The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
July 2, 2023
Tim Keller once noted that, while we almost always love receiving gifts, we find some gifts hard to receive. For some gifts, by their very nature, make us swallow our pride. Imagine, for example, that a friend hands you a birthday present. You open it and lift out a book on…weight-loss dieting. You don’t love that gift one bit! Then another friend hands you their present; and, when you open it, you lift out another book, one entitled Overcoming Selfishness. Now your face turns hot red, and you’re not sure what you’re safe to say in reply. If you thank them for these gifts, you’re in effect admitting, “Yes, I’m overweight and often obnoxious.” That’s a blow your self-esteem would just as soon not take!
Receiving certain gifts, Keller continued, forces us to acknowledge our flaws, weaknesses and need of help.
We hate to swallow our pride. Do you know what gift makes us swallow our pride most of all? The gift of Jesus Christ! For, to receive Him, we have to own up to the fact that we are so lost and unable to change our situation that we need deliverance and transformation from outside of ourselves. We won’t realize we need a Savior until we recognize we can’t make it on our own – and that takes our self-esteem down a notch. It makes us what Jesus called “poor in spirit”.
In some circles, it’s a dogma that high self-esteem is the key to being happy and successful. But is that so? Might we do better with less self-confidence?
Professor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, in The Harvard Business Review, argued that we would do better. He wrote that research and business experience show that self-confidence is only beneficial when it is on the low side. While he admitted very low confidence is harmful as it induces debilitating fear and stress, he asserted just-low-enough confidence is helpful as it 1) makes us receptive to the constructive criticism that points out how we can improve, 2) motivates us to work harder, and 3) prevents in us the arrogance and delusions of grandeur that alienate those who’d otherwise like to join us in our work.
(By the way, Christians have to mention one more benefit to moderated self-esteem: It puts us in touch with our need for God and moves us to seek His help.)
Be that as it may, the Harvard article sums up its main point thus: “If you are serious about your goals, [low-enough] self-confidence can be your biggest ally to accomplish them….It is…time to debunk the myth. High self-confidence isn’t a blessing, and low self-confidence isn’t a curse – in fact it’s the other way around.”
In David of the Bible, I see someone with an appropriate balance of just-high-enough self-esteem and just-low-enough humility. Here in Psalm 5 David, the King of Israel, addresses God as his “King”. David, a man of authority, knows he’s under a higher authority. Why, he doesn’t even presume a right to have an audience with this King of kings. Thus, he pleads three different ways that God would hear him when he prays, saying, “Give ear to my words…give heed to my sighing…listen to the sound of my cry.”
Yet, this humble absence of presumption is coupled with a faith-filled confidence in God’s love. David in verse 3 asserts that God does “hear” his voice when he pleads his case in prayer, and David is so sure God will bring him help that he says he’s on “watch” for it.
Still, David is humble enough to bear in mind he cannot take God’s kindness for granted. In verses 4 through 6, David recalls that God refuses to do wrong-doers any favors; and in verse 7 he recalls that his only hope is in God’s grace, in “the abundance of your steadfast love” as he puts it in his prayer. King David “bows down” before the house of his King, and makes his first request a request that his King lead him “straight”, in the King’s righteousness.
It is by his coming under his Superior, in deference and dependence, that David expects to join all who love God and “exult”, not in themselves, but in His grace.
There’s no boasting here but in God’s goodness.
David embodies being poor in spirit, having that “low-enough” self-esteem that acknowledges that we’re always deeply in God’s debt.
Tim Keller, again, once quipped that a lot of Christians are not “poor in spirit”, but “middle-class in spirit”. For, as much as they think they owe God something, they think God owes them something. They think God ought to grant them their every request because of their many good deeds and hard work for Him.
David’s low self-esteem left no place for any sense of entitlement. In Psalm 143:2, he prayed that God would “not enter into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.”
David had such low self-esteem that he knew better than to hang his hope upon his virtue or spiritual/ethical accomplishments. He found a bigger reason to hope, and to hope big, in God’s grace.
Because David humbled himself before his King, David’s King exalted him. Let us follow David’s example and embrace the value of low self-esteem.