These days, I have a constant, repetitive prayer to God. One that asks for God to remove my pride and my self-doubt. It’s a prayer for humility, something I feel more in need of now than ever before. Pride and self-doubt are really two sides of the same coin. One believes that we know better than God does, the other believes that he isn’t good or powerful enough to change us. Neither makes much of God, effectively bringing him down below us. The prideful and the self-doubters both believe they’re better than God, they just show it in different ways.
Pride and Self-Doubt
Pride is more of an obvious manifestation of a lack of humility. It’s easy to spot most of the time. Some of those who struggle with pride link their own lives to their success. And when they don’t succeed, it probably wasn’t their fault. When things go well, pride points the finger inward; when they don’t go well, the finger points outward. Their eyes are horizontal, not vertical.
Self-doubt is a cloaked version of humility’s lack. It’s not so easy to identify, as cynicism can sometimes be seen as merely a need for gentle encouragement. We shouldn’t forego being gentle, but a rebuke is also needed for self-doubters. We self-doubters understand well our failures but struggle to see God as more gracious, loving, and forgiving. Essentially, God isn’t enough to change us. He doesn’t have enough power or goodness. Unlike the prideful, a self-doubter struggles to accept any form of praise. When things go well, their finger points outward, when they don’t, the finger points inward. Again, like the prideful, their eyes are locked horizontally.
Sometimes the prideful are looked up to because of their confidence, albeit broken. Sometimes the self-doubter is looked up to because of their humility, albeit broken. But both really are living lives out of themselves. Neither has “considered the lilies of the field” and looked up to God as provider. One thinks man primarily provides, one denies provision altogether. None asks with the author of Psalm 26, “Test me, O Lord, and try me; examine my heart and mind.” One doesn’t examine enough; one examines, but without God.
True humility asks the God of the universe to gaze into ourselves with his unflinching eye, that he might examine us and illuminate our shortcomings. Of course he can do this (and does) on his own without our requests, but there’s something important about that desire coming from us. In our request for God to examine us, there is an implicit acceptance of our faults, the drive to not stay the same, and the belief that God in his goodness can do something about it.
When confronted with the desire for real humility, we tend to fall into two categories: the anxious and the accepted. The stem of anxiety comes from knowing we’re not where we should be, but thinking we can get there on our own. It’s a prideful chase of humility. Our eyes are locked towards others or ourselves, never looking up to where our hope comes from.
The stem of acceptance comes from knowing that we are God’s beloved children. In Matthew 3:17, Christ is baptized and God declares, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This same declaration is now directed to those who have faith in Jesus. How can this be? Having faith in Christ means our lives are woven into his. his life becomes our life. his goodness becomes our goodness. Romans 6:4 tells us that Christ’s death and his new life become our own. This means it is only by the power of Christ that we can participate in anything like humility. The gospel puts that which is wrong in us to death and brings that which is good to life.
Doing and Being
Our doing comes from our being; what we do arises from who we are. And if you are a disciple of Christ, you are, first and foremost, the radically accepted son or daughter of the King. You have flaws and shortcomings, baggage and sins. He has welcome arms. You have brokenness, hurt, pain and unfulfilled desires. He has a loving embrace.
It is only because of our acceptance with our Father that we can be obedient. Our obedience is our acceptance lived out. And one of the bi-products of this kind of life is humility. It’s tricky: searching for humility first attracts pride. But searching after God himself will attract humility. Christ himself embodied this example. Paul teaches us about the Incarnation in Philippians 2:8 and says he “humbled himself.” How did Christ do this? By “becoming obedient.” Christ, knowing his acceptance in the Trinity, knowing the Father’s love towards him, submitted his own body in obedience, in turn bringing about humility. If there was anyone on this earth who could have looked within and mustered their own humility outside of the Father, it would have been Christ. But he was obedient to the Father and that’s where Christ’s humility shines.
More than merely our example, Christ himself is our means for humility. The Philippians 2:8 passage says that Christ’s obedience led to his death, “even death on a cross.” Christ’s death on the cross was an act for us. Because Christ died, our pride can die. Not because we’re good enough, but because Christ has put an end to it. Because Christ died, our self-doubt can die. Not because we’re self-effacing, but because Christ looked our sins in the face and took them on, putting them to death. And now, being accepted by our Creator, we can live the new life that Christ rose again for. He walks in resurrection life so that we can. We don’t have to be primarily prideful or self-doubting (though we’re not perfect… yet), but we can live in the freedom of being an accepted son or daughter of our loving Father.
The Courageous Servant
Our new freedom takes on the character of a courageous servant. Psalm 116:16 says, “O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds.” We are not kings, we are servants, not slavishly serving ourselves, but freed to serve the King. Our identity as such does not afford pride. But we servants aren’t weak, either. Psalm 31:24 exhorts us to “be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!” We are servants and we are rooted in a strength outside ourselves. This is a vertical orientation.
Both the prideful and the self-doubter need to take courage by waiting on the Lord. If you are tempted to overshadow your inadequacies with pride, take courage. The life you now live is marked by our acceptance by the Father. Run to him, confess, and ask him to change you. If you are tempted to believe that God isn’t good enough to change you, run to him, confess, and ask him to change you. This is what waiting on the Lord looks like. This is the obedient life and true humility. We are saved from pointing the finger inward, saved from pointing the finger outward, freed to live with our hands outstretched heavenward, to our loving Father.