Different is Good
Humble Yourself or God Will
Good morning Chapel family. It’s an honor to be with you all this morning.
There was once a highly successful entrepreneur who driving with his wife, and they pulled into a gas station. While the car was getting filled up with gas, the guy went in to get a cup of coffee, and when he came back out, his wife was in a conversation with the gas station attendant. So as they were driving away, he said, “Do you know that guy?” She said, “I dated him in high school!” He said, “Really??” He was quiet for a minute while they drove. And then he looked over and said, “I’ll bet I know what you’re thinking.” She said, “What’s that?” He said, “You’re happy you married a successful entrepreneur, and not a gas pumper.” She said, “Actually, I was thinking if I had married him instead of you, he’d be a successful entrepreneur, and you’d be pumping gas.”
Today I want to talk about…pride.
If I were to ask you, “What is the biggest problem in the world today?” some of you would say, “It’s those liberals”; some of you would say, “No, it’s the president”; some of you would say, “It’s the Internet, or racism, or the media.” We’d hear all kinds of answers, right? But I truly believe that when you look at the wisdom of Scripture, there’s a problem that’s deeper than any of those other things. You know what it is? Pride. Because pride cuts us off from God, it poisons our relationships, and it makes us miserable. C.S. Lewis wrote that pride is the “complete anti-God state of mind.” And here’s what makes it really tricky: pride is easy to spot in other people; it’s really hard to see in ourselves. So today we need to talk about pride.
We’re taking this fall to walk through the book of Daniel. And today’s passage includes Daniel, but it really focuses on the Babylonian king. King Nebuchadnezzar had a problem with pride…and so do most of us. So let’s listen carefully.
Three things we learn from Daniel chapter 4: Pride Warps, God Corrects, and Humility Restores. Pride warps, God corrects, and humility restores.
So, first: Pride Warps. Once again, this is a long chapter, so let me summarize the first few verses. King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream (sounds familiar, right?). So he gathers all his advisors, and he asks them to interpret his dream, but none of them can. So he calls for Daniel, and he says, “Daniel, I know you’re different—you seem to have some kind of connection with the gods. So let me tell you about this crazy dream I had.” Let’s pick it up in verse 10:
10 These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. 11 The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. 12 Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.
13 “In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. 14 He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. 15 But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field.
“‘Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. 16 Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him.
17 “‘The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.’
18 “This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”
You know what I think? I think Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men knew exactly what the dream meant. But they were afraid to say it…because it was bad news for the king. So Daniel takes a deep breath, and he says, “Well—king—first of all, the tree is you.” He continues in verse 24…
24 “This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: 25 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. 26 The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules.
How do you think the king was processing all this? Here’s the deal, king. You’re about to go insane. You’re going to lose your mind; you’re going to live in the woods and eat grass. And that’s going to last for “seven times”—which could mean seven years, or maybe as little as seven months. But it’s at least seven months. So this will be a prolonged period of utter insanity.
Why would God do that to him? Well, in verse 25, Daniels says until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. And then verse 26: your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. In other words, the whole purpose for this bizarre experience you’re about to go through is so you will recognize who’s truly in control. Why was that so important for this king to realize? Because he was under the impression that he was in control. It’s a common delusion for people in positions of power. And as long as he believed that, there would be a sickness in his soul, and that sickness would affect the people around him. So—think about this—God cared enough about this man—this pagan king!—to intervene in his life, and help him see reality more clearly.
Now—you have to admit: this was a man who had some reason to be prideful. He was the leader of the undisputed superpower of the world—the Babylonian Empire. And he didn’t just inherit it; he helped create it through his military leadership.
Nebuchadnezzar was known for his building projects. He built and restored temples for different Babylonian gods. He had built a wall around Babylonia that was so massive that two chariots, drawn by four horses each, could pass each other on the top off the wall. Think of the size of that wall!
And then there were the gardens. Have you heard of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? They’re considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world. Picture Central Park—with streams and ponds and trees and flowers and pillars and arches and brick walls…but instead of being spread out over many miles, it was like a tower—some historians say it rose three hundred feet into the sky. And Nebuchadnezzar had built that.
There’s no doubt that King Nebuchadnezzar had a very impressive resume, and he was proud of it.
Can you relate to that feeling at all? Look: there is a healthy kind of pride—when you feel good about something you’ve accomplished—you’ve worked hard and you’ve used your God-given talents. I’m proud of the fire pit I built in my backyard this summer (even though my wife shamed me into it). But I feel good that I did that—it’s a healthy pride. But that’s not the kind of pride the Bible warns us of. Biblical pride means being absorbed with yourself. Always focusing on yourself. Being ultra-concerned with your image and your reputation. Giving yourself the credit for anything good in your life. Demanding that other people be impressed with you.
I mentioned earlier that pride is hard to detect in ourselves. And one of the reasons is that it doesn’t only show itself in the great accomplishments of life. It shows up at very ordinary moments. So let me give you a few self-diagnostic questions to detect the level of pride in your life. Try to be very honest with yourself—these are all “yes” or “no” questions.
