This is the fifth and final post in a series about spiritual leadership and pride; the introductory post, which serves as a foundation, explains the dangers of pride for leaders and includes an invitation to prayer.
For spiritual leaders (like everyone else), each day brings opportunities to feel sorry for ourselves; we feel misunderstood, unappreciated, overworked and sometimes even abused. We don’t often think of self-pity as a form of pride, but it enters our heart when we believe God is not giving us what we deserve. “I should have gotten the promotion.” “I should not have been treated that way.” “Why don’t people respect me?” Self-pity is the most tempting in hardship, when we feel wronged, overlooked or somehow victimized. The following four truths can help us understand and defeat this powerful form of pride.
1. Self-pity is fueled by entitlement.
Leaders who are entitled tend to focus their attention on themselves and if they are getting what they deserve. If their life or ministry fall short of their expectations, the temptation for self-pity becomes unbearably strong. Self pity in the heart can manifest itself either as vindictive anger or defeated sullenness; either way, it undoes a leader.
Jonah was a leader inflicted with self-pity:
- God called Jonah to Nineveh, but he didn’t want to go. He was not grateful THAT God called him and he was sad about WHERE God called him.
- When the city of Nineveh repents and is saved, Jonah gets upset that his prediction didn’t come to pass. Jonah resented the loving involvement of God on someone else’s behalf, and he pities himself in spite of great victory.
Jonah completely overlooked that God used him to save a whole city from destruction because his self-pity filtered the whole story through his entitled expectations.
2. Self-pity unravels leadership grit.
Self-pity unravels leadership grit.
When we focus on how we are being wronged, fragility sets into our soul. Expecting to be victimized makes us act accordingly … like a vulnerable victim. Leaders who are under the spell of self-pity make cowardly decisions: they leave ministries before God’s time, they quit trying, they shrink back when God is calling them to push forward.
3. Self-pity avoids God
When we do not get what we feel like we deserve, we look for others to blame — my boss doesn’t know how hard I work, the people are not grateful, the community is not interested. We look around to others because it is easier than looking to God. Looking to God would break the spell of self-pity, because it forces us to acknowledge both God’s sovereignty and His generous provision. You can’t feel sorry for yourself at the foot of the cross.
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4. Self-pity is broken through a healthy theology of hardship.
The more we understand the value of hardship in God’s economy, the less likely we are to be enticed by self-pity.
The writer of Hebrews gives us a basic theology of hardship:
Hebrews 12:7–13 — Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
The difficult things in our lives, the things which often feed our self-pity, are ultimately for our good. God grows us through difficulty, but we often stunt the process by recoiling in self-pity. When we develop a theology of hardship, we can quit whining about our hardship and instead embrace it as loving discipline. While we might not enjoy difficult things, this perspective allows us to extract God’s good from the difficulty.
Instead of fighting the inevitable disappointments of life and ministry, we need to learn from the life of Jonah and view any task as privilege. Turning to God and letting Him speak meaning and vision into our present circumstances will transform us from victims into children and benefactors.
[To learn more about pride in spiritual leaders, check out the rest of this series. The second post, about self-promotion, exposes our desire for elevation and reminds us that God’s path is one of downward mobility. The third post, about self-reliance, reminds us that we do not have the resources to succeed in ministry, and that we have to lead from dependency. The fourth post, about self-righteousness, suggests that we lean too heavily on performance for our justification, and exhorts us dwell on the free gift of salvation.]