I must confess some things about me that are pretty ugly. I crave admiration and recognition. I want to be liked and appreciated. Actually, I want to be worshiped. In short, I want what rightfully belongs to God. My illicit addictions to these things have brought me great sorrow and depression over the years. Only now am I just beginning to see these desires for what they really are. Pride: The great anti-God state of mind.
God put His glory on display by creating a world ablaze with beauty and He filled it with worshippers. It was an act of love. Worshipping God is the most thrilling and satisfying experience there is. But it all started to go wrong when one of God’s insanely magnificent creations, Archangel Lucifer, fell in love with his own splendour and began to crave worship for himself. He fell from heaven and his pride has led to him becoming the most destructive being in all creation.
Pride: What’s the big deal?
What is the worst thing that could happen to you? Have your house burn down? Lose your job? Have your bank go belly up? The death of your spouse? How about being cut off from the Source of all truth, goodness, and beauty? That last one sounds pretty devastating.
We are created. We did not choose our existence. Our life does not belong to us. It belongs to the One who made us. He tells us we were made for His glory. He offers us a relational paradise, if we will submit to His purposes for our life. We were made to worship, to be in awe of God’s breathtaking beauty, to fall flat on our faces in wonder and admiration, our tongues dripping with praise and gratitude. We were made to enjoy God. But we can’t do any of those things when we are obsessed with ourselves.
The universe is vast beyond description, but something as tiny as your thumb can completely block your vision. Our whole world is saturated with the glory of God and proof of his existence, but when our eyes are stuck on “me,” God can seem to disappear. Falling in love with our reflection is one of life’s greatest tragedies.
But it feels so good…
The praise of men is intoxicating. God endows us with talents that enable us to do truly worthwhile accomplishments. When other people notice and praise us, it’s a rush of pleasure that makes us feel like “this is why I’m alive!” The feeling is addictive. It starts to motivate us to make ourselves more attractive: We lose weight or bulk up. We invest in beauty treatments and joke books. The sin of Lucifer quietly sneaks into our souls and begins corrupting.
Admiration, like any other addiction, produces painful withdrawal symptoms. These include insecurity, envy, jealousy, depression, self doubt, and resentment.
I consider myself a pretty humble person, especially when you take into account how much an ordinary person with my talents would struggle with pride… I was raised with lots of affirmation and praise; I really thrive on pleasing people. But I have lately been discovering how serious my pride condition has become. Social media and Google counters have given me a whole new way to feed my lust for admiration. You have no idea what a depraved, pathetic person I become after posting a blog, updating my status, or posting a picture. Like a Jost to a mirror, I am irresistibly drawn to my computer or Ipod touch to see how well my latest offering is received. Each “like” or share provides a wave of pleasure that my significance-starved soul laps up.
I am not looking forward to judgement day when the hours I have wasted doing nothing but checking this website’s page views and looking for Facebook feedback. I have also gone into mini depressions after spending hours writing and crafting my thoughts, only to have it go thud as the public largely ignores my post.
I envy people like Matt Walsh or Ann Voskamp who have thousands of people who seem to adore each post. I am jealous of their platform and I try to figure out how I can make my writing more entertaining or my titles more catchy.
This is raw honesty and I know just how ridiculous this must sound. And to underscore how deep this problem is, I have a comment on Facebook that is right now up to 47 “likes.” I keep getting distracted from writing my article on pride to see how many likes it keeps getting!! This is known as pitiful irony. I am a sick man. And it is not fun.
Longing for Freedom
Lately I have been reading a great book written by a man who has chosen to stay anonymous (apparently only his wife and publisher know who wrote the book.) It is called Embracing Obscurity. In his pages I am beginning to see the real reason behind my approval addiction is plain old black pride. I see that I have been craving things that only God deserves.
I do long to know God and make him known. My desire in writing or speaking is have him glorified. It has been an appalling discovery, though, to see just how much my pride has corrupted these passions in my life. In my speaking, I begin to look forward the delivery of the hilariously clever illustration I have planned. In writing, I start to care more about how to make my article more catchy and how to maximize page views instead of just being faithful to write what God has laid on my heart, and leaving the size of the audience to Him. After I speak I find myself day dreaming about the times I made my audience laugh, or got their attention, or the time I surprised myself with how brilliant my insight was, or how I got the words just right.
