You Are Not Smarter than Jesus 05: You Cannot Exalt Yourself

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For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted – Matthew 23.12

One of the things that frightens me when I deal with some pastors is the high levels of selfish ambition and the remarkable self-promotion. When I meet a group of guys, I expect a bit of alpha male behaviour, where the question “what do you do for a living” really means “do you earn less or more than me, where are we on the pecking order, who is the alpha and who is not”.

But when you meet pastors and the first question is “how many people are you running”, then you realize quickly it’s not to pray for you, to support you or to encourage you, or give you advice, but it is the same behaviour – “do you have less or more people than me, are you above me or below me in the pecking order, who is the alpha and who is not”.

It doesn’t sit well with me at all, and my normal answer to that question is “there are 150000 people in Barking and Dagenham (my borough) that don’t go to church.  That’s the number that I pray about, that keeps me up at night, that keeps me walking with God”.

When you try and exalt yourself, you will fail. You will be humbled – when you humble yourself it is called humility, but when you are humbled by external people and circumstances it is called humiliation. You could say “if you try and self-promote yourself and your ministry, you will end up humiliated”. Now it’s not God who humiliates you, He is love and love never humiliates others, but it is one of the binding principles of the universe that if you try and exalt yourself, you will fall flat on your face and people will – sadly – laugh at you.

I am amazed at the shamelessness of some pastors who want the top seat and do not care who they step on to get there. Don’t be that guy, it won’t end well.  What do I mean in practical terms?

  • Don’t hassle pastors for a pulpit.  The door will open at the right time, not when it is pushed hard by your selfish ambition
  • Don’t shoot up, shoot down. When you are at a pastor’s conference, stop trying to impress the speakers and the bigwigs, but get your hands dirty – pay for someone else’s room, help someone, take someone younger than you in ministry out for lunch and love them. Don’t be too big for the little jobs, don’t try and wangle your way onto the stage.  If you are invited to speak, keep to time and don’t distract. I’ve had enough of MCs who immediately after a powerful message by a great preacher feel it is their right and duty to add a fifteen-thirty minute epilogue to the message. I’m genuinely not interested, and the root of it is selfish ambition
  • Stop having discussions about numbers with people. I don’t share how many we are running except in internal meetings now, and I don’t share our income except in internal meetings.

Instead, humble yourself. Be humble, be gracious, be kind. Take the lower seat, step down – trust that God will seriously promote you like crazy when the time is right!  God is into exalting people and your time will come, but God wants it to happen in a way that only He gets the glory for it. I am telling you, God has a plan to promote you, and you need to trust that plan and that ridiculous favour on your life.

What does true humility look like?

  • Ask 3 questions to every pastor for everyone you answer. Genuinely care about how other people are doing.
  • Don’t try and push something across a bridge that is not strong enough for it. Sometimes I get strangers try and prophesy over me at a conference. I didn’t come for a stranger’s prophetic word – I came to be influenced and inspired and challenged by the conference. I know that sometimes a stranger can bring a great word, and sometimes if the person doesn’t know the situation it can bring great authenticity to the prophecy, but in my experience it generally generates more heat than light, because the word is not given in humility and grace, but in trying to establish a pecking order (ooh, I gave him a prophesy! can really be an insecure arrogance).  These are some of the amazing prophecies I have received in the last couple of years:
    • Shut down all your churches and go to Bible College (what again?  I’ve been for 6 years!)
    • Stop travelling across the world, it will make you ill (I didn’t receive that, and never will.  God told me to travel, and I ain’t getting ill)
    • God wants you to slow down (why? is my pace making you look bad?  Come on now!)
    • You are fat because you are greedy and selfish and your ministry will never succeed (this was after I had lost over 8 stone in a year, and I am still gradually losing weight!)
    • All of these words came from the insecurity and ambition of the prophecier and unfortunately that kind of thing brings humiliation as the people who know me try not to laugh!
  • Finally, the best way to humble yourself is to focus on who you are in Christ, the more you realize who you are, the less you have to prove yourself to others. It’s when you are scared God won’t promote you, then you feel you have to steady the ark. Don’t be that guy!
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