First: “I often compare myself with other people.” C.S. Lewis wrote that the essence of pride is competition, so you’re constantly comparing yourself with others, and it’s important that you feel like you measure up to their attractiveness, and their intelligence, and their success. Yes or no?
The second one is related:: “I find it hard to celebrate someone else’s success.” Especially someone who’s in the same field as I’m in. For example, if you’re trying to be a great mom, and there’s this woman who seems to constantly out-mom you. Two weeks ago she posted pictures of apple-picking, with all the kids happy and well-dressed; and then last week, pictures of pumpkin-picking, all cute and smiley. Here we are on the hayride! And you just thought, “I am a loser. I can’t even get my kids to do their online school.” Now, for me, those pictures don’t threaten me at all, because I’m not trying to be a great mom. But if a pastor preaches a better sermon than me, or writes a great book—that’s when I need to watch my pride. Because when someone in our field succeeds, we’re confronted with the reality that maybe this person is better than me at the thing I’m most striving to be good in. Can you genuinely celebrate someone else’s success, or does it bother you?
Here’s the third one: It bothers me deeply when I’m ignored or not chosen. “I walked into the room, and no one paid any attention to me.” Or, “I can’t believe they chose him for the starting team, or for that role in the play, or for that promotion, instead of me.” And of course nobody enjoys that, but does it devastate you? Does it just eat you up?
Number four: “When I fail, I get embarrassed easily.” I feel exposed. I feel like everyone is staring at me, and I get super self-conscious. That’s pride—being overly absorbed in yourself.
And here’s the last one: “When someone points out a fault, I get defensive.” You find yourself giving excuses, or better yet, attacking the other person. If your significant other criticizes you, you just clam up and pout for a while, to punish them for daring to correct you. And while you’re pouting, in your mind you’re building up a case against them, about how they’re really much worse than you. (At least I’ve heard that some people do that).
So…how’d you do on the pride meter? Some of you are thinking, “I did really well, and I’m very proud of that!”
Here’s the thing: I’ve worked with enough people, and God has shown me the darkness of my own heart enough, that I can say this is something almost everyone struggles with. Pride is not just a problem for kings and presidents. We are naturally focused on ourselves. And let me say it again: the pride in our hearts cuts us off from God, it poisons our relationships, and it makes us miserable people. We have more in common with King Nebuchadnezzar then we realize.
So in this dream, God was saying: “It’s about to get personal. I’m about to intervene in your life in a way that you cannot escape. And it’s going to be painful. Because nothing else can break through your pride.”
So here we go—second point: God Corrects. Pick up the story in verse 28: 28 All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
Skip down to verse 33: 33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. So the king became severely mentally ill. It was probably some kind of acute depression, and it led to delusional thinking, and just a complete lack of care for his appearance. Today we have medications for that kind of thing. People get hospitalized for that kind of thing. They didn’t have medications and hospitals back then!
So God’s hand of discipline entered in, and he became like an animal. Why that? Why did God’s discipline take that form? Here’s what I think: As humans, we were created to live in submission to God. So God is up here, and we are here (middle). And that’s a glorious, beautiful way to live! It says in the Psalms, “Lord, you’ve created humans a little lower than the angels, and crowned them with glory and honor.” So we are most fully human when we live in happy submission to God. He’s here; I’m here. King Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t content with that. He said, “I want to be up here.” That’s pride. And God was saying, “You don’t know what you’re asking. So I’m going to make you live down here for a while. I’m going to strip away the dignity of your humanness, and I’m going to make you sub-human. You’re going to live like an animal. And then you will realize that living here—in submission to God—is exactly where you belong. It’s a glorious way to live—crowned with glory and honor, under the authority of the true King. Does that make sense? God says, “You’re meant to live here”; pride says, “I want to live here”; so God says, “I’m going to make you live here, until you see that here is where you belong.”
Isn’t it great that God loves us enough that when pride is messing up our lives, he steps in? And he has all kinds of creative ways of getting our attention.
I have found that sometimes he removes something that we really value. You remember the dream of the big tree and all the animals gathered under it? But then God starts chopping away at the tree, and you remember what all the animals did? They ran away. They scattered. And I have seen that sometimes God gets your attention by removing our influence. You say, “I used to be so popular. Everybody used to invite me to their parties, or come to my concerts or read my books or sign up for the classes I was teaching or line up to get in my small group Bible study. People flocked to me! Like animals around a tree. But now they’ve scattered. I don’t like that feeling! Have you ever experienced that?
And God is saying, “I’m trying to free you from your pride. I’m trying to show you what real life is about. Now, will you repent of your pride, and find your identity not in crowds or popularity, but simply in me?”
Or maybe God has removed something else from you that was propping up your pride. I have a friend who was a great soccer player in high school. And he got recruited to play on a college level. And he got to college and he got injured his freshman year, and that was it. Career over. He never got to fulfill his dream of playing college soccer. And he realizes now, God was surgically removing the pride from his heart.
I have another friend who had a very successful business. It was growing and thriving. And then the economy turned. And the business started to fade and drop off…until he was losing money so badly that he had to bail out and sell it. And he never imagined he’d be in that position! But it forced him to face a lot of things. His own self-sufficiency, and his own sense of pride. And he’ll tell you right now: nothing else could have really gotten his attention.
I’ll tell you what: through this pandemic, God has been stripping away some things. Hasn’t he? And you might be thinking, “But Pastor Dave, the Coronavirus isn’t from God! God’s not the author of viruses and sickness!” True, but I promise you: he’s using it. This whole chapter of Daniel—in fact, the whole book of Daniel—is about the sovereignty of God. Which is such a mind-blowing concept! Because it means that no matter what’s happening—whether your city is invaded and conquered, like happened to Jerusalem; or you keep having weird dreams, like happened to Nebuchadnezzar—God is in all of it, and he uses all of it for good things. God truly is in control. He is sovereign.
So here’s the very personal question for you: through everything that’s happening, is god trying to get your attention? He was definitely trying to get King Nebuchadnezzar’s attention. And rather than looking at that as God’s punishment, look at it as his loving hand of guidance. He has something better planned for your future…but you have to go through this to get there.
Which brings us to the final point: Humility Restores. Pick it up in verse 34: 34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”
36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And here’s the greatest line in the whole chapter—you ready? And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
It seems like God as finally broken through to the king, doesn’t it? Because he doesn’t call him “Daniel’s god” anymore. He’s not calling him one of many gods. He calls God “the most high” and the “king of heaven.” And there seems to be a genuine humility and a genuine bowing before God in the life of Nebuchadnezzar. It’s incredible, isn’t it?
So here’s what this tells us—let me give you two big things we learn from this.
First, Trust God to humble others. If God can break through to this guy—with the level of pride that he had—then God can break through to anyone. Do you know anyone who is so prideful and so self-sufficient and so doesn’t think they have any need for God? Are you thinking of someone like that? Here’s what this passage shows us: God won’t leave them alone. God has ways to get their attention. Did you notice that Daniel didn’t start this whole thing? Daniel didn’t say, “Hey King—we need to talk about about your pride.” Daniel was minding his own business. So who started it? God did! God gave the king this dream. God messed with his life. And Daniel just joined God in what he was doing. God was lovingly humbling Nebuchadnezzar, and Daniel got to be part of that process.
So if you know someone who seems beyond hope—they’re so consumed with pride—don’t give up. Keep praying for them, and stay alert to how God might be working in their life, so you can join God in his work.
Here’s the second lesson: Allow God to humble you. If you look at your life, and you realize that God has been cutting off your branches or stripping away your fruit, or if all those loyal animals that used to gather around you have scattered—in other words, if God is doing something to get your attention, there are two ways you can respond. You could get angry and bitter and resent God for allowing this pain in your life…or you can be receptive to what he’s doing. In other words, you can resist what God is doing, or you can receive what he’s doing.
You know what makes all the difference, in whether we resist or receive? Whether we believe God is for us or against us.That makes all the difference. If you believe that this God who’s cutting off your branches and messing with your fruit is a mean God who doesn’t really care about you, your will resist him. So listen: any time you find yourself doubting that God is really for you, here’s what you do: look at the cross. Look at the cross. I love that the cross is the symbol of our faith! Because the cross is the ultimate demonstration that God is totally, completely for us. In Romans 8 it says He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all (that’s the cross, right?)—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? And then it says, If God is for us, who could be against us?
Man, we’ve got to keep looking at the cross! Because when we realize, “That’s what God is like! He’s a God who loves me and sacrifices for me,” then, when painful things come in our life, we say, “God is using this for my good. He is sovereign and he is loving and he’s using this for my good.”
Remember what happened when King Nebuchadnezzar finally humbled himself? God restored him. God raised him up. And it’s the same with us. James 4:10 says Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will...what? He will lift you up. 1 Peter 5:6… Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may…what? …lift you up in due time. Do you realize God wants to lift you up? He doesn’t want to drag you down. He wants to raise you up and restore you to the glory and honor of walking humbly with the King. Because when we walk in humility, we are most fully human.
I love this quote from Pastor Cliff Knechtle. He said, “God wants to change us from people who walk into a room with a ‘here I am’ attitude to people who walk into a room with a ‘there you are’ attitude.” Isn’t that a beautiful thought? God wants to make us so un-focused on ourselves—so un-self-conscious—that we are free to worship God and truly focus on the people around us. That’s what it means to be fully human.
Listen: those who walk in pride, God is able to humble. So humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
We’re living in a world where there’s tremendous pressure to fit in. What does it mean to follow Jesus in a culture of conformity? As an exile in Babylon, Daniel shows us that different is good. He demonstrates not only how to resist the influence of culture, but how to be an influencer of culture, bringing grace and truth to the relationships and communities where God has placed us.