Rationally, I know I am nothing apart from God, and when I am complimented I try to deflect the glory to God. But if I’m not careful, my compliment deflecting is motivated more by my image management. I want to be seen as handsome, articulate and humble!
Today it hit me that the real reason I need to deflect the praise is not for the person giving the compliment. It is for me. The person who most needs to hear the deflection of praise is myself!
This hunger for men’s acclaim is so devastating, because while I am feeding on the approval of man, my soul is starving. If God in his mercy did not give me times where the river of admiration runs dry (which is actually most of the time) or times where my significance is shattered by words of criticism, my soul would very likely starve to death while being intoxicated by empty words of flattery.
The admiration of others is such an empty thing to base your life on. Even when it seems like you are being flooded with worship and adulation, when you are receiving that standing ovation or your post is going viral, the reality is that people will forget about you very quickly and move on to the more important issues in their life, mostly themselves. If people are thinking about you a lot, the chances are it is because they hate you or are bitter towards you. John says that all that in the world, and he includes the pride of life, is passing away, but those who do the will of God abide forever (1 John 2:15-17)
Jesus warned very strongly against this craving to be seen and admired by men in both his parables and his teaching. He left us an example of how to live in this life. Jesus seemingly cared very little about his reputation before men. He did not go the extra mile to make sure he was not misunderstood, and he did not water down his message for approval. He committed himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23).
Jesus did, however, point us to the only source that will satisfy our craving for recognition – our heavenly Father’s love. He said repeatedly that when we seek to serve in a hidden way, God would reward us openly (see Matt 6). While the praise of men will never be enough to satiate our hunger or pathetic need for approval, the words of God can bring overwhelming peace.
Who God says you are.
If the truth of how God sees us would really sink in, it would no longer matter so much what our fellow earthlings say about us. We are God’s precious creation, carefully formed and our life was planned with great care (Ps 139). We are called the children of God! (1 John 3:1) God completely understands our weakness and appreciates our efforts. He promises the words “well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord” to those who humbly persevere. (Matt 25:21) I am loved and understood by the most important and powerful Person in the universe. What more could I want?
Should we praise our fellowman or are we just making their struggle with pride worse?
1 Thessalonians 5 tells us to “encourage one another, and build each other up” and to “acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you, and admonish you.” And to “hold them in the highest regard.” Affirmation and appreciation is simply an expression of the Christ-like love we are commanded to show each other. It is not our job to manage each other’s pride. Sincere godly praise can strengthen the weak and be humbling as the person realizes that God has been at work in shaping them and making them more Christ-like.
Should we still strive for excellence?
There is a place for pursuing excellence in whatever areas God has gifted you. The goal is to glorify God in whatever you do (1 Cor 10:31). True humility does not mean you downplay your talents or rip your work as unworthy. If God has created beauty in or through you, acknowledge it, but praise Him, not just to others but to yourself.
Why write this piece?
Well mainly, I was hoping you’d find my raw honesty refreshing and grow to like my blog even more… Actually, I write because confession is good for the soul and expressing to others the areas God has been convicting me helps cement the lesson.
I have tasted the freedom of resting in God’s love and the contrasting misery of worrying about who is noticing me or if my efforts are appreciated. I write to encourage those who may be trapped in the same deceptive slavery of pride that there is something so much more satisfying. The Bible calls us to see ourselves as slaves of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:20). Jesus is the one who deserves the praise for any good that others might see in us.
I have been poking fun at myself in this article, because I know that pride will be a life long struggle for me. A. W. Tozer recommended (and I don’t remember where) that the best antidote to pride was to belittle it with humor. Though I have taken a lighter tone, I also know how serious a condition pride is. God abhors pride (Prov. 16:5) and resists the proud (1 Peter 5:5). Pride is on the same level as sexual perversion in the sense that both are an abomination to Him (Prov. 6:16).
I have by no means conquered the demons I have mentioned in this article. But I desire to grow into my identity as the slave of the kindest, most benevolent Master in the universe, and be content with trusting and obeying him, regardless of whether men give me accolades or condemnation.