Branches of Pride- Self-Pity

A couple weeks ago I decided to start a series focusing on the various sins that result from pride. My belief is that pride is the root cause of many of the sins we struggle with. Looking at the various branches and tracing the roots back to pride will hopefully help us as we learn what we need to repent of and how to ask the Lord to grow some weak areas in our lives.

This week I want to take a look at another branch of pride that many of us fail to recognize as pride: self-pity. Self-pity can be found in pretty much all of our lives. Some seem to pity themselves frequently while others have only the occasional struggle. Either way, self-pity is a sin.

For most of us, self-pity usually comes from a feeling of being treated unfair. Next, we start to compare ourselves with others and start to feel sad for ourselves. This could be at work, school or with family. Self-pity says “I deserve better than what I have.” So maybe your boss doesn’t give you that promotion you felt you deserved. Often, the result can be you going into a lot of self-pity and possibly starting a pity party, (more on pity parties later). Or maybe you see the other students at your school with a boyfriend or girlfriend and start to feel self-pity because you don’t have one.

Self-pity also can come from suffering. No one likes to suffer but most of us recognize that suffering is an inevitable part of life. So when suffering does come, many of us start to feel sad for ourselves. “Why me?” “What have I done to deserve this?” These questions are common self-pity responses to some sort of suffering.

The danger of self-pity is that it causes people to believe that somehow they deserve better. This is where we find the root of pride. Just like entitlement, self-pity says I deserve better or that this shouldn’t be happening to me. Self-pity tries to remove us from the realities of life by believing the lie that only good things should ever come our way.

Read this quote from Pastor John Piper to see what I mean:

“Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering. Boasting says, “I deserve admiration because I have achieved so much.” Self-pity says, “I deserve admiration because I have sacrificed so much.” Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong. Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak. The need self-pity feels does not come from a sense of unworthiness, but from a sense of unrecognized worthiness. It is the response of unapplauded pride.”

We struggle with self-pity not because we feel worthless but because we feel what we have done or sacrificed deserves praise. And this is why self-pity is ultimately rooted in pride. It is an elevated view of self and glory seeking.

So how can we deal with self-pity? I think the first response has to be humility. Because self-pity is rooted in pride, the solution for dealing with it is attacking the root. Philippians 2:3-8 gives us a great formula and example for being humble:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus left us the greatest example of how to quench self-pity. If anyone should have had self-pity it was Jesus. Not only did he suffer unjustly more than any of us ever have or will, (a sinless man being executed as a criminal), but He also should have been praised because He alone was worthy of praise. No man has ever had a greater reason to have self-pity. Yet, Jesus humbled Himself and followed the plan of the Father.

In doing so, Jesus left us three important lessons. First, Romans 8:18 tells us “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” That any suffering or sacrifices we make today are nothing compared to the glory of experiencing God. So instead of feeling pity we push on and focus on the glory ahead of us. Jesus willingly gave up His life, (greater sacrifice then we give), in order to get more glory for God.

Second, that God sees the things we do that go unnoticed. That Jesus was killed in this life as a criminal, but that isn’t how God viewed His only Son. Maybe you feel like all the good you are doing doesn’t matter. Maybe you feel like no one notices or cares. This is where self-pity can start. But remember Galatians 6:9: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” We are working not for our praise but for our Father’s praise. We don’t give up because we know God sees our works.

Finally, Jesus shows us that we are to count others better than ourselves. He gave up much so we could gain. The lie of self-pity is that if I give up much I deserve much. But this is a self-focused statement, (which is why it is called self-pity). Instead of being so focused on how this effects our lives, shouldn’t we follow our Lord Jesus who gave much of Himself for the benefit of others? Notice in Mark 12:30-31 that we are commanded to love God and love others. Jesus doesn’t tell us we need to love ourselves first. We are commanded to put God first, people second which means we must put ourselves last.

If you struggle with self-pity and are always feeling bad for yourself, I hope these points can help. The last thing you want to do is having a pity party. This is where people will find others to also feel sorry for them which only causes the pride of self-pity to grow stronger and stronger. We see it all the time on Facebook and Weibo: people posting about their own self-pity and hoping others will join in their pity party.

