is one theologians through the ages have written a lot about. Many have suggested that if there is a root sin underlying all others, pride is the prime candidate. Some have even dubbed pride as Satan’s first sin, not to mention the sin which has destroyed millions since.
Sinful pride is paradoxical. Those who have it are unlikely even to be aware of it.
Conversely, for those who know they struggle with sinful pride, it is pride itself which prevents them from dealing with it.
Theologian Miroslav Volf once observed pride is perhaps more often a male than a female problem. Given my experience working with different women over the years, not to mention the humility of my own dear wife, I think Volf is right. Yet it’s probably also true that all of us, men and women, at some point or another struggle with pride.
How should we deal with it?
We start by admitting pride may in fact be a problem. Frankly, I’ve thought of myself as a humble sort of guy, but when my irritable words came tumbling out I realized again what Jesus said was so true: "The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart" (Matthew 15:18, GNT). Of course it’s okay to want your name spelled correctly, but in this case I felt my words revealed more than natural irritation lurking in my heart.
Once we recognize pride, we all know what’s needed instead is humility.
But we also need to recognize humility isn’t just a character virtue. It’s something we do. Scripture is replete with statements of how God looks favourably on those who come to Him with contrite hearts (Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Peter 3:8).
So the antidote when pride has come tumbling out is to confess with our mouth before God, and perhaps others.
Ultimately our ability to recognize sinful pride comes as we allow the Spirit to search our hearts and thoughts. Sometimes the Spirit speaks through a good friend, spouse, wise counsellor, and sometimes even through the words of someone we might otherwise be avoiding at all costs.
Are we willing to admit we struggle with pride when the Spirit points it out?
Hopefully, we won’t be too proud to say yes.