Getting Over Ourselves

Psalm 23:3c

3c        for his name’s sake.

Dear Friends in Christ,

What do you think is the one thing that irritates God more than anything else?  What is the one thing you and I could do that would get under his skin more than anything?  Before I that answer that question for you, let me tell you a story to illustrate it.  It’s a story about a military officer who had just been promoted to the rank of colonel.  He was sitting behind his nice new desk, glancing around his nice new office, admiring the nice new stripes that now adorned his shoulders when all of a sudden there was a knock on his door.  It was a lowly private who saluted him and was about to open his mouth to explain the reason for his visit, but before he could the colonel, wishing to impress him, spoke first.  He said, “I’ll be right with you, young man, but first I have to make an important phone call.”  He dialed a number and said, “Hello, General.  I’m returning your call.  You’d like to have me meet with you and three other generals today?  At 2:00 o’clock?  Of course I’ll be there.”  Putting down the receiver with a smug expression on his face, he turned to the soldier and said, “Now, private, what can I do for you?”  To which the young man hesitantly replied, “I’ve been sent to hook up your telephone, sir!”

So getting back to my question I asked before, what is the one thing that irritates God more than anything else?  One word: PRIDE.  In fact, according to the Bible, it doesn’t just irritate God.  He doesn’t just dislike it or disapprove of it.  He hates it.  In Prov. 8:13 God says, “I hate pride and arrogance.”  Prov. 16:5 says, “The Lord detests all the proud of heart.  Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.”  I Peter 5:5 reminds us that “God opposes the proud.”  Do you ever wonder why some churches or even nations that were once doing so well sometimes falter and fall?  Perhaps Prov. 15:25 provides us with the answer when it says: “The Lord will tear down the house of the proud.”

So it’s pretty clear that God has a strong aversion to pride and arrogance.  And the reason he does is because from his perspective we sinful human beings haven’t done anything to be proud of.  Think of it this way.  Do art critics give awards to the canvas or the paint that is used to create a masterpiece?  Is there an Oscar or an Emmy for the camera that is used to film a movie or TV show?  Do we applaud the scalpel after a successful heart surgery?  Of course not.  Those things are only tools or instruments in the hands of those who know how to use them for greater purposes.

And that seems to be one of the great messages of the 23rd Psalm.  If anything, this psalm should remove any pride or arrogance from our heart because David does such a masterful job of giving credit where credit is due, namely, to our Heavenly Shepherd.  I mean, just look at the psalm: “He makes me lie down in green pastures…He leads me beside the still waters…He restores my soul…He leads me in the paths of righteousness.”  He is with me when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  It is his rod and staff that comfort me.  He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  He’s anoints my head with oil.  He causes my cup to overflow.

You get the picture?  God is the one that deserves all the applause, all the credit, all the glory because he’s the one who does it all.  We might be his tools, his instruments, but until he picks us up and uses us, we’re pretty helpless and pretty incapable of doing anything good on our own.  Like Deut. 8:17 says: “Remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”

And just to make sure we understand that, just to make certain we know that it’s not about me and it’s not about you, but rather it’s all about God, David includes in the very heart of the 23rd Psalm these 4 words that we are looking at today: “for his name’s sake.”  That’s just another way of saying no other name deserves a place on the marquee.  No other name should occupy a spot on the front page.  Everything happens and everything is to be done for his name’s sake – for his honor and his glory.

Now that does bring up a question, though it’s a question you might be a little reluctant to ask for fear that God might not take to it very kindly.  So I’ll ask it for you. Why is God so concerned about getting all the glory?  Does he have an ego problem or something?

No, I can assure you he doesn’t have an ego problem.  But guess what?  We do.  We are about as responsible with applause and accolades as I am with the red velvet cake topped with cream cheese icing that Marilyn makes me about once a year.  This icing is the richest, sweetest topping that any cake could ever have.  And whenever she makes it, usually for my birthday, I ask her to make a batch and a half of the icing.  That way I can slop big gobs of it on every bite of cake I eat.  I quickly discover though that that’s not the brightest thing to do because it doesn’t take long before my stomach starts doing flip flops and this nauseating feeling comes over me.  But by the time the next meal rolls around, that’s all forgotten and I repeat the process until the cake and the icing are finally history.

