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Pride: Its Warning Signs and 2 Strategies for Beating It

Pride: Its Warning Signs and 2 Strategies for Beating It

by Christopher J. H. Wright, adapted from his new book Hearing the Message of Daniel: Sustaining Faith in Today’s World.

We are all building something. It may be our own personal little empire, or just our own little nest. It may be our career, our project, or our business. It may even be our “ministry,” if we are in so-called full-time Christian work. Sadly the Nebuchadnezzar complex can infect work we believe (or claim) we are doing for God. If God could use Nebuchadnezzar Dan 2:37-38; 5:18>, it is equally true that there are “Nebuchadnezzars” around who “use God” for their own advantage.

In fact, the more God gives to us—the greater our natural and spiritual gifts, the more resources God puts at our disposal to build with—all the greater is the temptation to play little Nebuchadnezzars. I am grateful for the person who said to me, at an early stage of my ordained ministry (at a point when I was beginning to get praise and admiration for being able to do some things moderately well), “Remember, Chris, the more gifted you are, the more dangerous you are.” A true and sobering observation.

It is tragic that the world of Christian ministry and mission is littered with bloated egos and wonderful gifts being prostituted to the idols of pride. People may not say it in so many words, but the echo of Nebuchadnezzar lies just beneath the surface.

  • Is not this a great institution that I have built up?
  • Is not this a great movement that I have launched?
  • Is this not a great mission that I have helped to found.
  • Is this not a great business that (with God’s help, of course) I have helped to prosper?
  • Is this not a great church that I built from scratch as a young pastor to the megachurch it is today?

It disturbs me that so many Christian foundations, funds, colleges and schools, ministries and missions are built on their founder’s own name. It distressed Martin Luther very much that people were calling churches by his name. He never wanted there to be a “Lutheran” church, when Christ was its only Lord. Even the apostle Paul rebuked the Corinthians for the misuse of human names as labels for factionalism and pride.

And yet, of course, I have to be scrupulously honest here. The temptation to pride (or at least a subtle pleasure) in one’s own achievements, even when done for and offered to the Lord, cannot be avoided. Or at least, I have not found a way of eliminating it. I have to admit that, while I certainly pray that the books I write will be a blessing to God’s people, a means of grace and growth, and that they will bring glory to Christ, I am certainly pleased to see my name on the cover of them. When I speak at Christian conferences, of course I want (and constantly pray) to preach and teach for God’s glory, but it would be dishonest to deny that I enjoy seeing my name on the programs. When people say kind things in praise and appreciation for some presentation, preaching, or lecture I have given, it warms my heart. How could it not? I am as human and susceptible to praise and self-congratulation as any other sinner.

So what to do? I find two simple things helpfully counterbalance the temptation to ungodly pride. One is to remember a favorite saying of John Stott himself. He used to say, “Flattery is like cigarette smoke. It does you no harm if you don’t inhale.” I think there might be some pedantic and politically correct criticism of that saying, but it makes a good point. When people praise you, don’t let it sink into your inner thoughts and breed the cancer of pride. Don’t inhale it! It obviously worked for John Stott. He must have received more praise and flattery than most other people, and yet he remained (and was universally recognized to be) one of the most humble, Christ-like believers you could ever meet.

The other counter-strategy is to develop the habit, as soon as words of praise come along (spoken or written), of the upward look. For me, this goes along with a mental gesture with my hands, passing it up to God. “Here, Lord,” I say (inaudibly of course, if someone is speaking words of praise to me at the time), “you take this. It won’t do me any good if I keep it. It’s to your credit anyway.” I find that habit turns the temptation to pride into an opportunity for gratitude, which is an altogether more healthy frame of mind. Then I can be thankful to God that he has given me the ability to give others something that blesses them—and in thanking God, neutralize any sinful self-satisfaction.

Not one of us, then, is immune to the temptations of pride or of scheming and building for our own advantage, success, or reputation. Only as this universal tendency is honestly recognized, confessed, and kept open before God can we hope to walk in humility with God and others. Otherwise, like Nebuchadnezzar, we may find that God may have to intervene in less pleasant ways to humble us and bring us back to sanity. And the story of Daniel shows that he can indeed do that.

— Christopher J. H. Wright, Hearing the Message of Daniel: Sustaining Faith in Today’s World.

How to Use This Book

Christians face an increasingly secularized world. How can we live as Christians in the midst of a non-Christian culture?

Find answers in this insightful exploration of the message of Daniel—designed for pastors, small group leaders, and thoughtful readers.

You’ll gain more than a clear explanation of the text of Daniel, writes author John Dickson: you will find “a wealth of insights into how believers con confidently live as a presumed minority in a secularizing world.”

Author “Chris Wright has often preached on Daniel, and he’s therefore just the person to help us hear the book’s message for the pressing context of our lives today,” writes author John Goldingay. Pick up this book and your understanding of living as a Christian will grow.

Buy the Book to Learn More