At twelve years old, I was a shy and terribly insecure seventh grader. I played the flute in the band and in many ways music was my saving grace. I excelled in music and felt confident where otherwise my life was typified by fear. Like many in that stage of life, I succumbed to all the perceived pressures that ghastly junior high halls have to offer. But, suddenly band became un-cool at some point in the seventh grade. I wanted so desperately to create and maintain an image among my peers and I concluded that band would hinder that. I wanted to sneak my way through it until I could fade it out.
At the end of the year, I was close. We had our annual award ceremony and band party at a local pizza place. In the back of the room I quietly ate my pizza when I heard it. My name. I was awarded the most outstanding 7th grade band student award. Horrors flooded over me. “Now I’m the most outstanding band geek in the seventh grade!” Was I that un-cool that I managed to be the best at it? My first instinct was to slide under the table and hide. I wish I could say I humbly walked up to receive my award, but I didn’t. I hid under the table until the ceremony was over and I crawled out of the room on my hands and knees. Yes I did.
The worst part of the story (and it gets worse), the Band Director caught me as I was crawling out, and handed the award to me, still on my knees. I can still remember the disappointment on his face. I didn’t factor his feelings at all. My fellow band students walked out laughing and calling me, band geek. All my efforts to prop myself up still landed me in a pitiful pile of humiliation. A painful lesson on pride.
PRIDE COMES BEFORE A FALL
Thank God my lesson was not as bad as King Nebuchadnezzar’s in chapter four of Daniel. If you remember the dream God gave the king in chapter two, Daniel told him, “God wants you to understand what was in your heart.” (Daniel 2:30). King Neb gets another dream, and it too is so that he will understand what’s in his heart. A terrible case of pride.
Daniel warns the king to change his ways so that he can avoid this fate.
“King Nebuchadnezzar, please accept my advice. Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper.” (Daniel 4:27 NLT)
Old habits die hard. One year later the king walks out to gaze upon his kingdom and his fortune.
“As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.” (Daniel 4:30 NLT)
Before the words finished coming out of his mouth, scripture says his fate was fulfilled. Turned cray cray, he began acting like an animal, and was driven into the wilderness. For seven years he ate grass like a cow and lived outside, a bona fide circus sideshow.
After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven. My sanity returned, and I praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever. (Daniel 4:34 NLT)
I like to believe that what we see here is a permanent life change for the man. A pagan, self-centered, egomaniac turned humble, God lover. A life so changed that the entire kingdom is left stunned and amazed. We aren’t given too many details of Nebuchadnezzar’s life after this event, so it’s possible that his forgetful hard heart forgot this too.
More importantly, however, what stands out to me is that even after the king’s long history of forgetfulness, it seems that God is not content to leave him captive to his own devices. We have talked a lot about captivity in this study series, and how the pattern of God’s will is to release us from captivity.
Have you ever identified an area of captivity in your life that you just couldn’t quite seem to escape? Maybe you prayed over it repeatedly, yet continued to find yourself back in that destructive place. Maybe it felt like an addiction. Maybe it’s food, shopping, arguing. Maybe you asked yourself, “Can I really trust God to release me from this?” Because this whole chapter embodies prideful redemption, I think it’s worth our while to dig deeper into the subject of pride.
Let’s take a look again at Nebuchadnezzar’s pattern:
- Chapter 2: He saw first-hand the miraculous revelation of his dream. He acknowledged God and his supremacy, and eventually disregarded it.
- Chapter 3: He saw first-hand the miraculous salvation of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Again, he acknowledged God and disregarded it.
- Chapter 4: He was given another dream of the future and by calling Daniel to help, he acknowledged God in Daniel, again he disregarded it.
- Chapter 4: The dream was fulfilled and the king was humbled in the exact way that was predicted, and the king finally acknowledged God for real.
This is a classic case of failing to turn what we know to be true into what we believe to be true. In other words, turning head knowledge into heart knowledge. This lack of understanding in the heart is exactly what we’ve been talking about for the last couple of weeks. These gaps in our heart are often hidden in hardness until God reveals them to us. Depending on how hard that part of our heart remains, it might take multiple attempts and humiliating circumstances before we are able to see it. That, my friends, is pride. No way around it. So much of what we cannot see is simply and tightly wrapped in pride.
I’m sorry to say, no one is immune to pride. Perhaps we’re not nearly as bad as King Nebuchadnezzar or those dastardly Pharisees, or maybe we’ve learned to conceal it better than they, but it’s there, lurking in the darkness. Why is pride so difficult to detect? Well, I believe on some level we don’t really want to find it. We’ve come to accept it as part of our being and we’ve come to believe it protects and shields us from further pain.
