Why I Stayed in the ‘Indian’ Church

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TLDR: In short, I stayed and continue to stay in my Indian church because though it is largely Indian and specifically Malayalee in population, we have a heart for our neighboring community and have consistently seen people come to faith. When I think about my abilities and resources, I feel as though they’re currently best used exactly where I am. 

When I was fifteen I cried to my mom and begged to leave our church. I desperately wanted to leave and start over somewhere new. She had entertained the idea of us actually leaving or at least she told me she had considered it. It’s now 10 years later and I realize that I had issues. I battled with insecurity, negativity and a host of negative emotions. I still have problems but now I have resources.

I won’t delve into that all deeply here, that’s a different blog post. But fifteen year old me would have never imagined that one day I would come to not only still attend my Indian church, but that I would love it.

Within the Malayalee Indian church, the blog post ‘The Indian Church Must Die‘ spread like wild fire as people of Christian Indian backgrounds felt as though many of the concerns they have long held about the Indian church were voiced, finally. It is really hard growing up in the Indian church for reasons that I will touch on later in this post but the purpose of this blog post is to instead speak about the reasons why despite the longings of my fifteen year old self; I choose to stay.

We’re missional

I swear that almost every week I hear of a new person who came to faith from the Hindi service. This service has brought in a huge North Indian population to my church and has even challenged the idea that my church is Malayalee. It’s not just North Indians, over the years I’ve seen people of different ethnic backgrounds come consistently to my congregation, serve and join our family.

The problem I’ve noticed within a lot of churches is that we can become too attached to whatever rules we have. I recently heard of a church that did not allow members who wore jewelry to take holy communion. How do you expect members of your community to come and join your church with a rule like that? The idea of not wearing jewelry has deep roots for a lot of people and I can respect this decision. But requiring people to not wear jewelry limits who can feel comfortable in your congregation.

If the only reason why your church is growing is because other Indians left a different Indian church- that’s a problem. Our churches are not meant to grow through shuffling church members. But it’s truly transformative to see people who never knew the name Jesus, people who are from or come from different religious backgrounds, all coming together and accepting Jesus as their person savior. If there was every a remedy to lukewarm Christianity it would be to see the fire of someone who has just accepted Christ. There is a passion and love that puts me to shame.

There’s room for Me to Grow 

My church allows women to lead worship, teach Sunday School and even give Sunday sermons. I would often hear from other women at more conservative churches that women are not allowed any leadership position, even choir leader. In the midst of an environment like that, my pastor has spent time and invested in my gifts. He has given me a platform when I know others places wouldn’t. And he doesn’t just do that for me. Through my church I have seen incredible singers developed, talented musicians and powerful men and women who deliver God’s word. Maybe if that happened once you could chalk it up to that one person’s talent. But when you see it consistently happening, I know that God is working in a place.

My Impact Feels Larger 

My church, in many ways, is small. Because it is small by the measure of a lot of other churches, I know that the work I do has a big impact. If I have an idea for an event, I can directly see the people who are influenced. When I want to try something new, I can tangibly see how these decisions impacts others. I’ve grown to learn that there is beauty to the mega churches. There are far more resources that can give an individual a lot of room to grow. But because my church is small, I know my influence means a lot.

The Bad Can be Changed

The author of , ‘The Indian Church Must Die‘, Samuel, also acknowledges that some Indian churches can change and those are the ones that will survive, “the ones that start listening to young people, start integrating them into the church vision and projects”. I believe my Indian church is a place just like that. When I first got my ears pierced I feared the larger implications of this decision. But to this day, I don’t think anyone has really had a problem with it. I remember once recounting an older grandpa who also spoke to me in Hindi. I thought he did this because I wore earrings. But when I shared this incident with my church friends they explained to me that he speaks Hindi to literally everyone. Despite all my fear about what people might think, no-one seems to have really cared. Or at least no-one has told me they cared to my face!

