One of the most humbling moments in my life happened during a soccer match. At a critical moment in the game, I had to decide whether to go it alone or let a better positioned teammate attempt an almost guaranteed goal; a rare treat in soccer. Sadly, the split seconds available for the decision were enough for my ego to override my better judgment. Unwilling to pass on the glory of scoring the winning goal, I made the wrong decision and lost the ball, costing the team an important game in the process.
Ironically, I am inclined to believe that the consequences for me would have been much worse if I had managed to score the goal. Though quite humiliating, that terrible mistake gave me a glimpse into my own soul in a way that might have been impossible if I had actually led the team to a win. While it is hard to assert our egos in the midst of failure and hardship, the ugliness of our self-centeredness can be easily camouflaged in the motives and methods of our success, leaving us blind to our own insuperable finitude. When our pursuit for success is severed from a healthy sense of our chronic indebtedness, achieving success can instill in us a measure of entitlement foreign to our true identity. Such a pitfall is even more consequential in our spiritual lives since it is harder to distinguish between self-serving motives and genuine zeal for God. Unlike the gaping sins of the prodigal son, the dutiful son’s alienation from the father comes neatly packaged in obedience and commitment, the very treasures some of us long to lay before our heavenly Father.
In spite of the fact that Jesus prayed fervently for unity among his followers, the visible church is often a conglomeration of competing factions, each equally convinced of its solitary possession of divine favor. Those who seek signs and wonders through the Holy Spirit are usually suspicious of those who emphasize exegetical approaches to the Scriptures. Christian scholars are sometimes content just to talk to each other, and the uncanny tendency of apologists to sniff out what they deem rotten doctrine is not always appreciated.
As a result, not only do we squander valuable benefits of dedicated teamwork within the household of faith, we also lose our edge in a broken world. Despite the monumental gains made in biblical research and translation, biblical illiteracy is still a high-ranking concern, and the frequent outbursts of oft-unfounded accusations from our detractors succeed in rattling the cage for not a few followers of Christ. While outcasts and sinners braved insults to seek refuge in Jesus, they bolt from the divided efforts of Christians and reject God because they mistake us for God.
When being right becomes an end in itself, we lose sight of our own need for God’s grace—a need that would be there even if we were faultless. Instead of recognizing that orthodoxy, though indispensable, is only the map of a journey which we must travel towards God, confidence in our knowledge of the truth becomes the missing link in our quest for self-sufficiency. We partition God’s comprehensive program for his people into various segments and guard our turfs with Herculean zeal. With a little practice, we become so adept at applying our preferred standards that we can accomplish the feat with our eyes closed. Having zeroed in on what we are certain to be God’s most vexing pet peeves, we stand poised not only to pronounce the verdict on those who offend but also to pound the gavel on God’s behalf. Before long, we, like Elijah, become convinced that we are the only ones who are faithful to God while all of his other children have lost their way.
Probably the best antidote to such spiritual calluses among loyal laborers in God’s vineyard is a healthy appreciation of the all-sufficiency of our Father and our exalted status as his humble children—a theological gem that is beautifully captured by C.S. Lewis in his book, Prince Caspian. When the children are reunited with Aslan after many years, Lucy expresses surprise that Aslan looks bigger. Aslan responds, “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”(1)What a relief to remember that no amount of expertise on our part can ever diminish the glory of God or cause us to outlive God’s fatherly indulgence!
Pure, unadulterated motives may lie beyond the reach of even the most devout among us, but the intentional recognition of our humble place in deference to the majesty of our Maker is an indispensable ingredient in our service to God and others. It was neither out of false piety nor enslavement to sin that both Daniel and Nehemiah included themselves in their profound prayers of forgiveness on behalf of their sinful people (Daniel 9 and Nehemiah 1:6). While I do not subscribe to the relativistic “never judge anyone” maxim that greases the engine of the spirit of the age, I am also convinced that “The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Him.”(2)
J.M. Njoroge is member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) C. S. Lewis, The Complete Chronicles of Narnia (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), 259.
(2) Oswald Chambers, as quoted by Os Guinness in The Call: Finding Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2003), 41.