I spent my afternoon at a SACE clarifying forum. I always manage to leave feeling inadequate.
At the forum, year 12 teachers get together in a room with paper cups of instant coffee and read exemplars of student work.
There are two types of people that scare me in these groups – the innovators and the ‘I-wouldn’t-have-graded-it-that-high’ experts.
We had an innovator at our table. Fresh out of University, new ideas and perfect English literary lingo flowed from his mouth. He spoke with the authority that only a new grad or a thirty-year veteran can.
I spent my time between feeling impressed, indignant and inadequate. Clearly this barely-even-an-adult was more competent than me. Thank goodness he didn’t know I’m running the faculty at my school.
The ‘experts’ were also out in full force. Irrespective of the piece, they always thought it was about two grades worse than I had. No matter that they were technically wrong, their air of superiority made it clear that their standards were higher than mine. I felt my insides wilting with the knowledge that I wouldn’t even know how to teach to their standard.
Many times I’ve felt a niggling feeling that I’m an imposter in this word of academics.
I wondered after, though, whether we’re all playing the same game. For all I know Mr. University left feeling inadequate next to the experience of the others on the table and the experts left wondering how, after so many years, they could still be marking too hard. We all put our best foot forward. We all want to look awesome. And, no doubt, we all struggle with feeling inadequate.
When I read the Gospels, why do I automatically assume that I belong alongside Peter, or that I would have been Mary Magdalene? Why do I rarely see myself in the Pharisees or the Rich Young Ruler?
Yesterday in church I was convicted to examine my life. What do I value? What am I pursuing? I saw so clearly the allure of worldly things, which easily captivate my heart. I saw how self-righteous I am in my judgement of how the world should be – what is good or right. I saw how proudly I stood amongst a multitude of people who defined success, then boasted in their achievements.
I saw a great battle line drawn. On the right were those who were glamorous, popular, wealthy and so successful that they are proud to define themselves by material things. And I saw myself with them, desiring to be one of them, pursuing the things they loved. And then I looked to the other side, to those who were poor and lowly, and cared not for this world. And Jesus was on the other side.
How often do I claim to be a follower of Jesus, then busy myself with things that are not on His agenda? How often do I scorn things he loves, or delight in things he hates? When he comes back I sure don’t want to be caught swanning around in Prada shoes and sequins, or clamouring wildly up the corporate ladder, so I’d better stop pursuing them.
I doubt there is any sin more prevalent in the hearts of fallen humanity, nor one so destructive than that of pride.
In fact, the other day, I began to wonder whether there was any person more useless to God than the one whose heart is consumed with pride.
I doubt there is.
I know for myself that when I am focused on my own importance, on building my own kingdom in which I reign supremely as queen, I am about as useless to God and His Kingdom as I can be.
For the Christian who is genuinely focused ahead on the glory of heaven, one thing that should be most frightening is that we may get there, only to look back and discover that we spent our lives being largely useless to God.
As I reflected on this, I began to see, with joy, that God is in the business of destroying pride. In fact, as I look back on the greatest trials I have faced, I can see that God was using them to slowly chip away at this barrier that stands in the way of me being used for noble purposes.
It has made me realize that I should rejoice in any situation that causes my pride to be crucified. For it is in those moments of humility before the Lord, that He can use me for greater glories than I would ever be able to achieve on my own.
Some time ago I watched a documentary by Louis Theroux about legal prostitution in America. What surprised me about these women was how broken they were. There were no pretenses. They are who they are and they know it.
Sure they have attitude and sass, and a lot of bravado, but once you get them talking, deep down, it’s not something they’re proud of.
It made me realize what it was that caused Jesus to hang out with them in preference to the religious elite of the time. While the prostitutes were under no false illusion about who they were and their need for a saviour, the rest of us spend so much time thinking of ourselves as good and trying desperately to cover anything that cracks the facade. The prostitutes of Jesus’ time knew they were seen as the scum of the earth, and came to Jesus in humility, recognising their true place before him.
Jesus had a lot of time for these people. And their humility was their great advantage. As He said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” It is our great disadvantage that many of us who think we are morally healthy by the world’s standards, are dying of pride on the inside, while the humble are receiving Jesus’ forgiveness and grace.
Every city, I imagine, has their ‘posh’ and ‘derelict’ areas. In my city, one of the most stereotypically posh suburbs is Burnside. This is where housing prices exceed a million dollars, people drive Mercedes and shop at the ‘Burnside Village.’ Living in Burnside is a symbol of success.
About thirty kilometers to the north of Burnside lie a collection of suburbs with the worst reputations in the whole city. Rather than Mercedes and foie gras, these suburbs are stereotypically known for beat up Commodores, crime and drug abuse. There’s a lot of socioeconomic stigma surrounding the northern suburbs, as if not much good could come from there.
The other day in Church, one of our pastors reminded us that people said that of Jesus’ home. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” they asked, surprised that the Messiah would originate from such a place. And it hit me: Jesus didn’t come from Burnside.
If my city took the place of ancient Israel, Jesus would have come from the northern suburbs. He came and dwelt amongst those who could most clearly see their need for him. He came to those who were broken. He came to give grace to the humble, and he opposed the proud.
It’s easy for the wealthy to imagine that Jesus would have been just like them. That he would have lived amongst them, and seen the world through their eyes. But He didn’t. He saw it through his Father’s eyes, and the father looked at the heart, not the suburb.