We really are quite delicate, fragile beings, vulnerable to demonic wiles when suffering strikes. And boy does Satan know how to turn any bad situation into an opportunity to deceive us. This is what Jesus says of Satan,
He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44 NIV)
In my own life, I heard the lies and the half-truths that were thrown my way. And I believed them, because in my pain and vulnerable state at the time, I wanted to believe them. On some level I thought it kept me safe from any more pain and allowed me fester in my anger, which really feels great at first. I know you’ve been there too.
That first half-truth standing before me was a tiny hurdle, easily jumped, however each lie that followed was progressive until I was believing lies that I would have immediately rejected had they been presented to me first.
There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. (Proverbs 14:12 NLT)
Let’s talk about false beliefs that lead us down that path. There are more than a million ways Satan can and will lie to you, and if followed, they will eventually lead you down a path to believing that God cannot be trusted. If you’ve claimed Jesus as your savior, Satan knows he can’t keep you from eternity, but he will count it as success if he can keep you from trusting God and keep you from escaping captivity. Let’s explore three common false beliefs, woven into pride that can creep into our mantra.
#1 This Is Just The Way I Am…
Tell me haven’t heard this from someone. Now tell me you haven’t said it, or at least thought it. True, there are things about us that no doubt comprise our personality and mark us as unique. However, these are things will typically look like gifts and assets rather than detriments and character flaws. My point isn’t to get nit picky here, but to draw out common, reflexive thoughts, that flash through our minds when we face a negative repeated pattern. Pride says we don’t need to change, that’s just the way we are.
After Nebuchadnezzar’s repeated disregard for God’s supremacy, he may have easily determined it’s because he’s just not a very spiritual person. Maybe he said, “I’ve tried to follow the Most High God, but it doesn’t really work for me. This is just the way I am.” This belief can be stated defensively, to justify the character flaw, or it could be stated with resignation, because all hope feels lost that change is even possible. I’m guilty of saying both actually.
This week I came across the scripture where Jesus tells his disciples a story about an unjust judge who “neither feared God nor cared about people.” A widow came seeking justice and didn’t receive it. She never gave up and finally received justice because the judge was so annoyed with her.
Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! (Luke 18:7-8a NLT)
It’s a lie that you have to live in captivity because it’s just the way you are. Take hope. God hears you when you cry out and he will render justice. If anyone deserved to be written off and left, it was Nebuchadnezzar. But God didn’t do that. He loves you. He won’t leave you there.
#2 It’s Not Me, It’s Them…
One of the telltale signs of pride is the tendency to exalt self over others, and that includes displacing blame onto others. Of course, it’s a protection mechanism, because no one likes to be blamed, but it’s also a subtle indication that there’s a belief God cannot be trusted for the exact protection you desire.
Nebuchadnezzar displayed this behavior when he hauled Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego before him. He couldn’t admit that he had crossed the line with his mandate and not only affronted the people but the Most High God, and instead blamed the three men.
I will give you one more chance to bow down…But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power? (Daniel 3:15 NLT)
Exalting self is not in the character of the Kingdom of God. Anywhere. If this false belief, it’s not me, flashes through your mind, check yourself.
For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 18:14b NLT)
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28 NLT)
The most challenging part to this false belief arises when others are indeed responsible for the pain that brought about the pride in the first place. It’s so critical to separate blame for the pain and blame for the flaw that needs to change. It’s pride that prevents the distinction.
#3 I’ve Gotten Myself This Far…
Is this never so apparent as when Nebuchadnezzar steps up to gaze upon the city of Babylon? “By my own mighty power,” he says, even after he admitted that God was the Lord over kings back in chapter two. The downside to success is the lie that follows, saying you accomplished it by your own strength, and Nebuchadnezzar held firm to this false belief, I’ve gotten myself this far.
The false belief in the power of your own strength will always lead to a distrust in God’s strength. An unwavering trust in self is pride. A rich, young ruler approached Jesus one day, inquiring into eternal life. This man claimed to have obeyed all the commandments, but Jesus knew where his treasure was, in his possessions. So he challenged the man to give up his possessions and follow. The man couldn’t do it. He trusted in his own strength more than God’s.
“Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” (Mark 10:24-27 NLT)
Stop believing the lies. We don’t have to resign ourselves to captivity, God saves. We don’t have to rely on others to make our freedom possible, God saves. We don’t have to white knuckle our way out, God saves. We just need allow God to save us.
As we reflect on that nagging, destructive behavior that follows us around like a stray puppy, is it possible God has been attempting to reach out? Will we trust God with the process of redemption? Will we allow him to humble us? If the Lord has revealed something, anything, to you right now, I pray that you will earnestly consider what he’s laying before you. Don’t be surprised or frustrated if there’s not a quick fix. Pride is often tangled in layers upon layers of pain and anger and fear, but trust the process, trust God’s strength, trust God.