“When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a pretty small package,” a statement as true now as it was when John Ruskin first said it in the 1800’s. Unfortunately, far too many people are puffed up with feelings of their own self-importance. Bernard Baily once commented that, “When science discovers the center of the universe, a lot of people will be disappointed to find they are not it.”
“I-itis”, which has been defined as a mental condition of excessive selfishness or self-centeredness, is not a new disease. Jesus knew all about this problem over 2000 years ago. In his parable about a man with this condition, he describes what this man said in his prayer: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.’ ” Five times the Pharisee uses “I” in two sentences. He is so wrapped up in himself that the entire prayer is telling God how great a person he thinks he is. Jesus notes that the Pharisee prayed with himself, meaning that God was not listening. The publican, to whom the Pharisee refers, also is praying, but he stands some distance away. He is so contrite that he cannot even lift up his eyes, but smites himself on his breast and humbly asks God to be merciful unto him, a sinner. Jesus concludes that God justified the publican and not the Pharisee. The Pharisee was a very small man in God’s eyes, not worthy of notice.
God is able to hear all prayers, but He chooses not to listen to some because the heart of the one praying is not right with God. Solomon tells us, “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination,” which means if we are not interested in hearing what God has written for us, our prayer is offensive to Him. So if we want God to hear our prayers, we must first listen to Him. He speaks to us through His inspired word, and then, in turn, we respond to Him by praying, which makes it a two-way conversation. We must do our part by paying attention to God’s words to us if we want Him to pay attention to our words to Him. James tells us that the heartfelt prayers of a righteous man have great power. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
Selfish people think that it is good to be proud of themselves; but pride is part of the problem; in fact, a proud look is one of the things God hates. Jesus tells us that “whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” Peter tells us, “be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”
Humility is not a sign of weakness. Moses, who was always thinking of those millions of people that he was shepherding through the wilderness, showed enormous strength of character dealing with the challenges of his job. Yet, we read God’s estimation: “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” We, like him, should center our thoughts on the needs of others and lovingly shepherd them in the ways of God. Paul tells us, “Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other.”
Our great example is Jesus, who was always thinking of others rather than himself. For example, none of us have ever been as hungry as Jesus was after fasting for forty days, and yet he would not do a miracle to feed himself. However, when the crowds who followed him had only missed a meal or two, he performed a miracle to feed them. Jesus describes himself saying, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” He was humble and obedient to his Father, and in his zeal to help his fellowman, he gave his life. His humble life of obedience led to God exalting him to sit on his right hand of power.
Benjamin Whichcote said, “None are so empty as those who are full of themselves.” Rather than being wrapped up in ourselves we should follow the examples of righteous men like Moses and our Lord. Paul tells us, “In lowliness of mind let each esteem the other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” A life of humble service to our God and caring for the needs of others will be rewarded. Jesus gave his all and was exalted to sit at God’s right hand, and he has promised to reward us if we are faithful. May the day soon come when his righteous servants will be rewarded with eternal life in his kingdom.
Robert J. Lloyd