Years ago, I was working for a government agency’s engineering department during the summer, helping out with some drafting work. The office environment was fairly open, with me (as the summer help) typically sitting at a drafting table, and relatively low walls separating the various workstations. As will often happen in a workplace like that, the employees would regularly talk and tell stories.
However, as one might expect, there was the usual amount of “one-upmanship” involved. Someone would tell a story, and the next guy would tell a story on a similar topic, but it would always be bigger than the last one. The outcome would be more extreme, funnier, or just more impressive than the last tale. Then, yet another employee would typically try to outdo that one, and so on.
One of the other employees was particularly wise for her age. When this cycle started, she would sometimes point out that, “First liar ain’t got a chance!”. When the purpose of each tale was to look better than the next guy, well…humility and adherence to truth would sometimes take a back seat to embellished recollections.
This same sickness can infiltrate even the best circles of friends – even those who know better. Whether the game is storytelling around a campfire, testimony time at church, or one’s Instagram feed, there’s a subtle pull to brag about our own accomplishments and make them look better than the next person’s.
Paul, in the book of Philippians, makes it clear that the walk of a follower of Jesus is not about thinking that we are better than everyone else, nor in making sure that they know it:
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
Philippians 2:3-4 NLT
But, choosing to be humble is just one step in the process. We can grit our teeth and try to “be humble”. We could write little reminders on our refrigerator, or wear a wristband to remind us throughout the day. Still, toughing it out doesn’t get to the heart of humility: Why are Christians able to be humble in the first place?
Let me offer a few ideas to consider:
- For one thing, those who follow Jesus have nothing to prove (see Galatians 4:6-7). We are adopted into God’s family, and sealed with the Holy Spirit. Our value comes from God’s declaration, not from our own achievements.
- In addition, those who have chosen to follow Jesus as their Lord have Him as a perfect example of humility (Philippians 2:5-8). One would expect a follower to, well…follow the example of the leader.
- And, through the love that God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has shown to us, we can love others enough to not have to put them down, for our own ego (Romans 13:10).
So, if you’re just telling stories with some friends, and it’s not competitive, enjoy yourself and share good times (truthfully, of course). However, if you see someone out on the fringes, or if you are tempted to tell a bigger fish story than someone else (just to make yourself look better), maybe sit it out, and see what everyone else has to say. Laugh at their jokes, and make them feel valued.
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7 NLT
God sees the hearts of each of us – may He be pleased with what He sees in us, today.