I recently went to an evangelizing camp.
Our church annually organizes this event where older teens can share the gospel with underprivileged children.
This was my fourth camp, so I thought I had enough experience to handle pretty much anything that could happen. I was proudly convinced of my own skills. And I determined to rely on my experience and capabilities to influence “my” children.
When My Pride Got in the Way
William Backus, in his book What Your Counselor Never Told You gives a good definition of pride: “[Pride] certainly includes an unrealistically inflated self-concept. But at it’s core, pride is more evil, more perverse, even than this. For the core false belief of pride is nothing less than the individual’s conviction that ‘I really ought to be God. If only I could take God’s place, how I would change things!’”
Of course, the desire to be God was exactly what caused Adam and Eve to sin. When we consider this, and evaluate our own lives accordingly, we find that we are all, indeed, very proud.
Back to the story: I wanted to be the group leader who stood out. I wanted to be the one to get noticed and applauded. And I wanted my own cunning to turn the children under my care to the Lord. I wanted to achieve what no human can achieve: I wanted to convert someone without the Holy Spirit.
And (predictably) I failed.
You see, pride is self-blinding: we don’t see it in ourselves. I certainly don’t see my own pride even though it must be obvious to others. We easily see the pride of other people, even when our own pride is so much bigger than theirs. But the very essence of pride (the love of the supposed divine self) keeps us safely unaware of our own pride.
That is, until someone points it out…
Shame Shows Us Our Sin
Shame is something I avoid at all costs.
And with good reason: I detest the feeling. It’s the realization that, no matter how clever and likable I present myself, I really am ignorant and sinful.
Less than 48 hours into the camp, I was burnt out. Nothing was going the way I wanted it to go. I realized I needed to take a different approach, so I talked to one of the other group leaders.
Gently, but firmly, he showed me how absorbed in myself I’d become. In everything I’d been doing so far, I was most important. How people perceived me became more important than how I could bring praise to God.
When I realized how right he was, I immediately felt shame. For a split-second I saw myself without my own self-righteous pretenses—I saw an abominable, self-righteous snob who doesn’t care for anything but himself.
Shame is the first emotion we feel after we’ve sinned. It’s been so from the beginning: Adam and Eve immediately felt shame after they ate the forbidden fruit. They tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. How many times have we tried to do exactly the same? After we’ve (once again) fallen, we feel God’s eyes burning on us, revealing our sin and bringing conviction as we understand the depth of our inadequacy and unworthiness. How desperately we want to cover ourselves so God can’t see us—can’t judge us.
We detest shame because it shows us our sinful nature. It reminds us of how utterly helpless we are. And without knowing how desperately we need a Savior, we won’t feel the need to turn to Jesus.
You see, Jesus can only work in our hearts if we are humble. And that’s what our shame and conviction does: it lays the foundations for humility.
Seeing Yourself As God Sees You
In Mere Christianity, C.S Lewis defines humility as not necessarily thinking little of yourself, but rather thinking little about yourself. Even a genuinely bad view of yourself can be (strangely) prideful if that’s all you can think about.
I have a friend who recently expanded on this definition by saying “Humility is knowing your place. It’s seeing yourself the way God sees you.”
God always sees us through the purifying blood of Jesus Christ. He sees us as his children—and that’s definitely not something to be ashamed of.
After the shameful feelings went away, I realized how much God cares for me. I remembered that he sacrificed his own Son so that my pride can be forgiven. I realized how humbling it is for God to not only be willing to use me, but to actually want to use me to bring the gospel to other people.
That day I realized how far my pride has separated me from God. That night during prayer, I realized that God’s ways are different from my ways. And I realized that I can’t even account for how many hairs there are on my head. Much less the salvation of someone else.
Humility has a strange, freeing effect on you. It allows you to truly feel the burden of thousands of sins being lifted from your shoulders. And it enables you to share your own story of salvation and sanctification in a sincere way.
I share this story with you, because I’m glad for what God did to me that day. Through a fellow believer he peeled away another layer of Prideful Pieter. And he brought me closer to himself!
“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (1 Peter 5:5).