In my desire to see students discover and experience Jesus, there is a part of me that isn’t content with being average. Before you applaud me for my purely altruistic motives, I have to confess an ulterior motivation that is always at work in my heart.
I want to be better at ministry than you.
I know that reading this comes across as arrogant and offensive. I would never say this to your face. But this is the sentiment of a private competitive pride within me. A spiritual pride that is driven to prove my worth by what I accomplish in comparison to you.
I am constantly caught off guard by how my selfish pride corrupts even my spiritual work for God. I feel insecure when you do better than me. When I think I’ve done better I sometimes revel in the sadistic pleasure of looking down on you.
Imitating my idols
When I first met the leaders of Power to Change (P2C) I marvelled at their vision, faith, and energy to change the world. They were larger than life, like heros that had just jumped out of the pages of the bible into my life. They were bold, courageous, and compelling. I wanted to imitate them so badly. I was all in.
By getting involved, I was leaving spiritual mediocrity, boredom, and apathy behind. With each step I was learning to live less for self indulgence and learning to do great things for God…wasn’t that an indication I was moving towards Jesus?
And yet a hidden danger lurked and festered. Little did I know:
Satan is happy to let me overcome lesser vices if he can see spiritual pride take hold of me.
As soon as I was assimilated into the P2C culture I found myself sharing my faith more than many of my Christian friends. It was then that I found myself looking down on them for being less committed in evangelism.
Although I started with good motives, a subtle pride crept in. Whenever someone did a better job than I did, I found myself resentful. I wanted to be the best. Somehow my self worth was becoming dependent on my ministry performance. I was making everything a competition.
In my enthusiasm I also took pride in P2C over other groups. We had a superior message and model for engaging the world, other groups not so much. We were the most active, doing what really mattered. We were changing the world. No one ever dared say it blatantly, but our notions of superiority were whispered on the edges of our conversations.
A new category of sin
The more I devoted myself to being the best, the more I felt crushed by the increasing pressure to perform and deliver. My great fear of failure motivated me to work harder and save embarrassment among my peers. I wanted to be better at ministry than you.
I was blind to my spiritual pride. My spiritual activism became a legalistic way of earning favor before God and others. Then I engaged with the material in the Galatians study by Pastor Tim Keller. He introduced me to a whole new category of sin that I hadn’t ever been able identify within myself.
I was all too familiar that I needed Jesus to save me from sin. What a shock to discover that I needed Jesus to save me from my reliance on good works and its resulting spiritual pride. If I couldn’t see my pride, I couldn’t confess it, and this ignorance only increased its power over me.
It was then that I realized that devoting my life to do something great for God had a serious hidden danger: The temptation to spiritual pride. Is there any greater cause than making Jesus known? But the greater the cause the more prone to pride I am.
As I started to identify spiritual pride within me I realized I was idolizing and envying those who were doing better than me, even while looking down at others who were not as successful as I was.
When spiritual pride subtly creeps into my thoughts, I am learning to identify it and starve it. I am more careful to arrest my thoughts of comparison and competition. It is when I entertain thoughts of comparison or competition that I feed my spiritual pride.
Instead I can remind myself that my worth is solely in God’s work on my behalf. He created me in his image, giving me worth. He took the curse I deserved. Focussing on what God has done for me allows me to work in the capacity God has given me and not compare myself with others.