One of the struggles that I've had to deal with in my walk with Christ is self-centeredness. It is easily right up there with pride and sexual temptation, as a sin God has to constantly forgive me for, and guide me away from. Ever since I was very young, I thought that the whole world revolved around me: that I was the smartest in my class, that I was tall and handsome (LATE in high school of course). I used to constantly look at myself in the mirror. I shopped for clothes in order to look good, and to get looks from women. I studied GQ magazine. I wanted to get ripped, so I bought dumbbells and a gym membership. Once I started seeing results, and began receiving attention, I wanted more. I fished for compliments whenever possible (still do at times), and made myself the center of the conversation in groups. See, I had low self-esteem, but was slowly and surely climbing up the ladder as I received more attention and affirmation. And I needed to keep it coming - praise became my heroin.
As I grew in my faith in Christ, I started seeing the foolishness of my ways, and began to change my behaviors in order to bring less attention to myself. I stopped buying clothes and kept the ones I had, I broke the bad habit of always looking at myself, I tried to bite my tongue every time I felt like boasting about my outward appearance or how great I was. And yet, I was still struggling with conceit and vanity. To this day it’s something I battle.
See, all the changes I made weren't focused on the real issue - my heart and its ignorance of how worthy God is of all praise and glory. My focus was still drawn to myself. I was still preoccupied with my appearance, I just wanted to appear more humble. I drew less attention to myself, in order for people to notice how humble I was. See, the World agrees that being conceited is wrong and unattractive, but if you give the appearance of humility, the World cannot distinguish it from a genuinely humble heart. Jesus spoke on this when speaking about the Pharisees:
"Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward." Matthew 6:2
"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward." Matthew 6:5
"And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward." Matthew 6:16
These religious men feasted on the praise and honor they received for being "righteous" men of God. Outwardly, they looked like they were on "fire" for God, but inwardly their dead hearts were rotting. But what would this look like today, in our context?
I've caught myself "overpraising" in church as we sang songs, in order to seem more "spiritual." Many times, we start talking about how many people we've spoken to about Jesus, or how many times we've served the homeless. In community groups or bible studies, we might try to show off our intellect, in order to get those "amens" and "that's good" out of others. See, the "reward" that Jesus spoke of, the one the Pharisees received, is the momentary feeling of "glory" that we all seek from people. It is temporary, finite, and devastating. It is the same drug I craved when my self-centeredness was obvious to everyone, it's just that the signs of this particular form of substance abuse are closer to the heart, making them less visible to everyone - except God.
If you see yourself stuck in this place, with this addiction to making yourself known, to making yourself great in the eyes of others, to making yourself worthy of all praise, remember - you didn't make yourself.
The problem with believers who have low, or high, self-esteem tends to be the same - we forget who our Creator is. And if God created us, He is the One who gives us our value and our purpose. What is our value according to God?
"Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." 1 Peter 1:18, 19
God looked at conceited, broken, hypocritical mankind - and said that we were worth Him sacrificing what He loved most from the beginning of time - His Son.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
What does this tell us? Firstly, that no matter how high or low we may think of ourselves, Jesus shed His precious blood for us, giving us value and worth beyond what we, or the world, could ever give. Secondly, if we did not give ourselves our own value, we must point others to the only One who can give us meaning and purpose. Pointing people to ourselves, whether it be our strengths or our weaknesses, is pointless, because we cannot give them what they are searching for - identity.
So, how do you deal with those times of fake humility, and bringing attention to yourself with good deeds laced with bad intentions? You question yourself, like you would for any other thing in your day-to-day life: Does this bring glory to God, or to me? Because as believers, we are called to do all things for the glory of God! John the Baptist said it best:
"He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30
We must LIVE this way. Decreasing! That does not mean, being dirt poor and the lowest of low. The decrease was not only about how much of the spotlight John had - but how much he desired it. He didn't want his own fame, or for his baptism ministry to flourish, because the One he was clearing the way for had come. His whole mission was to point to Christ, and never himself. Our mission is to bring attention and praise to Jesus!
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:17
Every action we take must be with the intention of making Christ known to others. On top of that, thanking God for making the gospel known to YOU in the first place. If we truly want people to see Jesus when they see us, we must become invisible so that Christ can be seen more visibly.