Sundays are my Favorite Day of the Week

We had an annual North East region meeting today that I always try to attend because I love connecting and catching up with familiar faces from different churches in the region. But every year during this meeting, despite how happy I am to see new people, I genuinely miss my Sunday routine. You see, I love my Sundays and I love my church. It’s here that I start off Sundays by sleeping in a bit (till 8:30am) and then spend time catching up with friends until it’s Sunday School time at 10:30am. Then from 10:30am-11:30am I lead the most amazing group of girls through the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. 11:30am-1:00pm when we have our main service that is usually filled with powerful worship and a meaningful word from the bible.

It is here at my church that I imagine and day dream about what ifs and possibilities of ways in which God will move. It is here that I first taught Hindu/Muslim students during VBS. It is in this church that I see my family. Not just those who I am connected to by blood but the aunties and uncles who I grew up with, as well as those who have come in recent years. These people and my friends have become like family. And when I think of God’s vision for my life and I know that for the present time- this is a really great place for me to grow as a speaker, a Sunday School teacher, an informal counsel and as a leader/server.

While I think there are many legitimate reasons for why someone may choose to leave the Indian church or any church for that matter, these are my reasons for staying. This blog post doesn’t mean that I couldn’t ever imagine myself leaving. I always try to remember that man makes plans and God laughs. But what it does mean is that for the time being, I’d really love to stay.

Religion As A Spectrum

When I first sat down to write this blog post I had come to the realization that regardless of what you believe, belief often exists on a spectrum that can actually tie people of different faiths closer together than those of the same spiritual background. But as I explored this idea more I came to the realization that as much as I’d like to believe that religion is a spectrum, scripture tells me the unpopular message that I should be totally sold out to God or not believe in him all. 

While talking with a friend who is Muslim, I discussed the idea that in many ways, though I am Christian, I might feel closer to a Muslim who is religious than a Christian who isn’t that religious. At my current stage of life I am growing in my personal walk with God but have encountered countless people who have told me that religion is good, but not if it becomes too important in our lives.

I’m reminded of the guy from a dating app who warned me of his aunt who never got married because she was so religious and spent all her life serving God. Or well-meaning friends who see completely following God as a loss of sorts because of what could be understood to be rigid rules within Christianity.

The idea that I could connect with a Muslim more than a less religious Christian was crazy to me at the time because for a long time I held schemas in my head of what it meant to be a Christian versus believing a different faith. And to me, there was no way that I could really connect with others of different religious backgrounds.

The idea of connecting with someone of a different faith was first planted in my head years ago. I was hosting a GIG or Group Investigating God with a college friend and most weeks our group consisted of the executive team from the Atheist/Agnostic club at our college. During our last meeting I invited a Muslim friend and was surprised by how my Muslim friend and I defended faith and the existence of a God, though to us this God was different. Because to believe at all is to share something beautiful in common, compared to a person who does not believe in the existence of anything.

But before we can really look at the intersection of faiths, let’s look at how I personally define what it means to be a Christian vs. a Muslim.

Defining a ‘Christian’ 

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First, we encounter the argument of how you choose to define what it means to be Christian. For the purposes of this post- I’ve indicated how I categorize someone as almost a “baseline” Christian. I realize that you the reader may have a different definition of what being a Christian means.

And even as I tried to define a “baseline” Christian I wondered if it was fair to say that they tithe because I’ve heard that very few people actually do this. Then there are people who love God but regularly miss church.

Defining a ‘Muslim’ 

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I asked a friend how she defines a Muslim and she indicated the above and clarified that she also considered that recognizing one God, the day of judgement, and believing Mohammed is a prophet is enough.

The Intersection 

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You can see above how the intersection between how “close” you can feel to someone who also holds faith, even if they believe in a different God. That is compared to someone who is a different faith but isn’t as religious.

I was honestly super proud of this realization until I realized that I was missing one important fact.

God Doesn’t Want Christians On a Spectrum 

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To follow and listen to God’s word instructs me of the fact that God doesn’t want Christians on a spectrum. Thus negating the entire that a spectrum could even exist. 

Revelation 3:15-16 New International Version (NIV)
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

The reality is that Christianity cannot exist on a spectrum because scripture instructs that you must either you are completely sold out for God or you should not believe in him at all.

