© 2016 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved Ministry Business Services, Inc. President Reprinted from inSIGHT
When your life is rocked by circumstances beyond your control, your focus is on survival. While in survival mode we often cry out to God. And sometimes we get the sense that he is responding to us in the midst of our survival mode. That happened to me recently while battling a severe form of pneumonia and coming close to the end of life’s journey (click here to read a brief blog post about that event).
The message of this article is healthy for me to articulate, and perhaps my journey will impact others too.
I get invited to speak at many national and regional conferences. A client who knew me well and for a long time once introduced me at a national conference as the most humble guy he knew. (Some might say he needs to get out more!) But if that was true, how could I be arrogant? The Lord sees our hearts, and that’s where arrogance had been growing.
Maybe humbly arrogant is a good description of what I learned about myself those first two nights in the hospital. Sleep was sparse, and so I prayed a lot. We weren’t told for many days that I had been near death when I checked in to the hospital; that my organs were already beginning to shut down. All I knew was that I was fighting for breath and health. My prayers were earnest and nearly constant.
How Did Arrogance Grow?
I became a Christian a little more than 40 years ago. In 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul told Timothy that aspiring to be an elder is a good thing, so I decided early on to hang with the guys who were my church’s spiritual leaders. I was willing to be used however the Lord saw fit, and honestly sought his leading and direction. I focused on being faithful with the little things he entrusted to me, knowing that doing so would grow my character and that he might choose to use me in larger ways (Luke 16:10). This was not a pursuit of position or power, but of service to the Lord. One of my favorite prayer pictures was that of a glove, whose animation without the complete filling of its master was impossible.
So, What Changed?
I always acknowledge the Lord’s power in all I’m effective at. But my heart began to change very subtly over time. The change was that some of what I was doing was almost like a force of my own personality. Yes, I still prayed and asked for wisdom, appropriate words, and his his filling; but I was in the mix too. And that is the seed of arrogance I felt him challenging me about those nights of intense prayer.
How does the Lord feel about arrogance? In 1 Samuel 15 Saul is chastised by the Lord through Samuel. Verse 23 says:
“For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” (NIV)
In my subtle arrogance I was loving the pedestal of importance and admiration. Not good.
What Was I Doing?
My arrogance grew and became part of me in a few ways. These may seem small, but they became huge to me in those nights of prayer.
- Even though I had nothing to do with my general good health (that, too, is a gift from the Lord), I was kind of proud that I never got flu shots! And it was getting the flu that gave me pneumonia. I can’t remember ever getting the flu before, so it kind of makes sense that I never got flu shots. But being proud of not getting them was arrogant.
- I developed a subtly arrogant variation of a truth:
- The truth: In Job 1 and 2 we see that the enemy’s power against us is limited by the Lord. I interpret that to mean that until the Lord is done working through me and calls me home, my life is not in danger of being ended by the enemy.
- My subtle arrogant variation: I didn’t need to take some of life’s normal precautions because I was sort of invincible! This arrogance may be related to not getting flu shots. But it is more than that; it is a larger approach to life that impacts exercise, diet, and more.
- Samson (see Judges 13-16) was a man filled with The Spirit and used significantly by the Lord. He arrogantly flirted with things he knew could jeopardize him being God’s man, and eventually he lost that battle. In my heart I entertain similarly spiritually unhealthy things, and need to stop doing so. Flirting with sin is inviting opportunity to cross the line, and I need to be further back from that line.
This was very uncomfortable to learn about myself. I don’t believe it is the reason I got sick. Rather, I believe the illness the Lord allowed to nearly take me out was something he chose to use get me to focus intently in prayer and open my heart to his leading. Like Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:9, I got “struck down, but [was] not destroyed.” (NIV) That calamity exposed my pride, and resulted in humility.
The issues he dealt with me about may seem slight. But after more than 40 years of knowing him, trying to follow and grow in him, and serve him, they were significant to me. My hope is that it grew me in ways the Lord can use me further and will prolong his choice to use me as a tool to accomplish his will.