Sick as a dog! That was my story last week—chills and sweats, pounding headache, sore throat, a relentless cough that started from my toes and was tighter in my chest than Scrooge was with a nickel. Awful! That’s how I felt—awful!
I don’t know when I got it. Maybe I caught it in India. I more likely caught it on the airplane coming home. There was some guy on the row behind me who spent the seven hours between Delhi and Amsterdam not just hacking up one lung—the dude hacked up both lungs and a spleen. I don’t think there was ever a full minute between his coughing jags. I don’t know how many times I was tempted to stand up and shout (in pastoral compassion and Christian love, of course), “Would you put a cork in it, Mack, you’re gonna infect every one of us!” Yeah, right. There wasn’t an ounce of compassion or love in my attitude toward that biological terrorist, that weapon of mass health destruction.
And that’s precisely the point. I didn’t feel for his misery. I wasn’t moved to offer him a lozenge for his throat; I wanted to shove a pillow in his face. I closed my eyes to pray—not so much for him as for me: “Please, God, don’t let this germinator make me sick.”
And that’s when I saw him, peering out from behind my heart, with a smirk on his face I’ve seen too many times before: my little demon Pride. I hate that guy! And try as I might, I just can’t seem to shake him.
Many who know me will be shocked by that admission. If there’s one thing I hear a lot it’s this: “That Pastor John, he’s so humble.” People often praise me for my humility. And every time they do, I silently pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what say.” I’ve never been shy to admit my struggle with pride, how I have to crucify it day by day, but people don’t believe me. “Not you. You’re so humble. You’re so self-effacing.” Yes, me. I wish I was humble. I want to be humble.
But that danged old demon Pride just won’t let me be. The church fathers labeled pride as one of the seven deadly sins, in fact, the most serious of the seven deadly sins. C. S. Lewis called pride “the chief sin” as its focus on self makes it a beachhead to all the rest. It’s serious stuff. And God won’t stand for it. When you’ve got a few minutes, spend some time with a Bible concordance and see just how much God hates Pride and its kissing cousins with names like Arrogance, Narcissism, Boasting, Snobbery, Smugness, Elitism, and a few other names that smell as bad as the sewer out of which they rise. Like I said about that old demon Pride: I hate that guy! And God does too. Essentially, God’s message to us about pride is this: “Humble yourself, or I’ll do it for you.”
And that’s what God did for me last Wednesday. I felt my sickness brewing on Monday and Tuesday—a growing cough, a kind of physical malaise setting in. But did I listen to my body? No, not me. I don’t get sick, you see. I’ve had kidney stones and a hernia surgery, but I didn’t consider that sick—yeah, brilliant logic, huh? (That’s another thing about pride: the capacity to lie to oneself). Anyway, I haven’t been in the bed sick since maybe 1987. I’m a fitness guy. I work out hard. I’ve been known to say that when my body tells me to quit, I say to my body, “Shut up and do what I tell you.” So I don’t get sick. A cold now and then, sure. But in the bed sick—not moi. And when people around me call in sick, I try to appear sympathetic on the surface, but inside, there's a part of me that wants to say, “Would you man up? Don’t let some stupid little virus dictate your life.” And demon Pride smirks at me again.
But then came Wednesday. I got up early as usual, felt worse than I did on Monday and Tuesday, but still did a tail-kicking workout, cleaned up and went to work. I had a full day ahead of me. It was more important for me, I guess, to prove how tough I was than to worry about whom I might infect with my sickness—what selfishness, what pride! But darn those torpedoes; full speed ahead! I’d just tell my body to do what I wanted it to do. And that lasted till … about 10 in the morning. After coughing my head off in my office, chilling with an obvious fever, and struggling with repeated rounds of annoying hiccups of all things, I swallowed my stupid pride, walked down the hall, asked Mike Pounders to please cover a pre-funeral appointment for me that afternoon and to lead Bible Study for me that evening. I told him and the ladies in the front that I was finally waving the white flag of surrender. But it wasn’t full surrender of my pride because I couldn’t help but mention that this was the first (non-surgery) sick day I had taken in my nearly 18 years at the church—that dang demon didn’t only smirk at me when I said that, he winked and gave me the thumbs up sign. (I wanted to give him a sign.) But Pride didn’t get his way completely. I went home, went to bed, barely got out of the bed till Friday, and didn’t report back for duty till Sunday morning. I even let a funeral go, which, because of my pride, is very hard for me to do.
You know there’s a verse in the Proverbs: “Pride goeth before a fall.” Well, in my case it was: “Pride goeth before the flu.” And as I climbed into my bed when I got home, fully dressed, covered with about five blankets, shaking like a leaf in a hurricane, feeling like, well, you know, I couldn’t help but smile. That smirking little demon was on the run at least for this day. I gave God thanks for His loving and disciplining mercies that relentlessly whittle away at my pride. I gave God thanks for the good health He has given me—a health I don’t deserve. Far, far better Christians than I sometimes end up with cancers and debilitating diseases that don’t go away in a few days if they go away at all. So I was moved to pray for these brave people who endure such things with grace and humility. God reminded me how honored I should feel to get to stand in their presence and minister to their needs. And God showed me an image of Jesus on the cross—humility on mega-steroids—the Son of God dying for my sins, dying for my pride, and by whose stripes we are healed. That's where the remedy is for my pride: the more I rest in Jesus the less I wrestle with pride. So as strange as it sounds, when I was feeling my worst, I was worshiping my best. Though painful, it’s a wonderful thing to be humbled by the Lord. It creates a joy that sickness can’t touch.
So, the Lord used that flu to chase that demon for a while anyway. I pray he keeps on running and leaves me alone. And in the meantime, I’ll continue to give thanks that when I don't have the good sense to humble myself, God is more than
up to the challenge.