The Most Subtle Form of Pride

For years I’ve struggled with a sinking sense of inadequacy.

This usually plays out in a disposition of deference: Why would I speak up when others could? Why should I teach a class when others are more capable? Why would I take that position when others are more worthy of it? Whether speaking, acting, or receiving, I let others go first. The self-designated (six-foot-six) runt among the litter.

I never challenged this because I considered it a blemish of humility. If pride is the preoccupation with oneself: a life of self-insertion and mirror-gazing, then the opposite must be humility. But as I avoided different opportunities due to a sense of inferiority, the debilitating sense of my own smallness only grew.

If, like me, you’ve lived under a dark cloud of inadequacy; if the parasite of self-pity drains your energy to go where God calls; if anxiety over your littleness anchors you from stepping out in faith; I encourage you to join me in repentance.

Small in Your Own Eyes

He hid among the baggage.

He never wanted the role. He never campaigned to be king. He was from a humble clan of the least of the tribes of Israel (1 Samuel 9:21). Who was he to be in charge? Thousands of capable men surrounded him, why should he be Israel’s first (human) king? Fear gripped him, the people chose him, Israel sought him — so he fled, hoping never to be found.

A sense of insignificance caused Saul, the tallest man in Israel, to play hide-and-go-seek to escape his calling.

But he lost and the people found his hiding spot and crowned him king. Surrounded by a sea of enemies, Saul soon faces an army he cannot defeat alone. God grants Israel the victory and commands Saul to devote everything — and everyone — to destruction. Instead, the people both kept the best livestock and treasures, and kept Agag, the defeated king, alive. When Samuel confronts Saul as to why he hears sheep bleating, Saul told him what they had done.

Now listen to what Samuel says to Saul,

Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’” (1 Samuel 15:17–19)

Saul disobeyed God because he was too small in his own eyes. The giant of Israel felt as a dwarf compared to the people (1 Samuel 15:24). He feared them more than God and compromised the mission God gave to him because of it.

Humble or Afraid?

Smallness in our own eyes is a virus mimicking humility that tempts some of us to do the same as Saul. He knew the command, saw the sheep being taken away — but, who was he to tell them otherwise? He was a nothing, a no one, an ant. He did not consider that the Lord made him king or that the Lord sent him on a mission. He was to rise to the occasion, not because he was grand, but because the King who he served was.

Smallness in his own eyes, a sinking sense of inferiority, fueled his and the people’s transgression. He shirked responsibility because he did not feel equal to it and his cowardice endangered his people and he eventually lost his kingship as a result.

Humility says, “I am small . . . but my God is big, so I will go, speak, and do.” Cowardice, pride, and self-preoccupation say, “I am puny, others are more qualified, I don’t want to screw things up for myself and others by accepting.”

What this often means, of course, is,

God doesn’t really know what he is doing to send me. I won’t waste my time.
He won’t stand with me upon the waves, so I will stay in the boat.
Jesus’s grace isn’t really sufficient after all. His power isn’t actually made perfect in my weakness.

A People of Stature

The truth is, there are always people more qualified. Someone does know their Bible better. Some are more humble, selfless, and equipped to lead. But when the all-wise Creator, who calls who he wills, beckons us to speak, serve, and act, it is our joyful lot to obey. He gives us position and something to proclaim:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Whimper no more, though small in your own eyes, the powerful God who calls you to go forth as an ambassador, promises to go with you (Matthew 28:18–20; Hebrews 13:5). The great message we carry vanquishes the stammering life of nonintrusivity.

Behold Greatness

You may still feel extremely weak . . . but God not only uses the weak, his power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9–10). Christians should not be like the world and hide their weakness in the basement. Like Paul, we boast in our weaknesses, for, when we are weak, then we are strong.

Standing upright in my own eyes, I have resolved, with the Spirit’s help, to step out in faith and prove that the righteous are as bold as lions (Proverbs 28:1).

May the subtle pride that keeps us anchored in the fetal position be broken as we mimic the mighty roar of Christ. He alone strengthens timid hearts, emboldens scared disciples, and makes the weak strong as we lift our eyes from our frailty to him.

He must be great in our own eyes.