The original sin was pride.
In pride, Lucifer thought he deserved to take God’s place as ruler of the universe and led a rebellion in heaven. As the serpent in the garden, Lucifer/Satan tempted Eve with this: “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”(Genesis 3:4-5 NIV)
You will be like God. You will control your own destiny. You will call the shots. You don’t need God and you don’t need anybody.
This kind of pride is different from the pride we have in the accomplishments of our children or grandchildren or civic organization or nation. I am proud of my twin children’s accomplishments and especially proud of the character and faith in their lives. It warms my heart. I am blessed to have had a part in raising committed Christians who are faithful in worship and who have servant’s hearts.
The pride that causes sin is destructive. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”(Proverbs 16:18 NIV) The arrogant kind of pride that says, “I don’t need you, God,” separates us from God and brings destruction and death into our lives.
At one point in ministry, I was appointed from a 140-average attendance church to a 300-average attendance church. The scope of ministry was different. There was more to do, especially in supervising staff. I threw myself into that ministry and worked like crazy to make it succeed. I worked so hard that I drifted into a terrible heart stance and habit. I quit praying because I was working so hard. I told myself I didn’t have time for my personal devotional life.
I spent most of an entire year trying to do God’s ministry in my strength. I could feel myself drying up inside, but I couldn’t or wouldn’t get off the hamster wheel of busyness. For that year, pretty much the only time I prayed was when I prayed out loud leading worship or leading prayer at a meeting or meal.
The central issue was pride. I told myself I could do this. I wanted to prove to God and to my church that I would work as hard as I needed to in order to make things succeed. And I came dangerously close to burnout in ministry.
God invited me back to prayer through a weekend spiritual retreat called the Walk to Emmaus. I came home from the weekend filled with new love for God and a determination to reinvest in prayer in my own life. My new resolve lasted about two or three weeks, and I fell back into my rush-to-get-everything-done habits.
A couple of months later, at a Pastor’s Conference, the Holy Spirit got in my face about my self-sufficiency. Essentially, I heard God say, “You will NOT keep trying to do my work in your strength.” In humility, I repented of my arrogant self-sufficiency, and I asked God to change my heart and my life. And Jesus did just that.
Prayer went from being a forgotten practice to being the driving force of ministry. Recognition that I NEED the Holy Spirit to live a victorious life in Christ became a bedrock of my own experience and of my preaching and teaching. I found out for myself that James was both literal and serious when he wrote, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”(James 4:10 NIV)
Do I still sometimes revert to rushing headlong into service, thinking, “I’ve got this, God”? Yes. And that is when I pray. That is when I return to a place of humility that says, “No, YOU’VE got this, God. Left to my own resources, I’ll just mess it up.”
I’ve learned not to be afraid of humility before Jesus. He responds to a humble heart with grace, not judgment. And He lifts up the one who is crushed down.
So let the cry of my heart always be, “I need you, Jesus.” And then I can see what God can do.