Looking Unto Jesus
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)
At the beginning of this year I began to read a chapter from Proverbs every day. Proverbs is immensely practical and the general advice found there has proven itself helpful for me. Practices like holding my tongue, striving for wisdom, and choosing the right friends stand out immediately. But a more troubling character flaw revealed itself to me lately. Proverbs also deals with the issue of pride. How easy it is to see pride in others but never to admit to our own!
Perhaps you, like me, live in a religious culture. Your friends and members of your church surround you and you find that there are certain standards that you must reach in order to fit into the culture. Perhaps you need to wear a certain outfit on Sunday—maybe a dark suit and tie. You need to serve in ministries within the church. You have to exchange the right pleasantries. Your speech must be peppered with the right phrases, “Praise the Lord!” and “I’ll be praying.” Your children must be sure to behave when they are in church and public. Your TV shows, movies, books and other interests must conform to the religious environment. Even haircuts and facial hair are scrutinized!
So often this religious box that surrounds us never causes us worry or alarm. We are comfortable here. These are the friends we know; this is the lifestyle we have chosen. But an acquaintance from church recently offered me a startling revelation into her life. As a member of the choir, she had all the classic characteristics of a stable church going member. She had the right hairdo, the proper length Sunday dress and just the right mannerisms to help her fit in. But it wasn’t until she expressed to me her deep anxiety and distress that I was able to see past the façade. She wept bitterly about her own inadequacies in comparison to her more “spiritual” peers. They knew much more about the Bible, she said, and they had a much closer relationship with the Lord.
I could easily dismiss her worries as “shallow” if I did not have them myself. It is so easy to compare myself to others and become bitter and jealous when I see that they are surpassing me. I have always excused this inner turmoil as my own fervent desire to serve God. But is it really fervency? Or is it my own pride welling up and demanding some sort of sick spiritual supremacy?
Maybe you are shocked at these sentiments and would never consider yourself vulnerable to this kind of religious competition. I grant it is possible to be above the fray. But honesty and self-reflection are required to notice the seed of pride in all that we do. Why do wear that outfit on Sunday? Why do you say the little encouraging things you say to others? Why do you serve on the mission field? Why do you serve the Lord at all? Do you relish the respect you receive for the position you hold in your church? Would you still serve the Lord if no one else knew? What if serving the Lord required you to be looked down upon by your religious peers?
The author of Hebrews gives us the right perspective. We press forward in our relationship with God by looking unto Jesus. When we are looking at ourselves or at others we are serving under the wrong motives. Like runners in a race, we fasten our eyes upon the finish line and race toward the end—keeping our gaze fixed. It is no wonder that Isaiah tells us that our righteousness is like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). We have no pure motives. Even the best we present to God is polluted with our own selfish ambition and pride.
As I press toward the goal looking unto Jesus I realize my own great need for what Christ did for me on the cross. We cannot ever hope to satisfy God’s holy expectations of us with our own righteousness. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Thank you God for such a Savior!