The danger of our society is a culture in which people decide that they are kinda sorta Christian. This is a topic that was spoken about this past Sunday at my church.

It also begins to become easy to think that giving 10% is a lot if you surround yourself with other people who don’t give at all. But God’s standards for serving him are radically not in relation to those in our lives and instead is revealed in his word.

As I grow as a person and in my walk with God I am also learning to respect the journeys of others and realize that though scripture is clear, we might still be on a spectrum of belief. But while on this spectrum, I think we cannot deny the command from scripture to avoid at all costs, lukewarm Christianity.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Can Christianity exist on a spectrum? Is my definition of following Christ too rigid? 

The Problem with Combined Malayalam/English services, explained in a Songbook

I get it. There isn’t enough Youth or only English speaking people attending church meetings to justify a separate service. I understand the logistics but it doesn’t change the fact that combined services are ultimately unfair to those who attend. It all comes down to the song book. I just attended my first combined service in a long time and of 765 songs, 723 were in Malayalam.

If you have never attended a combined Malayalam/English service, let me explain. Malayalam is my mother tongue, the language spoken in Kerala, India. I don’t speak or really understand this language. My parents, as well as many of my friend’s parents came to this country and naturally wanted to attend a church that would speak their native language. It makes sense.

Their children grew up and didn’t feel the same familiarity with Malayalam or even grow up with the same jokes and culture and this ultimately created tension. Malayalam/English services don’t really work because regardless of how equal the service tries to break down time between the two languages, we still spend at least half of the service listening to a language we don’t understand. Or, I spend at least half of combined services listening to a language I don’t understand. They don’t work because we look at the songbooks, see the space left for the “English” part of the meeting and inherently know that the service isn’t for us, even if it claims to be.

Another problem is the fact that now, our English speaking youth or just our English speaking audience, has options. It’s hard to convince someone to compromise and try to enjoy a service when we can go to so many different churches and hear a message that is catered for an English speaking audience. But the only reason why I, like many others, have chosen to stay is because I have a heart for the Indian church. I have a heart for those children who grow up and may miss out on God in between the parts they didn’t understand in a service that was only in part geared for them.

On my end I accept that I should grow in maturity. Towards the end of the service, I just didn’t want to listen to a message translated to English. The messages never seems to have the same impact. But I also hold unto a hope for a better future. I hope that we have enough youth committed to justify a separate service. I pray for opportunities for those youth to have a voice in pivotal conversations. Because I love ending service and seeing my mom and dad afterwards, but I still want to attend a service specifically geared for me and others like me.

Should Christian Women Dress Modestly?

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I first found out about Girl Defined‘s ministry because a guy friend of mine shared a video that they made on Christian modesty. He wrote something along the lines of how as a man, he appreciated when his Christian sisters dressed modestly for their Christian brothers. At the time, I replied that it wasn’t a woman’s responsibility to dress modestly for men, that they made their own decisions and such a mentality leads to victim blaming and other unhealthy patterns of thinking.

We later spoke and clarified what we each meant, a lot of which was misunderstood, but the topic of modesty and whether Christian women should dress modestly has always left me feeling confused and became something I really struggled to understand. I now follow and value Girl Defined’s ministry but I initially found their video and view on modesty unsettling. Ultimately, modesty is an issue of the heart and we should be careful to make “black and white” rules regarding how women and/or men should dress. 

I’ve mentioned my conservative Christian upbringing before on this blog. I’m grateful for how I was raised but I believe one mistake of the church as a whole was stressing modesty without explaining why because the reason why we do something can be just as important as what we choose to do.

Modesty begins at the heart 

I remember going clothing shopping with my mother and just hoping she would be okay with a cute pencil skirt that went just above the knee. I knew that any tank top purchased would require a cardigan. I spent summers in sweltering heat in capris because shorts were seen as way too revealing.

