Michael, thank you for listening to the last “open letter” to yourself. I pray that it was an encouragement. Please bear with me as I continue to exhort you, bringing out what I believe to be possible pitfalls in your life. These are the sins that so easily entangle us. They are those things that our conscious becomes seared to as we have “crossed the line” one two many times. Renew yourself. Do not become complacent in your walk with the Lord. Use these letters as reminders and preemptive strikes toward your own depravity. I pray that they will serve to not only help you to, in the Spirit of Martin Luther, become a more bold sinner, but to cease in your sin.
Pride in teaching
It is often said that pride is the father of all sins. Pride is not so much an action as it is a disposition that issues forth into multiple actions of self elevation and, even, self-abasement. The opposite of pride is not so much to think lower of yourself, but simply to be less mindful of yourself in general. I think that you can have the tendency to display both characteristics of pride.
For example (and the one that you are most aware of) is your tendency to pat yourself on your back for your accomplishments. Remember last Sunday after you taught at church? Remember what your mind was filled with the whole way home? Yourself. How well you did. You assessed how much people liked you, your clarity, your ability to command the audience, and the like. Often, after teaching, your thoughts are consumed with grandeur, as if that was the end goal of your service to the Lord. Before you begin teaching, your prays ascend to heaven. For this, commendation might be in order. However, upon completion of your task you demonstrate that your previous prayers may have been laced with prayers for personal success. Be careful here. Your teaching is not a crutch to your own self-esteem. I know that it is often hard to tell the difference between a pride-filled evaluation and the true excitement that people’s lives and beliefs are being changed for the better. Just be careful here.
Do your “grand” accomplishments in teaching and writing give you some sort of pass? Let’s face it, this stuff comes easy for you. You love it. But why would you take pride in this? If there is fruit to your labor, do you think you are the one who is responsible for it? What about those things that don’t come so easy? You fail pretty regularly when tempted. Don’t hold your head to high for your accomplishments in the study or the classroom. After all, have you ever really been tempted to teach ineffectively or hold to false doctrine. Teachers such as yourself have the tendency to sanctify above all else the firm stance you take in areas of truth. Don’t get me wrong. There is virtue to this. But it only becomes a virtue of the will when you have temptation to do otherwise, does it not? Think about it. You are continually surrounded by people who already agree, for the most part, with what you teach. They give you an “amen”, yes. But what if they did not? What if they hated you and your teaching? What if they booed you out of the class? From past experience, I think I am safe in assuming that you would begin to question whether or not you are following the Lord in your calling. Doubt and discouragement would take the place of courage and resolve.
All of this to say that you should not lift your head too high. If there is success in your teaching and people do, indeed, “believe more accurately and more deeply today than they did yesterday” (as your motto goes), hand that directly to the Lord. Be as prayerful after class as you were before. In short, keep your motivations in check. God gives grace to the humble, but does not think much of the proud.
Pride in self-abasement
Again, don’t think that coming down hard on yourself is a virtue either. This entire post and series on writing “Open Letters” to yourself could be just as prideful as anything you have ever done. Of course, if done right with the right attitude, it is truly helpful, both for yourself and, possibly, those who read. But there are two things to watch out for here:
1. Let’s make no bones about this: these are preemptive strikes to your own failures. You hate it when you are criticized by others. You realize the defensiveness that postures your will when someone else takes the initiative to criticize you. However, when you initiate the criticism, you are more accepting of correction. And we all need this. But take care that these preemptive strikes don’t turn into preemptive excuses. Just because someone admits to pitfalls does not mean that they are taking true and effective measures to dodge them.
2. Self-loathing still has the word “self” in it. Be careful that these type of admissions are not just another avenue where you can put yourself on display. Since you were young, you have loved to be the center of attention, for good or for ill. Use these avenues of confession carefully and take heed that they are not counter-productive to your walk with God.
Again, I don’t mean to come down to hard on you. And I am not saying that my admonishments are always true. I know that there are times of “victory” where the Lord is truly the center of your life. However, I just know your personality and know that these are stumbling blocks that you need to look out for.