Don’t fall for this foolish mistake. We were not made to pity ourselves but rather to rejoice in our God. Philippians 4:4 says it like this: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” That is the life we were called to. So stop allowing pride to create self-pity in your life. Follow our Lord Jesus’ example, humble yourselves and rejoice in the Lord.

Awesome

It’s a word we all use way to often. “Today was an awesome day.” “That band is so awesome.” And because we use the word so much it’s almost as if it has lost it’s meaning. The word awesome originally was used only when something truly inspired awe. Something that made us stop, mouth wide open and say “Awesome.”

I know I personally have lost my sense of awe because I continually ascribe awe to situations that aren’t worthy, yet forget to ascribe awe to those truly worthy situations. And worst of all, I, like many of you, often forget to ascribe awe to God who alone is truly awesome.

Let me give you a scenario. What if Jesus came back right now? What if he appeared in the sky as promised in Revelations this second? Are you really looking forward to that? Are you too caught up in what needs to be done rather than excited for the culmination of all things?

As I watched a sunset the other day I felt that God was showing me just how awesome He is. Yet I was so preoccupied with what needs to get done, plans for the future and my own desires that I couldn’t just stand in awe of God.

And while I could discuss the reasons for why we don’t stand in awe of God, (each person has their own excuses but busyness, caught in sin or too comfortable are three pretty common ones), I want to talk today about the dangers of ascribing awesomeness to the wrong things.

First, when we don’t stand in awe of God we find ourselves sinning more easily. It is always easier to excuse and condone sinful behavior when we lack a proper respect for God. Look at what happened to the Israelites in the Old Testament. They would often dive into sin because they lacked an understanding of the awesomeness of God. In Amos 4:6-13 God recounts all of the ways He has punished the Jews for their sin. Yet they continued to rebel because they had forgotten the might and majesty of God. This is why God says things like “He who makes the morning darkness and treads on the heights of the earth.” (Amos 4:13). He is trying to get us to see just how awesome He is so we will return to Him.

If you find yourself struggling with a variety of sins, this may be a good reason why. The heart of every sin is a greater desire for sin than for God. Basically, we sin because we ascribe awesomeness to some sinful behavior when awesomeness alone should be ascribed to God. So we must look at the awesomeness of God if we are to overcome sinful behavior in our lives.

Second, a proper awe and respect for God gives us a greater desire for evangelism. When we see just how awesome God is we have a deep desire to see others come to know Him as well. This great awe and reverence is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 13:45-46 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” It also caused Paul to “count everything as rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:8).

If we really were in awe of God, we would be much more fervent in our desire to see the nations come to repentance. So if you find that you are not as eager to share the Gospel as you should be, then pray that you would experience the awesomeness of God and that would stir in you a desire to share His amazing truth with others.

The third danger when we don’t see the awesomeness of God is that we lose perspective. What I mean is that when we understand how awesome God is we also start to understand how small we are, how temporary our problems and lives are and how brief our time and accomplishments are.

This is important because it helps us avoid two great vices: arrogance and despair. When you see how amazing God is you are forced to become more humble because you see how great He is and how bad you are. In the face of the amazingness of God, we truly are a breath (James 4:14).

This also helps us avoid despair because we see that God is bigger than any problems or trials we could experience. It is easy to be burdened and beat down by the trials of this life. But when we see how great and awesome our Lord is we are able to overcome. This what allowed the early apostles to rejoice after taking a beating (Acts 5:41).

So I hope all of us can understand that lacking a proper respect and awe of God can be a dangerous thing. May each of us pray, seek and desire a greater reverence for God this week. May we all be truly amazed at the greatness of God. May we desire Him more than sin and allow this desire to stir in us a longing to see others share this desire. And may we ultimately see just how awesome God truly is.

The Divine Act of Self-Reflection

Last week we looked at the negatives of self-reliance. So this week I thought we should look at a positive self act, the act of self-reflection. With our lives constantly changing I feel like the need for us to reflect back on past events is vital to help us move through whatever present state we find ourselves in.