Well, that’s kind of the way we are with applause and accolades.  We don’t handle them very well.  We love it when people slop it on us in big doses, but then we get to thinking so highly of ourselves that we become rather sickening to be around.  Kind of like the Pharisee we heard about before in our Gospel reading who went up to the temple to pray one day. He took his place before the people, lifted his eyes to the heavens and dramatically spread out his arms and prayed:  “God, I thank you that I’m not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers.  Why, I fast twice a week.  I pay tithes of all that I have.  Surely you must be impressed with me, Lord.”

But God wasn’t impressed, was he?  Instead, he was impressed by that lowly hated tax collector who stood off in a corner all by himself in a posture of humility, refusing to even look up to heaven.  And beating his breast in sorrow over his many sins and shortcomings he prayed, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.”

After telling that story, Jesus said: “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

You know what that tells us, my friends?  It tells us that with the same fervor and intensity God hates pride and arrogance, he loves humility.  And that love for the humble is splashed across the pages of Scripture.  Ps. 138:6 says: “Though the Lord is supreme, he takes care of those who are humble.”  In Is. 57:15 God says: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is…lowly in spirit.”

And to the humble, God gives great and lasting treasures.  I Peter 5:5 says he gives grace to the humble.  The Book of Proverbs reminds us that honor and wisdom are bestowed upon the humble.  And Ps. 149:4 says: “He crowns the humble with salvation.”

A study of the greatest saints in the Bible is a study of humility.  Though Moses had served as the heir apparent to the throne of Egypt and later on as the emancipator of the Israelite slaves, Num. 12:3 tells us: “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.”  Though the Apostle Paul had a personal encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and on another occasion was transported into the heavens in an incredible vision God gave him and on another occasion raised someone from the dead, when he introduced himself to the readers of his epistles, he never mentioned any of those things.  Instead, he called himself a servant of God, a prisoner of Christ, and the chief of sinners.  Though John the Baptist was a blood relative of Jesus and the one chosen by God to prepare the way for him, he humbly told his followers: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

So God loves humility which is why he includes so many tips in the Bible on how we can cultivate this Christian virtue in our own lives.  Let me share just a few of them with you.

First of all, understand what humility is.  Humility is not the same as low self-esteem or low self-confidence.  I’ve run into plenty of Christians over the years who are so “humble” that they don’t think they’re good for anything.  They don’t see how God could ever use them. But being humble is really seeing yourself as God sees you, as a child of the King of kings and Lord of lords, and placing yourself at his disposal so that he can use you for his glory.

Then a 2nd humility tip God gives us in the Bible is don’t take your successes in life too seriously. Whatever success or money you have right now can be here today and gone tomorrow.  In fact, one author suggests you might want to ponder your success and count your money in a cemetery where you can be reminded that you can’t take either one of those two things with you when you die.

Then a 3rd suggestion God has for us is that we celebrate the significance and success of others.  Phil. 2:3 says: “in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  I love what one sports columnist wrote about my biggest pet peeve in professional football.  He was speaking to rookie players when he said: “Stop thumping your chest.  The line blocked for you, the quarterback threw you a perfect pass while getting his head knocked off, and the good receiver drew the double coverage leaving you wide open.  So get over yourself.”

Then fourthly, never announce your success before it occurs.  One of the greatest preachers of all time, Charles Spurgeon, trained many young ministers.  On one occasion one of his students stepped up to preach exuding a lot of self-confidence, but he failed miserably.  He came down from that pulpit humbled and meek.  Spurgeon told him: “If you had gone up as you came down, you would have come down as you went up.”

Then the last and I believe most important tip for humility that God has for us in the Bible is this: Live your life at the foot of the cross.  Any pride we may have in ourselves is lost there as we are reminded that it was our sins, our faults, our failures that made that cross so necessary.  So look to Jesus who set the greatest example of humility for us when he said that he came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for others.  That’s our model.  That’s our example to follow.  And that’s why the Apostle Paul says in Gal. 6:14: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So if you need affirmation from time to time, as we all do; if your self-esteem requires a boost every now and then, don’t do it yourself.  Don’t start dropping names of important people you may know or showing off or bragging about your accomplishments because most of the time that just turns people off.  And as we’ve heard here today it simply nauseates God.  So instead of applauding yourself, I would suggest that you applaud your Savior, that you pause at the foot of the cross and be reminded of this: The One who made the stars loved you so much that he would rather die for you than live without you.  That is a fact.  So if you feel a need to be proud, be proud about that and give Christ all the glory for saving a sinner like you.