Preaching on a weekly basis is both blessing and curse. Blessing in that the discipline of preparation, prayer, and proclamation keeps me honest with self, accountable to the congregation and, in my best moments, truthful with God. Curse in that it is oftentimes excruciating. To be honest with self and open before God is strenuous “exercise.”
Lately at Mt. Carmel we have been making our way through the Sermon on the Mount. We are moving along a kind of continuum—from anger to lust and lying to loving and blessing our enemies—headed toward a kind of “perfection” Jesus points to that is like the Father. We are calling it “the Kingdom Life.” What we are discovering is that it is a life-long journey toward maturity!
Even when we think we are making some headway when it comes to controlling our anger or putting out the flames of lust, another heart problem plagues us. The early Christian teachers and writers used a word that perfectly described this problem—VAINGLORY. Jesus gets at this in his conversation about almsgiving, prayer, and fasting (Matthew 6).
The Greek Orthodox Church speaks of “8” deadly sins, adding “vainglory” to the more familiar list of pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth. It is essentially rooted in insecurity and is driven by our need for affirmation by others. It is very subtle and sometimes hard to detect.
Clergy have a fair amount of work to do here. Admittedly, after most sermons I deliver, I listen for some word of affirmation. “Well said!” “I never thought of it like that!” “Bill, you always have just the right word!” “It’s like you were talking straight to me.” I could go on!
Here’s how that gets translated inside me—“Bill is really an awesome preacher and a humble guy as well!” That kind of response can make me feel really good about myself. My worth is established by their affirmation. Conversely, if I don’t get a positive response (or even if there is no response), my value can be called into question. You can see the dilemma. And I go through this inner struggle most every week.
Vainglory is a problem for everyone. But it is a particular problem for religious people, especially preachers. It is a subtle trap. And let’s just say, with God’s help I’m working on it!
Question: Where are the subtle traps in your life? Where do you get tripped up? Do you get distracted by the need for affirmation from others rather than receiving the unconditional love of God?