Did you know there’s a top ten list for everything? Even funeral songs. In 2016 the favourite song, according to Co-Op Funeral Care was Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”. I hate this song. I loathe and detest it. Why? Well, Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th Century thinker, has just explained it to me perfectly. We’ll come back to him in a little bit. For now, back to “My Way”.
And now, the end is near / And so I face the final curtain / My friend, I’ll say it clear / I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain … I did it my way.
The music is good. The words are bold. But they express an egocentrism to human life, a hubris, an excessive pride and self-confidence. Maybe this is all you have left if you take God out of the equation of what life is all about. So maybe ‘My way’ is a natural hymn of a humanist society.
But the Christian search for meaning is about submitting our will to the will of God. We say with John the Baptist, “He (Jesus) must increase, I must decrease”. (John 3:30). This is not some murder of the sense of self, but discovering the truth that we are more fully human when we submit our sense of self to the Almighty.
Back to Bernie. He was a bit of a politician in his day, supporting the second Crusade and sorting out fights between kings and popes and stuff. But in the midst of that he said some things about pride and humility. Like our other thinkers in this series of blogs it’s all about reordering our thinking so we can hear God speak to us.
Pride – The My Way School of Thought
So Bernard saw this downward spiral of pride. It starts with thinking I’m the centre of my own universe. Classic Freudian egocentrism. It goes on from there to say that I am the most important person for me to please. I’ll do things my way. This then leads to lack of respect for other people, for their way of doing things, for their priorities. And it ends with saying I know better than God. If in our pride we put ourselves first, then we put others second and God last. This is why, as John tells us, you can’t say you love God and hate your brother. Loving humility to others puts you on the right path to come before God.
The upward spiral begins with God. It begins with seeing the greatness and majesty and awesomeness of God and ourselves in relation to him. When we see our ‘littleness’ in relation to God, we will then be more humble towards other people. If I’m not the big I AM, then I don’t automatically think my opinion, my priorities are better than yours.
There’s another way that Bernie puts these issues. As ever, it’s about our loving relationship with God. All Christian authors worth their salt always come back to this, simply because God is love.
1. Love of self. I’m most important. It’s all about me. Look at me. Aren’t I great? This is the self centred pride, disguised as love.
2. Love God because of what he has done. This is where the converted heart starts. It sees that God has created a beautiful world, that God sent his Son to die for us and win the possibility of an eternal life. It sees that God heals today. That he provides for all our needs. We think – wow – God did that for me. Amazing. Here, the focus is on God, but still kind of on us too. It’s kinda cupboard love. It’s not wrong, but it’s a starting point.
3. Loving God for who he is. Here, the focus is not on what God can do for me. It is purely on who he is. The times when I’ve been most engrossed in worship, most close to seeing God’s glory, are not times when I’m praying for things or people, but when I’m just focussed on Jesus. Bigging up my Saviour and praising for just how great he is. Bernard adds a fourth level that I’m not sure I’ve reached, or at least I’ve only ever caught glimpses of.
4. Sensing God’s heart for us. Once or twice, while I’ve been seeking the Lord in prayer, for a particular person or group of people, I think God has shown me his thoughts and feelings, his love mostly. It has been such a deep and profound thing that has overwhelmed me. That God’s love could be so great for people. I might want the lost to be found, but my desire is as nothing compared to the Good Shepherd’s longing. I might want to see teens touched and blessed by the Spirit, but Jesus wants their young lives to be released in service so much more.
So I’m totally with him on this, even if the crusades were a bit suspect. If we want to see God we need to turn from pride and embrace humility.
This is part of a series of blogs on the book ‘Longing for God’ by Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe.