“Consider, I beseech you, brethren, what baits there are in the work of the ministry, to entice a man to selfishness, even in the highest works of piety. The fame of a godly man is as great a snare as the fame of a learned man. But woe to him who takes up the fame of godliness instead of godliness! ‘Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.’ When the times were all for learning and empty formalities, the temptation of the proud did lie that way. But now, when, through the unspeakable mercy of God, the most lively practical preaching is in credit, the temptation of the proud is to pretend to be zealous preachers and godly men. Oh, what a fine thing it is to have people crowding to hear us, and affected with what we say, and yielding up their judgments and affections! What a taking thing it is to be cried up as the ablest and godliest man in the country, to be famed through the land for the highest spiritual excellencies! Alas! brethren, a little grace combined with such inducements, will serve to make you join yourselves with the forwardest, in promoting the cause of Christ in the world. Nay, pride may do it without special grace.”
Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, 146.
All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.
Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love –a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek–
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.
Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.
For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.
John Piper makes the point in Future Grace that anxiety often flows from weak pride. He says,
“When pride is not strong, it begins to worry about the future. In the heart of the proud, anxiety is to the future what self-pity is to the past. What did not go well in the past gives us a sense that we deserve better. But if we could not make things go our way in the past, we may not be able to in the future either. Instead of making the proud humble, this possibility makes them anxious.”
(Piper, Future Grace, 93.)
I have long held that the twin virtues of a Christian man are humility and courage. So I was especially intrigued to see Piper’s connection of pride and anxiety, the negation of each of these. On a personal level, there has been perhaps no time in my life that is as uncertain as this month; I am racked with anxiety. So, Piper’s reminder comes at a crucial time for me. It is through a restored and grounded humility that I will have the confidence to do difficult and risky things.
Valley of Vision, “Humiliation”:
When I am afraid of evils to come, comfort me, by showing me
that in myself I am a dying, condemned wretch,
but that in Christ I am reconciled, made alive, and satisfied;
that I am feeble and unable to do any good,
but that in him I can do all things;
that what I now have in Christ is mine in part,
but shortly I shall have it perfectly in heaven.
I’ve never seen anything like this:
I asked the elders to consider this leave because of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, I love my Lord, my wife, my five children and their families first and foremost; and I love my work of preaching and writing and leading Bethlehem. I hope the Lord gives me at least five more years as the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem.
But on the other hand, I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I’ll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I’m sorry. Since I don’t have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins.
Noël and I are rock solid in our commitment to each other, and there is no whiff of unfaithfulness on either side. But, as I told the elders, “rock solid” is not always an emotionally satisfying metaphor, especially to a woman. A rock is not the best image of a woman’s tender companion. In other words, the precious garden of my home needs tending. I want to say to Noël that she is precious to me in a way that, at this point in our 41-year pilgrimage, can be said best by stepping back for a season from virtually all public commitments.
I’m my biggest danger. My own ego is my biggest danger. The counter part to that is when I go up, God goes down. So the Bible says, “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God that in due time he may exalt you.” We tend to turn it around and drift toward things that magnify us. And if you write books, or have a growing church, or whatever, the insidiousness of the temptation to feel good for the wrong reasons is almost invincible. You’re on your face so often… at least I pray crazy prayers like, “If I can’t emotionally distinguish between my delight in God and my delight in prospering, kill me. Take me out. I don’t want to bring any reproach on the gospel.
John Piper, Q&A at Text and Context 2008