Monday, June 29, 2009

PRIDE KILLS

This weekend I had an opportunity to see the destructive power of pride in action. My friend Robert is 77 years old and homeless. He lives in a motel room in Santa Ana all alone. He can barely breathe. He has no strength to stand and walk to the bathroom without stopping halfway to rest against the wall and catch his breath. He eats Ramen noodles and donated food, and yet he refuses to allow me to buy him lunch. He will not, even as a personal favor to me, allow a volunteer from the Senior Community Center to come and talk to him about their free meals program, or their free shuttle plan.

Instead, Robert talks to me about his plan to ask his doctor to amputate his right arm because he is in constant pain following surgery after an accident. “If I let them just cut my arm off,” he says, “then I could stay at Fountain Care and they would bring me my meals and someone would be there to take care of me all the time,” he says. I can only shake my head in disbelief. “But Robert,” I try to explain, “you could stay here in this bed and keep your arm and someone could still bring you your meals and come visit you and make sure you’re doing ok.” He makes a face and shakes his head, coughing hard into a napkin as he lays back on his rented bed. “Naw,” he finally croaks out. “I don’t want to lose what little independence I have.” And around and around we go.

Driving home after our visit I am frustrated and I let God know about it. “Please, God, let Robert let me help him,” I pray. I remember Jesus instructing his disciples not to take anything with them and to leave their money belts at home as they went out to preach the Gospel. In some ways, Robert is giving me an opportunity to learn how to be his friend and to demonstrate the Kingdom of God to him without money. If I don’t give him money, then what can I give him? Friendship. Honesty. Love. Compassion. Jesus.

Still, it frustrates me that Robert would rather do things his own way and lose his arm than to accept help from someone else and keep his arm, and his health. This isn’t anything new, of course. Many people who are homeless are kept there because of their pride. Many exhibit varying degrees of “It’s my way or the highway” attitudes which prevent them from entering a program or submitting to the rules imposed by a shelter or a rescue mission. So, they hold hard and fast to their way of doing things, even though their way keeps them homeless and hungry and alone.

In some ways I can relate because, at heart, I am a prideful man. If there’s anything I grapple with on a daily basis, it’s my pride.

This weekend I also experienced a bit of humility. On more than one occasion I found myself humiliated and it gave me an opportunity to explore my pride a bit more. I realize that the only reason I got my feelings hurt in each case was due to the stature of my pride. If I had been humble and meek my feelings would not have been hurt. I could’ve cleared the low ceilings without banging my head if my knees were already bent low. Instead, I walked upright and got smacked in the face with my head held high.

Someone once told me that you know you’re really a servant when you get treated like one and you don’t get insulted. I’m not there yet, but one day I hope to be.

Pride kills. I’ve seen it divide families, churches, and marriages. It also removes us from God’s grace and takes us on a detour from the Kingdom of God.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” – James 4:6

At the sermon on the mount, Jesus established the reality of God’s Kingdom for us. He told us that, in God’s economy, the poor, the weak, the humble, and the broken-hearted were the most blessed in the Kingdom. Along this redefined scale of greatness, those who find themselves at the bottom in this life are blessed to learn that, in God’s Kingdom, they are actually closer to the top than they thought.

We often get confused and say that God’s Kingdom is upside down, but the truth is that our reality is what’s out of whack. God is not upside down, nor is His perspective. This is why those who seem to be on the top in our society (the rich, the famous, and the powerful) often admit that they are empty, broken and disillusioned to discover that Jesus was right all along. The way to true life and joy and happiness is down, not up. When we surrender this fantasy of having it all and let go of everything except God himself we’ve taken a most important step. Many of those who are weak, humble, broken and poor already know that they are not good enough to make it on their own. They are at the top of God’s scale of greatness even though they seem to be at the bottom of ours.

I must confess that I still struggle with these two opposing definitions of greatness. I catch myself wanting fame and working for the praise of men, even though I have seen the Kingdom and I believe that Jesus showed us the Truth. True greatness is found at the feet of others with a basin and a towel, not sitting atop the highest sky-scraper overlooking the largest city while you count your money. I know that, but I am still learning to embrace the reality of it.

So, if anything, my experience this weekend with naked pride and painful humiliation has been beneficial to me. I’ve received a reminder of how pride can imprison someone, and I’ve discovered that my prideful heart is still alive and well –and still in need of being crucified with Christ.

What are the things I do every day that feed my ego or stoke my pride? Can I fully surrender these empty aspirations at worldly fame? Can I actually demonstrate that I believe Jesus is true when he says that the greatest in the Kingdom is the servant of all?

I stayed up late last night, after my wife and sons went to bed. I sat alone and I recapped my weekend. I took stock of all these things and I believe there are some things that still need to die in me. There are still territories in my heart that need reformation. Let the revolution continue.
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3 comments:

Ordinary Guy said...

Keith,

I couldn’t help but think of how much we all are like your friend. God is wanting to help us and do what is best for us, and we waller in our pride. We (figuratively) would rather lose an arm and do things our own way, than to do things His way and remain whole.

As you voice your frustration with Robert, it makes perfect sense (to you). You know that there is a better way. It wouldn’t require much on his part…yet he is still unwilling to make the change. PRIDE is the slow killer of us all – and we seem so blind to it. Lord help us.

Anonymous said...

I'm struggling with knowing whether "what I've got" is PRIDE or "God Confidence" -- I believe with all that I am that all that I have and have accomplished is a direct result of God's grace and His gifts to me. So, is it wrong that I LOVE the BMW I drive? I've driven "crap" cars all my life when God provided a way for me to upgrade and pay cash for this car (I had a really great job at the time and worked really hard). I feel the car was a gift from God. Is it wrong that I LOVE the house I live in, also knowing it was given to me by God? I'm not sure if I'm operating through pride or through my thankfulness and confidence in what I know God has done for me.

Keith Giles said...

Yeah, I can't tell you what is pride and what is confidence and thankfulness...and don't allow anyone else to do so.

These are issues of the heart and God is the best one to search us and know us and reveal these things to us.

Being open to that examination is what's important- and being willing to admit when we're being prideful is too.