Today I want to talk about a danger that we all face when it comes to our character.  It’s a very common flaw.  I’m guessing everyone struggles with it to a degree, but most people have no idea that it’s there.  It’s almost always a blind spot.  In fact, here’s the crazy thing about this flaw: most people don’t even view it as a flaw at all. Are you ready for the big reveal?  I’m talking about pride.

I got a hold of a book last week called 1000 Things to Love About America. Celebrating the Reason’s We’re Proud to Call the USA Home.  There are a thousand things to be proud of in this book and we certainly don’t have time for all of them but let me give you some from the top 100:

  • #89: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
  • #83: Google.
  • #68: Corn on the cob.
  • #27: Television.
  • #17: Blue jeans.
  • #15 : Hamburgers.
  • #8: Rock and roll.
  • #6: Religious faith. (Yay, we made the top ten.)
  • #4: The movie industry.
  • #1: Pursuing the American dream.

This is the American dream– pursuing things that we can take pride in. It’s not just our country that we are proud of:

  • We take pride in our work.
  • We take pride in our family.
  • We are proud of the house we live in.
  • We are proud of our cars.
  • We take pride in our appearance.

That’s just who we are. We simply don’t think of pride as ever being a bad thing. But I have to tell you, that there is a downside to pride.  Let me give you an idea what God thinks about pride:

The Lord preserves those who are true to him, but the proud he pays back in full.–Psalm 31:23

Whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate.–Psalm 101:5

The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.–Psalm 16:5

God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.–James 4:6

I Got This

What strikes me about those phrases are they don’t sound like subtle hints. There is some attitude to those verses, isn’t there? God really does not like pride.  Why is that? Here’s why: Pride is the number one enemy of following God.  Maybe that sounds overstated but it’s at the center of so many bad decisions.  Most of them sound something like this:

  • God, I got this.
  • I don’t need your help at work.  I got this
  • I don’t really need your input with my money.  I got this
  • I don’t need you to tell me what to do on Sunday.  I got this
  • I don’t think your view of sex is up to date.  I got this
  • I know other people may not be able to handle their liquor, but I got this
  • I don’t really think this bible is all that factual.  I’ll decide what to believe.  I got this
  • This situation is worrying me but you know what.  I’ve got this.

Most of the decisions we regret in life started just like this. God I know best.  I appreciate your input, but I’ll take it from here.  I got this.  At the center of each of those decisions is pride.  God says I detest the proud.  I oppose the proud.  I will not tolerate the proud.  It’s not because he wants to be a controlling micromanager of your life, but he’s seen this story before.  He knows what happens when you “got this.”  Listen to these words:

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.–Proverbs 16:18

A Cautionary Tale

My last few posts have focused on Daniel, a hero from the Bible who I think we can all learn from; we should all strive to follow Daniel’s example in how live life with good character. Today, I’d like to flip the coin and look at Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. We can also learn from Necuchadnezzar, but in a very different way. Nebuchadnezzar is an example of how not to live your life. Let me tell you the story:

If anyone had the right to be content and prosperous, it was Nebuchadnezzar. He had it going on.  He was the most powerful king in the history of the world to that day.  He had his people build the hanging gardens of Babylon, one of the 7 wonders of the world.  The Greek historian Herodotus wrote, “In addition to its size, Babylon surpasses in splendor any city in the known world, and Nebuchadnezzar built it.”

Life was good for Neb, until one night when he had this dream: He had a dream about this great tree.  The tree was so large and lush that all the animals of the field could rest in it’s shade and eat of it’s fruit.  Sounds like a great tree, right? But then, in the dream, the tree was cut down to a stump.  For some reason, this dream freaks out Nebuchadnezzar; it keeps him up at night.  He asks all of his wise men to interpret it, but they can’t so he finally takes it to Daniel. Yes, the same Daniel who likes to hang out in lions’ dens. Daniel knew what the dream meant. Daniel says to him: “Nebuchadnezzar you’re the stump! You’re going to lose it all! All that power, all that glory, all that wealth, all that empire, even your capacity to reason; all the things you think were earned by your own cleverness and are under your control, they have all been a gift to you and they can all be taken away and they will all be taken away.”  What’s the message here? Neb, you’re not God.  You may be the most interesting man in the world, but you’re still not God.

