We’re asked common questions when people find out what we do. Are you a plumber? Get ready to remotely troubleshoot a leaky faucet. A doctor? Get ready for a rundown of mysterious aches and pains.
For counselors, somewhere near the top of that list is the question, “What problems do you see most?” Depression, anxiety, anger, marital conflict all make the cut, but my top answer may surprise you. It’s pride.
That pride should be the chart-topper actually shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone — and least of all to Christians. Proverbs 6:16–19 lists seven traits that God despises, and the very first — “haughty eyes” — is the proverbial way of talking about pride.
Pride is a prison that perpetuates anger, hurt, and foolishness while keeping at bay the restorative effects of conviction, humility, and reconciliation (Proverbs 11:2; 29:23; Galatians 6:3; James 4:6; Revelation 3:17–20). Later, in Proverbs 16:18, God tells us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Not only would pride be your jailer, but it would also be your executioner.
Everyone Else Is the Problem
In the counseling room, when couples come to me for the first time, they often have a list of offenses committed against them by their spouse, as well as a rehearsed inventory of behaviors they expect their partner to change. Similarly, parents often bring children to counseling reporting that they need to learn new ways of being respectful, self-controlled, and helpful. Also, individuals come in with their catalog of ways in which the world around them has failed to serve them in their quest for joy, comfort, and security.
These offenses need to be heard, and heard tenderly. Our brothers and sisters in Christ need to experience something of the steadfast love of God in the moments when they unpack some of their most painful wounds. A doctor once told me that effective medicine exists at the intersection of tact, timing, and dosage. The same can be said of counseling (and many other disciplines too I’m sure).
Furthermore, the behaviors that they want to see changed often do indeed need reformation. At the same time, during the course of our work together, when I change the perspective and ask leading questions (like, What have you done to your spouse/kid/world? Of what might you need to repent? How can you display Christ to them in the same way that you long for them to display Christ to you?), I don’t usually get answers, but hurt and confused stares. And often I get downright indignation. I get pride.
Christ Gave Up His Rights
Compare this reaction to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If ever there was one who had the right for his pride to be as big as life, it was the one through whom all life came into being. If Jesus had come into the world and demanded that all serve him, and do so immediately, it would not have been arrogant; it would have been appropriate. Yet as Philippians 2 tells us, he came not in the form of a ruler but a servant.
Christ’s call to us is to live in a way that evidences a similar service and thereby demarcates us as those whose citizenship is in heaven, not the world (Matthew 20:25–28). In this way, Christ redeems our service. What a joy it is to serve my spouse, my child, or those around me and reflect to them, even if only in part, something of the character of God.
Removing the Chains of Pride
How does one move from the chains of prideful self-obsession to the freedom of humble self-service?
There are three perspectives that I often ask my counselees to check within themselves. Think of these as three facets (though there are many more) of the jewel of genuine Christian humility:
- Whose sin are you focused upon?
- What is the focus of your joy, security, and contentment?
- Who is the focus of your service?
When we find ourselves in bondage to our pride, the answers to the above qustions are typically: others’ (sin), the world (joy), and myself (service).
Whose sin is most odious to me in those moments? Whose sin needs to be brought into the light, repented of, and ultimately mortified? Not mine, but everyone else’s.
Where do I find my comfort, my joy, my peace, my security? Not in the glory of the gospel, but in some event, thing, or person. If only I made more money, had more power, had a spouse, kids, house, dog, you name it. Anything but the joy of suffering for the gospel.
Who should be served in all of this? Me. The world, my relationships, and God himself exists to serve me.
But Scripture answers these questions quite differently:
- Whose sins should I be focused on? Mine. (Romans 8:13)
- Who is the focus of my joy, security, and contentment? Christ. (1 Peter 1:8–9)
- Who should be the focus of my service? Others, and especially fellow Christians. (Philippians 2:3–4)
While the presenting problems vary widely, the problem, which all too often muddles counseling from the very outset, is pride — and the answer is Holy-Spirit-enabled, Jesus-centered humility.