Monday, February 7, 2011

Pride and Prayer

I am a proud man.

I don’t mean that in a good way. Sometimes we say things like, “he was a proud man” or “she carries herself with a lot of pride” as a way of complimenting someone for taking care of themselves well. I’m not that kind of a proud man. I frequently walk around with spaghetti stains on my white shirt or a long stream of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my shoe. I’m not that kind of a proud man.

No, I’m a proud man in the old-fashioned arrogant jerk sense of the term. And because I’m not a pro athlete or rock star, I think I have the most dangerous form of pride.

Here’s what I mean. When a third string running back scores a touchdown with 45 seconds left in a game where his team is getting beaten by 9 touchdowns and then starts break dancing in the end zone, his pride is painfully obvious. Because I have no skills that place me on national television I am able to keep my pride to myself. My pride is just as obnoxious but it’s just not as public. This is very dangerous.

Because the whole word sees the pride of that running back on full display, it’s likely that somebody on his team pulls him aside and tells him that he looks like an idiot. He may even hear people calling in on sports talk radio to make fun of him. That sort of public pride can be easily corrected.

In my pride, instead of actually scoring the touchdown, I dream about scoring the touchdown (or preaching the great sermon or having the conversation center more on me). Because it’s in my dreams I don’t have to settle for third string and I don’t have to be called out for being obnoxious because, after all, nobody knows. To make matters even worse, I can mask my pride with false humility and have the best of both worlds.

But pride, no matter how secretive or well disguised, always finds a way to come to a head. For me, it was my prayer life.

In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. He exposes the phony prayers of many of the religious leaders and then gives an example of what a legit prayer looks like. We call it the Lord’s Prayer. For most of my life, my secret pride has left me praying something that looks nothing like the Lord’s Prayer and more like Jay’s Prayer.

While Jesus prayed that his Father’s will be done, I was content to pray for my will to be done. In fact, I have heard some go so far as to say that praying for God’s will to be done is a lack of faith. Scripture has taught me that failure to pray for God’s will to be done is a lack of Christ-like humility (Luke 22:42).

My pride has kept me from praying for God to supply the needs of my family. Praying for God to supply things like food and other daily essentials is for the health and wealth crowd, right? Scripture is teaching me that failure to ask for these things is a sign that I’m probably putting more trust in my ability to earn a living than I am in my Master (James 1:1-8; Matthew 7:7-11).

But the one that really stings is when Jesus prays, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). There have been far too many days in my life that I have gotten out of bed and left my house without even once thinking to ask God for his protection over my soul. This is a result of my foolish pride that is much more ugly and much more dangerous than a ridiculous touchdown dance. Scripture is teaching me that I need God’s protection.

Scripture tells me of an Enemy who wishes me harm and a Savior who fights on my behalf (Luke 22:31-32; James 4:7).

Scripture tells me of a world that cares nothing for my personal holiness (James 4:4) and a world of accountability where God’s people can find help in their pursuit of him (Hebrews 10:23-25; 1 Thessalonians 4:18; 5:11).

And scripture tells me of my own flesh that works against me (Romans 7:13-23) and of the One who has set me free by the piercing of his flesh (Romans 7:24-25).

When I encounter the God of the Bible, it’s hard for me to walk away remaining in my prideful neglect of sincere prayer. In prayer, I get to talk to a Father who hears me because of who I am in Christ Jesus (James 5:16). In prayer I know that the very one who died in my place is also praying with me on my behalf (Romans 8:34). In prayer, I’m reminded that I don’t know what I’m doing when I pray but the Spirit does and he helps me in my weakness (Romans 8:26).

After all I’ve learned about prayer, I’m still a proud man (with a stained shirt and toilet paper on my shoe). But God, in his grace, is using prayer and scripture to make me more like his Son and find deliverance from the evil that is my secret pride.

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