But because I learned that certain things were not allowed without much rationale as for why, I went into college kinda reckless in terms of what I thought was appropriate attire. I use the word reckless loosely. Not only did I show a lot of skin at times, but I didn’t even dress for the weather. I wore spaghetti strap dresses in the winter if it was the fastest thing I could find before heading to class. I didn’t think or care much about what I wore and later on in life enjoyed receiving attention for stylish outfits. I reveled in the freedom of wearing whatever I wanted but wasn’t all too modest in the sense of not drawing attention to myself.

We are quick to recite 1 Timothy 2:9, “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,”, forgetting the other plea to not draw attention to ourselves with “luxurious” items. The heart of modesty directs us in vs. 10 to instead, “but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” Meaning, we shouldn’t be known but we do, not how we look. 

There are no hard and fast “rules” 

It can feel natural to make rules. Growing up, not wearing sleeves was considered scandalous. I always needed to cover my knees. But beyond that, it didn’t really matter what I wore. It took me a long time to realize that I could be completely covered but possibly revealing too much if my clothing was too tight and losing the entire point of “covering up”.

If you look at Genesis 2 & 3, you are shown the story of Adam and Eve. Genesis 2:25 reveals that, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” It was only after sinning that they desired to cover themselves in Genesis 3:7,  “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”

Adam and Eve in their sinlessness, were naked. It can be tempting to assign certain rules for how to dress for ourselves and others- but ultimately we must individually weigh our decisions.
 
How we dress is just one part of who we are, an important for me as someone who enjoys dressing up and expressing myself through fashion. But how we dress can also be a way of showing our honor and respect to God while also drawing others to look at who we are rather than what we look like.

 

Do we give up too easily? | Being a Woman in the Indian Church

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I was watching a video of Aimee Mullens’ Ted Talk, for maybe the eighth time. I had already watched her talk several times before deciding to teach my students about about her speech or more so the power of her passion and how that elevated her speaking. She was poised, put together, passionate and was standing on prosthetic legs. She challenged society’s notion of what a “disabled” person should be and I looked at her and thought that if I were her, I wouldn’t have dared to stand on that stage. I wouldn’t have become a runner like her. But she, with her disability, was doing things I could only dream of accomplishing. 

Watching Aimee Mullens made me think- she trusts her legs. She trusts her prosthetics, probably more than I trust my flesh and bones. If she doesn’t give up, why do I? There are many times in life when we may face seemingly insurmountable challenges. Some of these hurdles have presented themselves in my experiences as a woman in the Indian church. In the moment we believe that things cannot and will not get better, that we are limited in some way. But looking at Mullens I am reminded that our definitions and perceptions of situations can be challenged and that maybe- we give up too easily. 

There are two ways people can respond to set backs. There are the Cains of the world and the Davids.

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Characteristics of Cains 

  • Jealous
  • Cynical

Cain and Abel are the children of Adam and Eve. Cain grew jealous of Abel’s sacrifice to God and this ultimately led to his demise:

…Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. Genesis 4:3-5

Cain’s jealousy of what his brother had and what he lacked led him to ultimately killing his brother. Instead of trying to offer something better to God, to be something more- he turned to sin. How many times do we feel like we just cannot do or be more? I believe we all know that feeling all too well. We fail in some way or form and instead of trying again, we give up. A friend of mine told me that before getting the job he now has at a big financial company, he applied to 99 jobs at the same firm. He now worked in hiring and can see all applications that come in for the company and noted how most people apply maybe once or twice. While hearing his story, most of my friends admitted that we would do the same. If a company rejected us after a couple of applications, that was it for us. But my friend didn’t give up on the company he wanted to work at until he finally got a position.

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Characteristics of Davids 

  • Resourceful
  • Hopeful

David was the youngest of his brothers and naturally passed by for opportunities. But David didn’t let his background hold him back. In fact, David leveraged the very qualities that would make others think he was weak. In the classic bible story of David and Goliath, David used the unusual tool of a slingshot to defeat a giant.

 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.(1 Samuel 17:49-50)

In a situation in which others would have given up, David remained hopeful. He trusted in everything that God had provided and in the end was triumph. Growing up as a female in the Indian church, it was hard to have an older brother in some ways.

Being a Woman in the Indian Church

I frequently spoke at church and was very open about how I loved public speaking but no speech I ever gave seemed to measure up to the sermons my brother spoke. He rarely spoke publicly and didn’t care for it, but the few times he spoke were admittedly spectacular. There were many times I wanted to give up on my love of speaking. Why try to have a voice in a society that would rather hear from a man, especially when others could speak better? There were many times when I felt as though the opportunities given to me in the Indian church would be so much grander if I were a man. How could I not think that way when even in one of our most prominent organization, Pentecostal Youth Fellowship of America (PYFA), I have only once seen a female leader in an organization founded in 1981.

My parents and grandparents would pray every night for my brother to be a minister of God, but I never once heard them pray for me to minister God’s word. My grandfather was a prominent pastor and my brother was the only grandson born with the last name “Thomas”, the default heir. My mom recounted that a prophesying preacher once spoke to my parents and told them that they had prayed and hoped for ministry to come from their family from their son, but it would come from their daughter. My mom shared what was said to me but reminded me that she still hoped for my brother to one day minister.

If Aimee Mullens doesn’t give up even when she was prosthetic legs, why would I give up because I’m a woman? Everyday we choose whether we give up or keep going. Giving up can happen in small ways. We stop working towards that goal we really had set in our heart. Or maybe we stop moving forward in acquiring a new skill we long to have. It could even mean underestimating ourselves because of whatever our “disability” may be. There are days that can feel so dark and times in which all hope is lost but I pray that if you cling to hope, you too can do the seemingly impossible.

 

 

 

 

Could I be inherently bad?

If you grew up in a Christian home, chances are that you remember the story of Solomon and two women who presented a predicament to him. Essentially, there was one good mother and one bad mother. The bad mother was pretending to be the mother of the others child. Okay, I may have just confused you. Go read the story with my hyperlink! It will make more sense.

Anyway, Solomon, in his wisdom, told the mothers that he would cut the baby in half. Naturally the good mother wanted to save her child and the bad mother replied, “Go ahead and cut him in half. Then neither of us will have the baby.”

I don’t remember how old I was at the time, maybe six or seven years old. But I was cast as the bad mother. My best friend was the good mother. My line was simple, “Cut the baby!” I repeated this a few times while my friend said, “Don’t cut the baby!” I was later dragged away by a “prison guard” as the audience cheered.

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Taken from freebibleimages.org/illustrations/solomon-moody/

 

I would like to think that the assigning of roles was an arbitrary decision but that role I was given has always been something I’ve struggled with. Could I be inherently bad? Was there a reason I so naturally fit into the part of “bad” mother.

I was the kid who was tough to get along with growing up. I grew upset easily with my friends and would start fights all the darn time. Heck, I get annoyed with myself thinking back on it. I was needlessly mean when I wanted to be and I’ve been told I have a natural disposition of saying things that hurt others without realizing it. I’ve been distracted by the things of this world and constantly struggle to be better, to be kinder.

I was pondering whether or not I could be inherently bad for the first time in years and I believe God sent me an answer, oddly enough through Harry Potter. For any Christians raised in ultra conservative households like myself, do you remember when saying you liked Harry Potter was the equivalent of saying that you loved Lucifer? To think of all the time I wasted not reading it! 

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Taken from lulusketches.tumblr.com

 

Harry, like myself, struggled with feeling as though he could be evil, or have the potential to be bad within himself because of his abilities and who he inherently was. Within Hogwarts, the Wizarding school he attended, students were placed into different houses by an all knowing sorting hat. When the sorting hat for houses was placed on his head, he repeated to himself that he didn’t want to be in the Slytherin house and was then placed in Gryffindor. Slytherin was famous for housing every wizard who had ever become bad.

Feeling as though he had the ability to become evil weighed heavily on Harry. But Dumbledore’s advice to him offers me a sense of comfort and reassurance:

“[The sorting hat] only put me in Gryffindor,” said Harry in a defeated voice, “because I asked not to go in Slytherin…”

“Exactly,” said Dumbledore, beaming once more. “Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

I acknowledge that within me is the potential to be awful, selfish and completely unworthy of anything that I have. But isn’t that why scripture tells us in Romans 3:23 that “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Just beyond that verse that really exposes all of us for who we really are is a beacon of hope in verse 24, “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

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Taken from desertcart.ae

Every single day I choose again to follow God and accept the salvation he offers to me. I choose to reject my selfish nature and destructive thought patterns. I choose the good that God offers over the beauty and rotting allure of the world. And lastly, I am reminded by Dumbledore, that it is our choices that show us who truly are, far more than our abilities.

How my Pride Led to Insecurity

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As a Corporate Communications undergraduate major, I gave a ton of speeches back in college and naturally grew tired of a once intimidating task. On one occasion I gave a better speech than usual and upon leaving class two classmates ran up to me and asked, “How were you so confident?” I don’t remember what I answered but the truth was that the secret to my perceived confidence was that I didn’t care about the opinions of anyone in that class I gave a speech to. In a college of 17,000 people, it was easy to be in a class with a bunch of people I never met before and I didn’t care for the opinions of people I didn’t know.

I began to adopt an odd pattern of feeling a sense of pride around people I grew comfortable around or who I felt better than or didn’t care for because I didn’t know them. That is until one day I realized how my pride was the seed from which fruits of my insecurity sprout. But luckily, in learning this lesson, I was also presented with the incredible hope that comes from understanding that humbleness can lead to a God centered sense of security in who God created us to be.

These realizations around my pride all started two weeks ago after  I taught my sunday school students a lesson on a pride- pretty logical progression, right? We explored how pride distorts things meant to be good.

Beauty can become vanity.

Instead of feeling joy in the accomplishments of others, we wonder why we didn’t get what they have.

When criticized, we are defensive, never assessing the validity of the others claim.

I taught that lesson and admitted to my students that I failed “The Pride Test”. I looked at myself with a sudden awareness of how Pride was ruining what was meant to be good in my life. I realized that Pride had led to my feelings of insecurity.

The lies of Pride become smaller next to God

I became prideful in small ways, in comfortable circumstances. My mom would always joke about my cavalier attitude around family members and my church family. I would take up as much space as I liked and probably said some things I shouldn’t have without thinking much about it. I felt confident of myself because I saw others as less. That person doesn’t have a job, at least I have one. I could only feel secure if I could imagine myself as better than someone else. I hate that I thought that. I hate that I’m writing this paragraph and that I’m admitting something so disgusting about myself. I feel ashamed to admit that I treated others so poorly and in turn hurt myself.

How would God look at my heart? I think he must have felt so disappointed. This is the same God who came to earth and didn’t look for any of the things we look for in others. Does the bible talk about how he chose a disciple because of his PhD from an Ivy league? Did he befriend the stylish woman at the well? Sure the bible will give merit to beauty and wisdom, but those factors never stopped God from loving or helping someone. God chose the lowly and despised of the world to shame the wise.

One lesson I taught my students and continually remind myself to remember is that we can begin to feel humble when we remind ourselves of how great our God is. You’re proud of your beauty or intellect? Have you heard of the almighty God? He’s so majestic and beautiful that our eyes cannot even see him and live. When we change our perspective to see ourselves in light of who God is, how can we not be humbled?

How Pride breeds insecurity

In the same way that I would feel better than certain people, I felt worse than others. Pride lied to me and told me that because of my looks or education or my background, I was inherently worth less than someone else. Seeing the success of others made me fear failure.

Did I deserve to work at my job? Was I worthy to be that person’s friend? All of the things I built my worth on crumpled because my pride was built on such an insecure foundation.

 

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Without Pride, we see ourselves and others and God intended

God offers us a unique freedom and privilege to gracefully accept our limits as humans. We are beautiful but not the most beautiful. We are given wisdom, but only because God allows it. We may have accomplished a lot by worldly standards, but how small are our feats in light of eternity? How different would our lives be in a different place or circumstance?

Just as pride brings forth fruits of insecurity, I believe that humbleness can lead to fruits of security in who we are and who it is that God longs for us to be.