How to Avoid the Pride Trap

Daniel gives a warning, but he also gives him a way out:

Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue. ”–Daniel 4: 27

This is the first step if you have a pride issue: Get real with yourself.  Stop blowing yourself up. It’s as easy as that but unfortunately, this is not something we are good at. We don’t want to admit our mistakes.  We don’t want to tell our friends so they can keep us accountable.  We don’t want to admit we need counseling.  We tend to want to keep our sins hidden from sight

Now Daniel is bringing all this to the light with Nebuchadnezzar. God is not subtle or obscure about this. He’s pretty straight up: “Renounce your sins.” Unfortunately, Neb doesn’t heed his advice. Neb had 12 months to get things right.  12 months to put things back together.  12 months to humble himself.  But one year later, to the date, Neb makes a statement that lets everyone know he hasn’t learned a thing:

 29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”– Daniel 4:29,30 

Neb looks at his kingdom he thinks, “Look at all of this that I have accomplished!  Look at what I have done!”  Let me ask you something: Did Neb build all of this himself? Actually, he didn’t do any of this himself. All that he accomplished he accomplished on the backs of slaves.  It was by their sweat, their blood.  History tells us that thousands lost their lives in the pursuit of Neb’s dreams. And now God is getting in his face.  Be kind to the oppressed. Stop building your future at the expense of the poor.

One first glance, Neb seems like an ego maniac that none of us can relate to, but the reality is, this is how we work.  When things are going well for us our tendency is to say, “Look at what I’ve done.  Look at what I’ve accomplished.  Look at all I’ve become.”  We don’t think about the people who’ve supported us.  We don’t give credit to parents or friends or family members.  We don’t consider that if we were simply born 100 miles to the south of our border, our lives would be very different.  We look on our lives and think, “Is this not the kingdom I have built?” I love this quote from John Ortberg:

“People see therapists and pastors every day for anger or anxiety or addiction problems, but rarely does anyone seek help for their pride problem. There are no Betty Ford Treatment Centers for the Insufferably Arrogant.”–John Ortberg

First the Pride, Then the Fall

Nebuchadnezzar was about to go through intensive pride therapy because in a moment it was all gone.  Neb lost everything.  For 7 years he was homeless.  For 7 years he was insane.  For 7 years he lived like an animal. Before we go on, let me ask you a hard question: Is God trying to get your attention? Is there something he is challenging you to do? Because God isn’t subtle. If you don’t want to be like Nebuchadnezzar, then you better notice if God is trying to get your attention:

  • Is there a habit you need to give up?
  • Is there a relationship you need to sever before it’s too late?
  • Is God asking you to involve Him in your finances?
  • Is there a sin you need to confess to someone to get some help?

Let me tell you something: God is patient.  If He’s trying to get your attention and you continue to ignore Him, you will ultimately walk right into trouble. That’s what happened to Neb.  It can happen to you.

No matter what your line of work is, it’s easy to let your pride become your downfall. It’s a temptation that we can all fall into; it just sounds different for different people:

  • Businessmen and women say, “look at our quarterly earnings.  Look at this last years sales.”
  • Lawyers say, “Look at my court record.  Look at my win/loss percentage”
  • Financial planners say, “Look at my portfolio.”
  • Web designers say, “Look at my Google ranking.”
  • Parents say, “Look at what my kids have accomplished.”
  • Pastors say, “Look at how many people are here.  Look at our budget.”

Look at the kingdom I have created.  Look at what I have done.  Look at my business, my family, my church, at my fitness level.

Don’t be a Neb

So what’s the answer? Let’s look to the words of an unlikely source.  The king of Babylon himself, Nebuchadnezzar:

34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” 36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.–Daniel 4:34-37

This is an amazing statement that shows the awesome power of God.  Nebuchadnezzar was an egotistical dictator and God brought him to a place of profound wisdom.  To make it easy to understand I’ve broken down this speech into three statements:

Three Steps Towards Humility

  • Give credit to God for the good in your life:  What you have is not because you are good enough, smart enough and doggone it, people like you.  All that you have can go away with the snap of God’s finger.  Give Him the credit.
  • Don’t base your value on your accomplishments: Not only will that keep you humble, but it will also keep you grounded.  Your job and your children and your money are bad foundations to build your self image.  There are too many moving parts.
  • Know that God can do things with your life that you cannot: I love this line: “He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven.”  God can make you or break you. When you are arrogant, guess which one He will most likely choose?  But when you are humble and go before him, God can use that power to bring change.  He can break your spouse’s alcohol abuse.  He can restore your relationship with your kid.  He can bail you out of a financial situation. He can give you a new and fulfilling purpose.

Each one of these simple steps bring you one step closer to humility.  One step away from arrogance.  One step closer to God.