But before we talk about what exactly that means, we need to understand what it doesn’t mean. I am not talking about dwelling on your “Glory Days.” I feel a lot of people like to think back to a time when their life seemed almost perfect. Problem is, they start to wish they could go back there or that their current life could somehow shadow that former glory.

Three problems arise with this “Glory Days” mentality. First, we tend to remember things differently than they actually happened. We idealize situations that weren’t possibly as good as we remember. Second, we long for an impossibility. People who wish to return to their happy childhood long for something that just won’t happen.

Which leads to the third and final problem. This longing often makes people stuck. The best example of this can be seen in small towns across America. The stud high school sports star, worshiped by their small town, is unable to move on to bigger and better things. The big fish in the small pond doesn’t want to be a small fish in a big pond. The result is 40 and 50 year old’s who still think, act and talk like 18-year old’s. Their joy comes through telling old stories about their greatness or trying to relive their dreams through their children.

So let’s be clear that is not what I am talking about. I don’t want you to dwell on those old “Glory Days” and get yourself stuck in the past. Rather, I want us to look at a few reasons why reflecting on our past can help us grow, mature and get through whatever present situation we find ourselves in.

First, reflecting on the past keeps us humble. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:11-12, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

I feel like sometimes when we start to notice the growth and improvement in our lives we tend to forget God. We tend to forget just how far we have come from the person we used to be. Paul tells us to remember that not long ago we were lost little children until Christ came along and saved us. How dare we become arrogant and prideful now? A great chapter about this is Ezekiel 16. God is speaking to the Israelite’s but the same truths are for us today. He compares us to a prostitute whom He has rescued and provided for. But over time we forget what He has done for us and prostitute ourselves out yet again.

Divine reflection keeps us humble. It keeps us from forgetting that God saved us and that the person we are today is only because of what He has done for us. Secondly, divine reflection helps us get through the tough times. Maybe right now you aren’t arrogant, you’re hurting. All you think about is your pain and how much it hurts. You have forgotten God. How can there be a God with all of this pain and suffering?

We can’t let our current circumstances allow us to forget the kindness God has already showed us. Psalm 77 and Isaiah 63:7 are two places where we are told to remember what God has done in the face of current troubles. Reflect back on the times God has provided. Remember when God helped you or gave you a way out. Doing this will shine light into your current trouble and help you to see there is hope. If you are hurting, remember all the good God has done for you and may it bring you hope in your current situation.

Thirdly, divine reflection helps us remember the goodness of God in the midst of comfort. Just as we grow arrogant and forget what God has done, also we grow comfortable and forget our need for Him. Countless times in the Old Testament, (Genesis 9, Joshua 4, etc…), God instructs the Israelite’s to build an alter or to do something to mark a covenant. The reason God does this is because He knows we are so prone to grow comfortable and forget (Deuteronomy 8:11-20).

Maybe you have grown comfortable and thus grown cold towards God. Maybe you came to God in need but now feel like you have no needs. Repent and turn back to God. Don’t be like the Church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-21). Remember back on all the Lord has done for you. Don’t grow complacent. Reflect and come back to the passion and joy you once had.

So I hope all of us can spend some time in reflection this week. Please don’t dwell on the past lest you risk getting stuck there. May your past never be the best time of your life. Rather, if you have become puffed up and self-sufficient, remember who you once were and the sins you once committed so readily. Remember back to how the Lord saved you from your prostitution. Remember that you did not save yourself but that He came and saved you.

Maybe you are hurting now. Remember all the good He has done for you over the years. Reflect on the blessings and countless times He has provided more than enough. May this bring you hope in your current troubles. Or maybe you have grown comfortable, complacent and cold. Maybe you just don’t desire God like you used to. Reflect back on all of the good that God provided. Remember that you are where you are and have what you have because of what He did. Remember when you didn’t have anything and that He was and can still be your joy. May we all remember the past in order to grow in our love and trust of the Lord in the present.

The Purpose of Pain

Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Where are you God? I imagine some if not most of us have asked these questions before. Whether it is because we are hurting physically or emotionally, we do not enjoy pain. In fact, I would say that most of our lives are spent trying to avoid pain or suffering. We have insurance for anything that can possibly suffer harm. And when we don’t have something insured, we worry. We constantly worry about any possible pain or inconvenience that may enter our lives. The truth is, no one likes pain or suffering.

