Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, wrote that the great “I” grows without any watering. Pride, according to Spurgeon, is like a weed that grows just as well on poor ground as it does in the best cultivated garden. Truly, men of low degree are no more immune to pride than men of high degree. The man in rags can be just as full of himself as the man dressed in the finest silk or clad in a regal robe.
Like Pip, in Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations, many a man has too great expectations of himself, which results in the lifelong disturbance and disappointment of his soul. Have you ever considered the fact that modern-day psychology’s diagnosed epidemic of low self-esteem is really nothing more than man’s emotional struggles with his inability to live up to his own lofty expectations? If all men would view their personal potential through the eyes of God rather than through the lofty eyes of wishful thinking, no soul would ever emotionally struggle again over failure to reach unrealistic expectations.
When I was a young preacher, I expected to strike the spark that the wind of the Spirit would blow into flames of worldwide revival every time I stepped into a pulpit. Today, after forty years in the ministry, I’ve learned that most of my congregation won’t remember next Sunday what I preached last Sunday. In fact, many of them will have already forgotten what I preached on Sunday morning by the time they wake up from their Sunday afternoon nap.
Although this startling realization of the paltry impact of my pulpit ministry came initially as a devastating blow to my ego, I eventually learned to live with it, thanks to God’s promise that whatever He speaks through me on any given Sunday to a human heart will not return unto Him void, but will accomplish whatever He pleases for it to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11). I no longer climb into the pulpit with any lofty expectation of shaking the whole world for Christ; instead, I climb into the pulpit with the simple hope that God may speak through me to a single soul in a way that will prove to be of eternal consequence.
Like our fallen world’s epidemic of low self-esteem, discouragement in the service of Christ is also a product of our own making. It too is caused by our lofty expectations. Pastors get discouraged when their church doesn’t grow into a mega-church. Preachers get discouraged when they are not preaching to large crowds in citywide crusades. Christian writers get discouraged when their book doesn’t make the New York Times best seller list. Christian musicians and singers get discouraged when they don’t win a Dove Award. And church workers get discouraged when they are not appreciated by everyone in the church nor receiving special recognition from the church for the work they do.
A glaring fact that always seems to elude church workers is that notoriety for our service should be irrelevant to us if our service is being rendered for Christ’s sake alone. If we’re doing what we’re doing to please God, then why should we care about the praise of man? If we’re doing what we’re doing for the glory of God, then why should we care about getting any credit for it?
Discouragement comes when we foolishly measure ourselves by the success of others rather than by God’s expectations of us. No wonder the Apostle Paul warned us that “comparing ourselves with ourselves is not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12). To seek to duplicate the success of others so that we can receive similar accolades is to destine our souls to the emotional struggles that always accompany unrealized selfish ambitions. On the other hand, to seek only to please God, by living up to His expectations of us alone, will serve as a soothing balm to our immortal souls.
The calm soul never measures himself by the achievements of others, but always by God’s expectations of him alone.