This is the second 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.

 

Self-promotion is the desire to be elevated.

Self-promotion, i.e. selfish ambition,  causes us to seek influence, status or position in our own power rather than God’s spirit. Ambition means “campaigning for promotion.” Ambition can be a mighty force for good, when it promotes the glory of God and the welfare of the church. Ambition that centers on elevating ourselves, however, is a mighty force for evil.

It’s easy to justify our ambition. We convince ourselves that the more elevated we become, the greater our potential for Kingdom impact. Pride always involves self deception: we tell ourselves a lie that validates and excuses our mindset. 

Self-promotion is Satan’s strategy

The Bible describes Satan’s desire to elevate himself, even above God.

Isaiah 14:12–15How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.

Of course, this doesn’t work out very well for Satan. In Paradise Lost, John Milton has a brilliant take on Satan’s reaction to being cast out of heaven into hell:

“Here at least We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built Here for his envy, will not drive us hence: Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice, To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

When Satan sought to exalt himself, God cast him down. This is the inevitable outcome of self-promotion; God humbles the proud but exalts the humble. Even if we convince ourselves that our own elevation serves the Kingdom, God is not fooled. We can’t use Satan’s strategy to accomplish God’s agenda.

God’s truth: We descend into greatness

Jesus’ strategy was the opposite of Satan’s: instead of campaigning for power, he surrendered it with humility.

Philippians 2:5–11– [Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

He taught us to follow this same pattern: 

Luke 14:7–11When (Jesus) noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:  “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Self-promotion thrives on our distrust. When we doubt God will give us the desired seat, we take matters into our own hands. We try to ‘help’ God seat us with honor, but are humiliated in the process.

When I feel tempted to promote myself I find perspective in The Message version of 1 Peter 5:6-7:

So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; he’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.

I recite this verse over and over to dispel the lie of self-promotion. It reminds me that God is careful with me, has not forgotten me and will elevate me in due time. I can trust Him with the seating chart. I don’t need to use my personality, power or prowess to claw my way to the top. He will lovingly seat me at the table; I can be carefree (but not careless) because God is careful with me.

In Hannah Hurnand’s powerful allegory Hinds Feet for High Places, the main character comes across a waterfall. Each drop of water is singing The Water Song. This song is a great illustration of how God intends us to be carefree in humility 

From the heights we leap and go to the valleys down below

Always answering to the call to the lowest place of all

From the heights we leap and go to the valleys down below 

Sweetest urge and sweetest will to go lower, lower still