With that in mind, read your Bible. Read about Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:25-29. Or read about the early Christians in the book of Acts. Or read any of the Gospels about our Lord and Savior who died a painful death, (I do find it interesting we worship a suffering servant not a comfortable king, yet most of our lives don’t reflect that). The Bible is a book full of suffering. As Christians, I think we often forget this point. We love to read about grace, hope, love, peace, and all the great things Jesus promises His followers which are all amazing and necessary to the Gospel. But it is like we have omitted John 15:18-25, 16:1-4 and Matthew 10:16-25. Jesus promises suffering.

Why would I want to follow a man who promises I will suffer? Wouldn’t we all rather find a religion that promotes a smooth and comfortable life free of pain and suffering? Well that is the lie of atheism and humanism. It is a deception that says do whatever you please in order to alleviate suffering and increase pleasure. Thus, people often make their decisions based on what produces the least amount of suffering and most amount of pleasure. But that is not what Jesus does. Jesus willing suffers for us, and then asks us to be willing to do the same for others.

But why? If it is human nature to avoid suffering and pain, why does Jesus tell us to expect it? If God is so good, why do we suffer? In order to understanding God as good in the light of suffering and pain, we need to look deeper at the purpose of pain.

First, we need to remember that pain and suffering are a result of sin. Jesus suffered not because He sinned but because we did, (2 Corinthians 5:21). If you look at any pain you have suffered in your life, I can guarantee it is the result of someone’s sin. Even natural disasters and illnesses were born from sin. Death exists only because sin entered the world, (Romans 6:23). Whether it is my own sin or the sin of someone else, pain and suffering only exist with sin. So if sin is the cause of pain and suffering, why would a good God allow that?

In order to understand this, we first need to remember that while sin does influence and scar this world, that God is ultimately in control. This is one I often forget or struggle with. It is easy for me to love Jesus as a great teacher and as my savior, but I often forget that HE is in charge of everything. Instead, I try to control situations that are not meant for me to control. And when something doesn’t follow my plan, I start questioning God.

But I am not God, Jesus is. And I need to remember that HE is in control. “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11).

Once I remember that God is in control, I have to remember that God is good and loves me. John 3:16, 1 John 4:7-12 and Romans 5:5 are just a few of several hundred verses that speaks of God’s love for us in the Bible. If the God who is in control of everything loves me, then there is always a purpose to my pain.

One purpose is that God has a plan. While I only see the isolated incident of my pain, God sees the big picture. It is like we are looking at a puzzle. We only see one small piece, and by itself, the piece looks pretty messed up. But God sees the whole picture. God knows that even though that piece looks messed up, it is necessary to the big picture. If any piece were missing, the picture would be incomplete. Every pain and suffering in this life is just one piece of the puzzle. We must remember that God has an amazing plan and that momentary suffering is only one small piece of God’s bigger picture.

Another purpose of pain in our lives is for our sanctification. That is a nice Churchy word that basically means the process of becoming more like Christ. Have you ever noticed that people change the most following some kind of pain or suffering? People who are comfortable feel no need to change. Thus, God allows some kinds of sufferings for us to become more Christlike. Read Hebrews 12:7-11. Verse 11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

This happened to me about a year ago. My friend had just had his apartment broken into. I thought to myself, “Self, if someone broke into my apartment I wouldn’t want them to steal my computer or PlayStation 3.” (I know I am still a kid, but those were my most expensive possessions!). Well within six months I had my computer stolen and my PlayStation broke! I had told God that these material goods were holding a very important position in my heart. God decided they were too important to me, so HE took them away. In the midst of those situations I was suffering pain. But, once I saw what God was doing and His purpose behind it, I was thankful. I have been a lot less materialistic since then. The fruit that God wanted in my life was only achieved through a painful experience.

I don’t know what kind of pain and suffering you are in the midst of today. My prayer is that whatever it is, you would seek to glorify and know God more from it. I believe that the more we understand the purpose behind our pain the easier it will be for us to endure it. Remember that God is in control, that HE loves you and that HE has a plan for each and every thing you may be suffering.