Reading a Puritan Paperback called The Way to True Peace and Rest has provoked me to think about some of the big obstacles to peace and rest. Early in my Christian life, a striking illustration of pride proved most helpful. To this day, I think about it regularly. It went like this:
Imagine you walk into a room where people are sitting around tables. When you walk through the door, uproarious laughter explodes from the table in the far corner. Your first thought: They are laughing at me! Why? Do I have egg on my face? Is my zipper down? Do they not like me?
In reality, someone at the table just told an hilarious joke about two dogs gone to heaven. They’re laughing together, but you immediately assume they must be laughing at you. Pride.
The fact that we all experience this shows the common root of pride in our hearts. Some will say, “Don’t be crazy. That’s normal. That’s not pride.” But it is pride. Think of what this knee-jerk reaction to the corner table laughter means. It means we walk around with a constant low-grade focus on ourselves. It means we walk into a room with the default assumption that everyone is preoccupied with us. We see ourselves as so important that when we walk into a room, everyone takes notice (either positively or negatively). Vanity of vanities. In fact, Carly Simon (a 1970s pop musician) wrote a song about this with the chorus:
You’re so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain (you’re so vain)
I’ll bet you think this song is about you
The same self-focused tendency shows up not only when we walk into a room, but when we walk into anything. We carry this self-guarded disposition into personal relationships, social media scrolling, playground interactions, workplace chatter, sermon listening, meeting new people, and every other arena of life. For us, this chorus could sing about almost anything. Fill in the blank: “You’re so vain, you probably think this ___________ is about you.” We are bent to assume a central position in the world, and this way of thinking provokes the following dangers and more:
- Pride breeds skepticism about the hidden heart motives of people.
- Pride hinders our ability to serve others freely.
- Pride re-directs our affections from God’s approval to the approval of people.
- Pride breeds a me-vs-them mentality.
- Pride blocks us from entering joyfully someone else’s special moment.
- Pride paralyzes some of us in fear of other people.
- Pride enflames others of us in anger toward suspected offenders.
- Pride leads to hand-wringing, not God-trusting.
- Pride births an over-commitment to our own honor and reputation.
- Pride births an under-commitment to honor and bless other people (God, most of all).
- Pride starves Christian charity of its fruits.
- Pride divides people over vain imaginations (a favorite concept of a mentor of mine).
- Pride dulls our dependence on God’s loving sovereignty.
- Pride makes people big and God small.
- Pride alienates us from the help God’s word and His Church.
- Pride closes the way to true rest and peace.
What should we do about this? Fight! But fight wisely.
- Trade your skepticism of others for a watchfulness of this pride hiding in the shadows of your heart (Proverbs 24:3).
- Pray for help. God opposes pride and loves to root it out. God surely answers pride-killing prayers (1 Peter 5:5-6).
- Think biblically and objectively about your situation. To quote an old medical adage: When you hear hoofbeats in the hall, think horses not zebras. The principle points out that horses are more common than zebras. Our prideful fears and instincts are often exaggerated (Proverbs 28:1, James 4:15).
- Obey God’s loving call to turn back to Him for humility, comfort, and care. He loves us in spite of our vain and prideful tendencies, and draws us to Himself by faith in Jesus, who entrusted Himself to God who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23).
- If you think this post is about you, start now. If you don’t, start now anyway.