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Learn How To: Boast
A Review of Mission Affirmed by Elliot Clark
Before I dive into the review, here is the latest episode of the Consider the Ravens podcast:
A short while ago I attended an event that left me stunned. All I could think was, “Give some men a microphone and they’ll go away sad that they didn’t worship God as much as they wished they had, give others a microphone and they’ll go away sad that they didn’t worship themselves as much as they wanted.” This event perfectly illustrated that latter camp. The reality is though that when someone has served in successful ministry for any number of years it will usually have had one of two effects:
They are humbled by what God has done and are frightfully aware of their own shortcomings.
They have seen all God has done through them and have become convinced that it’s really because of them.
I am overgeneralising, but here’s the rub. Elliot Clark could have written a book on mission drawing on his extensive practical and theological experience as a Church planter and leader in the missionary field. So does he? Not at all, instead, he goes back to the scriptures to retrieve Paul’s motivations for taking to the mission field and how the Spirit worked through Paul in suffering, speaking, sending, and serving. Clark doesn’t assume anything but brings us along with him on his journey, as he grounds himself anew in the word, inviting us to do the same.
So, the man at that event boasted. Did Clark? Oh yeah, big time.
"Pride," observed Mary… “is a very common failing, I believe. By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed; that human nature is particularly prone to it, and that there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary.”
Jane Austen - Pride and Prejudice
What Mary Bennet aptly describes here at this moment is something that should be incredibly clear to all of us. Some may be very openly proud, “I am just better than most people,” they say, “There’s not point hiding it.” Another may be glad they are not like the first, “Thank goodness I am not proud like him.” Which is, in fact, pride.
If you don’t think pride is a particular struggle for Christians, I would refer you to a place called Social Media, it’s a foul place where humility goes to die. What’s the answer then? Be humble! Great, the moment you’ve gotten there you’ll be the most humble person on earth and having achieved that, you’ll fall back into pride for having achieved it. Like all other works, we cannot fulfil this law. Thankfully, God has not left us alone with our pride but has given us somewhere to direct our natural propensity. Clark is well aware of this and so, again and again, points out that part of Paul’s motivation is being able to boast. Paul says things like:
“I face death every day, as surely as I may boast about you, brothers and sisters, in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -- 1 Corinthians 15:31 (CSB)
Many will shrink away at passages like this, passages that seemingly go against what we’re called to do. We’re not meant to be proud, we’re not meant to give in to that urge, boasting is something bad, right? I will freely admit that I am incapable of convincing you of Clark’s point in the next 200-300 words. What I will say, which I hope will convince you to read this book, is that these verses, these passages aren’t going anywhere. If you’re in a church, you are on mission or you should be to a greater or lesser degree. I am not saying you should go out and be a missionary to foreign lands, but rather that there is work to do right where you are. What’s more, at some point in the course of that mission, you will most certainly wrestle with pride, whether it’s yours or someone else’s this sin is so pervasive that it must be faced. I know that I struggle with pride on a daily basis, it’s a sin I have to mortify more often than I care to admit. If you agree with any of that, you should go and pick up this book. There is much more to learn, but the standout lesson for me was this:
“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.
I will boast in the Lord; the humble will hear and be glad.
Proclaim the Lord’s greatness with me;
let us exalt his name together.” - Psalm 34:1–3 (CSB)
Will you do that with me? Will you boast your socks off? Will you boast in the Lord?
It reminds me of what Thomas Chalmers says:
“But what cannot be destroyed may be dispossessed and one taste may be made to give way to another, and to lose its, power entirely as the reigning affection of the mind.”
Thomas Chalmers, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection