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When Benjamin Franklin was sixteen years old, he wrote a series of essays which he published in the Courant, one of the first American newspapers, under the pen name Silence Dogood. The pen name most likely referenced Cotton Mather’s book, Essays to Do Good, which Franklin read when he was eleven years old.
One night, Franklin slipped the first essay under the door of his brother James’ printing shop, and it was well received by James’ customers and literary friends who called themselves, “The Couranteers.” Cotton Mather, the subject of the Courant’s barbs, called them “The Hell-Fire Club.”
When Franklin visited Mather at his house several years later, the old minister could not have forgotten the Courant’s attacks on him, especially over the inoculation controversy. During a smallpox epidemic ravaging Boston, Mather advocated inoculation against the disease, something he learned from his African slave. The Courant attacked Mather for his, “evil plot to spread smallpox, not prevent it.”
Chatting with Franklin as they walked down the hallway, Mather suddenly said, “Stoop! Stoop!” Immediately, Franklin walked into a low ceiling beam. As Franklin gathered himself, Mather responded: “Let this be a caution to you not always to hold your head so high. Stoop, young man, stoop—as you go through this world—and you’ll miss many hard thumps.”
Where does pride come from?
Pride first appears in the Bible in Genesis 3, where we see the devil using it to seduce Adam and Eve to sin against God. One could say that their sin did not start in the eating of the fruit, but in the pride that caused them to reach out to take it. Adam and Eve’s pride was the first of the human race, but certainly not the last.
Ultimately, pride causes us to elevate ourselves to the place of God.
Scripture recounts story after story of people’s pride and the devastation left in its wake. And still today, pride continues to reign in the hearts of humankind.
Pride lies. It deceives. It tells us that we are better than we are, that we are, “good enough” and that we deserve to be happy, whatever it costs. Ultimately, pride causes us to elevate ourselves to the place of God. We determine what is best for our lives. We control our desires and decisions. We direct the course of our life. This is the thinking pride creates.
What does God think about pride?
Proverbs 6:16–19 lists seven traits that God despises. The very first one – “haughty eyes” – is pride.
Pride is more than deceptive – it’s destructive. Its chief strategy is to slowly creep into your life while subtly diminishing your desire to honor God.
It blinds you to your actions, not allowing you to see that they no longer reflect anything other than self-love and self-promotion. Pride produces an ego that requires to be fed and soon you become your own private prison of self-deception (Galatians 6:3). Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Pride builds you up so that you have a greater distance to fall, and fall you will.
What should our response to pride be?
See things as they are.
Ryan Holiday in his book, Ego is the Enemy writes:
“Narrative is when you look back at an improbably or unlikely path to our success and say: I knew it all along…Crafting stories out of past events is a very human impulse. It’s also dangerous and untrue. Writing your own narrative leads to arrogance. It turns our life into a story—and turns us into caricatures—while we still have to live it.”
“I am not great; God is!” When that is our view of life, we can begin to react to pride in appropriate ways.
When we choose to see things as they are, when we choose to be honest with ourselves about our gifts, talents, and our importance in life, it makes great strides in reducing our pride.
The Gospel is no fan of pride. Continually throughout the Gospel we see that our sinfulness and mistakes make us unacceptable to God, and unless Jesus covers our sin and shame with His righteousness, we will forever be away from Him.
The Gospel tells us that we cannot do it on our own, no matter how much our pride tells us we can. The only way to see things correctly is through a Gospel perspective. One that says, “I am not great; God is!” When that is our view of life, we can begin to react to pride in appropriate ways.
Four ways to react to your pride:
1. Give people permission to point out pride in your life.
Pride deceives the mind. It blinds you and makes you think everything is going great; however, when your pride is unclear to you, it is usually painfully clear to the people around you. Allow them to point out the pride in your life without fear of anger on your part.
2. Focus more on God than you do on yourself
When pride is pointed out, our first reaction can be introspection. The problem with this is that it keeps you self-focused, which is exactly what fuels your pride. Instead of spending time in introspection, spend time reading Scripture. Meditate on what Christ has done for you.
Prayer is a posture of humility towards God. When pride is knocking at your door, answer it with prayer. Ask Him to humble you. Ask Him to search your heart and reveal where you have let pride take over, and ask that He would, through His power, help you destroy the grip of pride in your life.
When God teaches you a lesson in humility – remember it! A lesson remembered is a lesson that doesn’t need to be retaught. Take those lessons and apply them to your life regularly.
Benjamin Franklin never forgot his humility lesson with Mather. In fact, Franklin later wrote to Mather’s son, “I often think of it when I see pride mortified, and misfortunes brought upon people by their carrying their heads too high.”