Pride is familiar to me, like an old friend. As a worship pastor, I admit regular platform leadership can be challenging, not only in terms of craft, but also regarding the motives and intentions of the heart. In the course of a year, some of us lead hundreds of services, standing before thousands of people.
Platform leadership can set up an ideal environment for pride, selfish ambition and envious comparison. I don’t mean the “I’m proud to be counted among such amazing people” sort of pride. But on a bad day, maybe it’s more the “I hope these people realize how amazing I am” sort of pride.
I can recall more than once while leading worship, feeling a warm, affirming smugness rise from deep within. It’s the thought that, “Because of what I’m doing right now and how well I’m doing it, I’m worth something. Today is worth living for.” It’s the belief that, “I am only as good as the sum of my performances,” whether on stage or at home. Maybe it’s even more subtle: “If I can get these people to sing loudly, raise their hands or give visible evidence to the fact that they are having a deeply emotional experience, then I am not a failure at life.”
Pride Is Damaging
These beliefs go beyond untrue and into the realm of damaging. First off, they’re damaging to those of us who believe these lies. We miss out on the peace and freedom that comes with knowing our “goodness” is from Christ. Our position before God doesn’t improve because of our efforts or performances. And His love and grace belong to us not because of what we do, but because of what He did.
Secondly, these false beliefs are also damaging to the people we influence and love. For one thing, it’s counterintuitive to the gospel. But more than that it’s abusive. We can abuse people by attempting to use them as walking thermometers measuring our value. But people don’t determine our value. God does. It’s easy to see why James says, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:16).
Pride Is Useful
Pride can be destructive to be sure, but what if we shifted our perspective? What if the presence of pride could be a helpful road sign leading us to dependence on God? God isn’t merely a remedy for the prideful heart; He is the welcome antidote to our pathetic faith in our own ability to obtain greatness. I’ve noticed when I’m walking in my own goodness, I’m running on empty. It’s precisely in times like these that the gospel delivers access to God, whose presence offers to satisfy us with His goodness.
In Christ, pride becomes a warning light rather than just a horrific symptom of sin. This warning light signals our emptiness and alerts us to our tendencies to fumble around for our own versions of stability. And if we can learn to savor and appreciate Him, we can learn to allow the allure of all sin, including pride, to drive us toward Him. When faced with the reality of our attraction to sin, we can either panic and run from it or we can run to God, who ultimately satisfies. May we carry these words from Romans moving forward: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15).