coffee19.jpgThis is embarrassing.

I would just as soon you not read this.   What I am writing about concerns one of the most embarrassing aspects of my life.

My ego.

Years ago, I was sitting in the cafeteria at Pepperdine University.  I was there for their annual Bible Lectures.  (Something like the National Pastors Convention recently held in San Diego.  Or, you might think about a very large seminar.)  I was eating breakfast and sitting across from a minister who is now considered to be one of the finest preachers in Churches of Christ. 

We were talking about his former congregation.  A search committee from this congregation had contacted me about moving and beginning a new ministry with them.   Their former minister was telling me about the church and was expressing that he was glad they were interested in me.  As we were talking, another minister came by our table and said to me, "I happen to  know that such and such church wants to talk with you about working with them."  The friend I had been visiting with looked at me and said, "Boy, Jim, you seem to be a hot item."

Now let me quickly tell you that I certainly didn’t see myself in those terms.  In fact, I even feel embarrassed right now as I  type these words.  My point for relating this is to say:   His words massaged my ego.  For a few moments I felt important, worthwhile, and significant.  The problem was that I was gaining these feelings from what others thought of me (or what I imagined they thought).  I remember even comparing myself to others and thinking about their shortcomings (now that is sad).

When a person is depending on others for these ego strokes, it is very easy to become arrogant.  However, when they don’t come, it is also easy to feel low, unappreciated, and worthless.  What if people are not interested in my ministry?  What if they do not think I am gifted, intelligent, a good speaker, or a good church builder?  If I depend upon these people and their affirmation for my sense of self-worth, I will probably come to the point where I feel as if I am not worth very much.  Perhaps more importantly, I will be getting my sense of self-worth some place besides God.

I love Paul’s words in II Corinthians 1:8-11:

We do not want you to be
uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province
of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to
endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed,
in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we
might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On
him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

Paul spoke of the troubles and sufferings that brought great pressure to his life.  He says that they were under great pressure "… far beyond our ability to endure …."  He went on to say that "this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead."   How true!

I later learned that who I am as a child of God and as a minister has nothing to do with how good a Christian I might be or how good a minister I might be.  It has nothing to do with how much I am noticed or recognized by others.  It has nothing to do with whether or not I am successful in the eyes of my peers or other people who might be watching.

Who I am has everything to do with what God thinks of me.  It has everything to do with understanding that, no matter what, my ministry is far beyond my ability to do this on my own.  My life and work are not about proving to others that I am adequate and able.   Rather, it is about relying on God who raises the dead.  My hope is not on finding the right church or getting recognized in some way that might stroke my ego.  My hope is in the only one who is worthy of my complete reliance.

Do you relate to this at all?  Do you find yourself listening too much to what people say about you and either feeling self-important or self-condemning?  Is this familiar territory? 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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11 thoughts on “Embarrassing

  1. Jim, thanks for the confession. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one. I have actually caught myself daydreaming about my own greatness during times of prayer! Now that’s sorry! I’ve found that confession, though painful, is helpful in curbing some of my ego struggles.

  2. There is a wonderful scene in Driving Miss Daisy where the Morgan Freeman character is talking to Dan Ackroyd (Jessica Tandy’s son) as he has been offered another job with more pay.  Dan Ackroyd doesn’t want to lose him, so he gives him a hefty raise.  For someone in Morgan Freeman’s situation I’m sure the extra money made a big difference, but you get the sense that the underlying affirmation was even more important.
    "You ever have people fighting over you?"  Morgan Freeman says.  "Well it sure does feel good!"
    The trick, I guess, is to appreciate and celebrate those ego strokes.  Those aren’t bad things, they’re good things!  But still they need to be kept in their place.  And that can be hard.

  3. Jim,
    Excellent post brother.
    I want you to know that I use to compare myself to others. One things I have learned over the 12 years of ministry is that people will always let you down. Elders, fellow staffer and other Christians leader. 
    So I only one know that I strive to compare myself to is Jesus Christ. He will never let me down no matter what I do, say, think about doctrine and countless other things.  God and His son has always been there for me. As I trust completely in them they always come through: giving me a the peace that surpasses understanding, a stronger faith and deeper relationship. 
    In Him,
    Kinney Mabry

  4. Sure, it feels good when someone has something nice to say about you.  And it feels bad when they say something bad.  I don’t think there’s any harm in enjoying a compliment every now and then.  But, if my entire self-worth is based on what others think, then I have a problem.  Perhaps, the problem is pride?

  5. I think it’s easy to let external appearances muddy what God thinks of us. For too long, I’ve relied on the logic that if others think well of me because I’m serving, giving, etc., then I’m alright in God’s eyes. There seems to be a fine line between encouragement and ego-boosting. 

  6. Dusty,You are so right about the value of confession regarding this.  There is something about confessing to someone else a certain matter related to the ego that kind of takes the wind out of that.I enjoyed our visit a few months ago.  Hope we can do that again in the near future. Michelle,You are right.  That can be a very painful battle.  Like many others, I sometimes don’t realize there is a battle until I have been in it for awhile.  Kristen,I hear you.  There is a place to celebrate and appreciate words of affirmation.  For me, I have had to be very careful with this, however, or it becomes something much more. 

  7. Hi Kinney,Thanks for the reminder of the faithfulness of God in this.  Very important. Connie,Very true.  I have had to exercise some caution though in how much importance I place in someone’s affirmation, praise etc. 

  8. kristine,Very good point.  What you say is a good warning to us all.  It is very possible to conclude that if I seem to be all right in someone else’s eyes then I must be right in God’s eyes.Thanks,

  9. I definitely am in this club.  I said it to someone like this the other day:  affirmation is a need of ours, but if affirmation becomes our cake then it is bad.  But if our self-worth lies in our status as beloved of God (cake), then affirmation from others becomes the icing.  It is good on top, but never the core item.  I daily have to reaffirm my status as the daughter of God so horizontal affirmation remains the icing.  Daggon that pride.

  10. Jennifer,I really like the way you express this.  The cake and icing analogies help.  Unfortunately, the "cake" is often taken for granted while we become enamored with the "icing."