In the Old Testament book of Chronicles, I bumped into great kings and awful kings–all people with flaws, yet some seemed to sink into sin and others remained faithful to the end.
Uzziah started well. He didn’t finish well.
Why? Pride. Look what he did all because of pride.
“But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the LORD his God by entering the sanctuary of the LORD’s Temple and personally burning incense on the altar.
Azariah the high priest went in after him with eighty other priests of the LORD, all brave men. They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is the work of the priests alone, the sons of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The LORD God will not honor you for this!”
Uzziah was furious and refused to set down the incense burner he was holding. But as he was standing there with the priests before the incense altar in the LORD’s Temple, leprosy suddenly broke out on his forehead. When Azariah and the other priests saw the leprosy, they rushed him out. And the king himself was eager to get out because the LORD had struck him.
So King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in isolation, excluded from the Temple of the LORD. His son Jotham was put in charge of the royal palace, and he governed the people of the land.” 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 NLT
Honestly, this is my number one fear in ministry. I’ve seen it happen far too many times. A Christian author or speaker or ministry leader starts out small and humble, willing to learn the ropes. Then he/she gains a modicum of success and it shoots straight to the ego, enlarging it beyond what it should be.
Pride enters in. The person becomes a Me Monster, unable to hear or receive criticism. He (she) surrounds himself with yes-men and yes-woman, giving into groupthink, so that he no longer hears about his flaws or wayward beliefs or actions. Pride like this isolates, just as it isolated Hezekiah and ultimately led to his leprous downfall.
The person who was initially excited about building God’s kingdom morphs into a person hell-bent on their own kingdom.
Pride kills. There is no room for it in the kingdom inaugurated by humble Jesus. Whether you’re a speaker, author, pastor, or ministry leader, it can subtly entice you. Don’t let it. Run like the dickens. Humble yourself.
I fear for this culture of celebrity in the American Christian Church. We build into this propensity of pride by deifying our Christian leaders and pastors. And some of them allow their own perceived awesomeness to fuel their pride until they live for their own mega-kingdoms rather than the kingdom of God.
Yet the kingdom is all about the small becoming strong (by God’s strength), the foolish shaming the wise, the meek inheriting the earth. It’s about giving honor to others who serve, not demanding that others honor us for our perceived sacrifices. It’s about laying aside our agenda for the sake of the One who bled on our behalf. It means doing unseen, non-showy work.
When I despair about this culture of celebrity that surrounds some Christian leaders, I remind myself that El Roi, the God who sees, discerns the intentions of the heart.
I’m reminded of Paul’s joyful declaration that the advancing kingdom can’t be thwarted by someone’s pride. “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:15-18, ESV).
I’m reminded of God’s purposes being carried out through the mouth of a donkey.
That doesn’t mean we don’t speak up when Christian leaders go astray or let their pride shipwreck themselves and their congregations. It means we pray. It means we ask God what we should say/do. It means ultimately, though, that God has this and will prevail despite man’s frailty and penchant for pride.
This endeavor called ministry, something entrusted to the entire Christian Church and not simply those perceived as leaders, is sacred. We ought to approach it with fear and trembling, humbly asking God to send folks our way if we get too big for our Christian britches.
In this season of Advent where we recognize Jesus left the glory and splendor of heaven to touch feet on the dirt and dust of earth, let’s remember our Humble Leader. He who said the greatest in the kingdom is the one who serves, the one who relishes being called least.
What about you? Have you seen prideful ministers/speakers/authors? How have you prayed for them? How does pride entice you to leave your First Love behind?