Selfish ambition v Selfless provision
A humble heart: Confronting our selfishness and helping those that are most vulnerable.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice… …You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
James 1:27 NIV
There’s a line in a well-known Pacino movie that goes something like this: ‘Vanity, my favourite sin.’
In the movie, Pacino is the devil in disguise as a lawyer and uses the snare of ego and vanity to get his man. It’s a film every Christian should take note of.
When I went to work for a mission agency I had been senior pastor leading a large, multi-congregational Baptist church. When I moved on I went to serve another leader as his ‘number two’ on the team. Many people at that time thought that I was mad. ‘Why on earth would you leave senior leadership to work for someone again?’ was a regular question. In due course I became the boss, but first I had to learn to serve again. It was a character-forming time.
The pattern repeated itself a couple of times and now, again, I serve as deputy CEO to a great leader. A few times people have expressed mild surprise. It seems this isn’t viewed as a common trajectory. Having for years called the shots, I have to deal with asking for permission for some things or help put someone else’s vision into practice. James however is clear. We are to be submissive.
From experience, senior leadership has many privileges. You are the culture-setter. You can make final decisions and you are, in a sense, master of your own destiny. It has its pressures of course, but the sense of freedom to ‘be’ and to create is fantastic.
However, you also get your ego stroked. You walk into a room and people take notice of what you have to say. You get announced as ‘the leader’ or ‘the founder’. You become acknowledged for being successful (if you have been) and you get a seat round the table at some key meetings. You also get invited to some pretty cool places. It’s fun, but if you’re not careful it can play havoc with your sense of self.
There is no doubt that God uses profile, personality and leadership. You see that all the way through the Bible. But it beholds all of us to hear God’s call and not to let ego and vanity get in the way of taking what could be viewed as a ‘step back’ in human terms in order to get the work of the kingdom done. If you have an opportunity to humbly serve, that will result in more people being impacted by God’s love than if you let ego and vanity get in the way.
My conclusion is this: as servants of God, who have signed up to follow him wherever he tells us to go and do whatever he asks to do, we are in a sense his chess pieces to move as he sees fit. Lay aside your ego, humble yourself before God and God will be able to use you. My Twitter cover picture is a quote from Ronald Reagan: ‘There is no limit to what a person can do or where they can go, if they don’t care who gets the credit.’ I like that! I suspect that when we die and meet Jesus, the status or position we had in the eyes of men and women will count for very little indeed!
Questions for reflection:
1. When did you last allow someone else to get the credit for something you did?
2. It is possible that by being more concerned about our own position or status we miss God’s calling or ignore those who have much greater needs than us. How do we protect ourselves against narcissism and ego?
Heavenly Father, search my heart and see if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Convict me where there is ego, help me to see others’ needs before my own. Break my heart for what breaks yours and forgive me for the times when I have put myself before others. Amen.
Written by Carl Beech
Carl is married to Karen and has two adult daughters. He is at heart an evangelist and church leader, first planting a church at the age of 24 in Essex, and has been working as an evangelist since 1996.
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