Hubris – noun:
- excessive pride or self confidence
- (in Greek tragedy) excessive pride or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis
Hubris has long been one of my favourite words, even though for a long time I didn’t really understand it! It’s the sort of word that’s used by radio presenters or pundits when politicians are required to resign or celebrities have made ludicrous pronouncements. It’s amazing how your understanding of a word can change when you personally experience the force of it’s meaning…
I was sitting in church a few Sunday evenings ago, preparing to share a short sermon, and was feeling unusually nervous; unusually, because I don’t tend to feel nervous before sermons. By the time I have thought, prayed and prepared the content is lodged in my head and I know what to say and there’s nothing else I can do about it! However, there was a difference this time – I had no idea I was supposed to be preaching and had only had a day to prepare.
So I sat there, not sure about the content, not sure about the approach I was going to take, feeling a bit embarrassed about my oversight and concerned that I was failing in responsibilities to God and everyone who had showed up on a cold night in January. Then before the sermon we sang ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ – a classic and well loved hymn that I have been singing since I’ve been able to read. All of a sudden all my insecurities, worries and hopelessness were put into perspective,
‘Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.’
In the end, it didn’t matter; I only had to do my best. All my self-importance in wondering what I could bring to the table or what I could contribute was put into perspective. My pride in wanting to deliver a good sermon that people would really appreciate and not be embarrassed suddenly became apparent. All I could do was lift my hands and ask God to help me.
My hubris wasn’t because I thought I would be magnificent. It wasn’t because I’d deliberately underprepared. Instead, my fear and nervousness were based on what I thought I could or should bring, not on what God can do through me when I’m totally reliant on him. It is not, to be fair, a recommended way to prepare for sermons but I am grateful that God was gracious enough to teach me through it.