"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Ruthlessness of Prayer

On November 15, 1864, some 62,000 Federal troops departed the still-smoldering city of Atlanta under the brilliant and collected generalship of W.T. Sherman.  Year's end would see this force having won to Savannah, leaving in its wake a scene of immeasurable devastation some 300 miles long and 40 miles wide.  Their mission was complete - they had driven to the ocean, effectively taking or destroying anything which the South might employ in its rebellion against the North.  The railroads were smashed, the cattle harnessed, the field pieces taken, the cotton burned.  Many miles behind its tenacious soldiers and exceptional generals, the Confederate war effort lay in ruins.

In a way, we are all of us Sherman in Atlanta - everyone who has been saved by the precious blood of Christ is engrossed in a brutal conflict, albeit one that is won or lost in the human heart.  We are consumed in a constant clash between the godliness which our Lord is actively creating within us, and the sinful impulses that foray sharply from the quiet corners of our hearts (Rom. 7:22-23).  This is a battle that must be accorded our fullest measure of sobriety and perseverance, for though a hundred grim specters of temptation may fall upon the Sword of the Spirit, yet there are untold thousands behind them.  The press of battle is always upon us in this world.

It is an irony that the most seasoned and mature Christians you will meet are at once accustomed both to the most gracious gentleness and patience with the rest of humanity, and yet to the quickest and strongest violence against the incursions of temptation and pride within themselves.  In this respect, the gift of prayer becomes either a formidable ally or an exercise in wanton futility. 

Prayer is formidable only if pride is stamped out while the prayer is being made; otherwise, it is pure futility.  Elihu wisely instructed Job, "[God] does not answer [prayers] because of the pride of evil men." (Job 35:12b) The psalmist explains that this is so because the prideful are not actually interested in God at all:  "The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him.  All his thoughts are, 'There is no God.'" (Psalm 10:4)

In other words, pride serves to remove any true regard we have for the Lord in a given moment.  Prayer, then, must be effected in such a way that our pride is devastated to the utmost.  Any tool that pride might grasp in a bid to dominate our hearts must be broken, or else wrested away for the worship that is owed only to the Lord.  We must sift through our hearts as Sherman sifted through the South, not hesitating to smash what merits destruction, and to take back whatever we in our pride have stolen.

Consider the elements of prayer for a moment.  We are called, for instance, to reverent praise of our sovereign Maker, Sustainer, and Savior.  The barest tinge of pride blights our praise by introducing falseness and sin.  This is especially sad, given that prayerful praise is calculated to draw our adoration to its rightful divine recipient - recalling the excellencies of the One to whom we pray should serve to shape the course the entire prayer.  Remember, His character is our lifeline, but we must achieve a purity of heart in our pursuit of His glory!

Another crucial feature of prayer is repentance.  Of course, pride is the bane of true repentance, but we must take care, lest we suppose that the simple desire for repentance indicates an absence of pride.  We can always muddle through repentance simply because we know we should, or we can congratulate ourselves that we so humbly desire repentance that, ironically, the repentance itself is spoiled with pride.  It is also sometimes the case that we freely confess some sins, but not others - pride restrains us from acknowledging certain sins. 

Finally, there is the matter of supplication in prayer.  Pride can certainly spoil this activity, and if such is the case, we must not expect the Lord to respond with pleasure.  If we can unshackle ourselves from pride (say, through humble confession of sin and genuine worship of our Lord), then our requests will be made for His sake, and not ours, and so will work toward His enduring kingdom and glory.  Think a moment, and I am certain that you, like me, will be able to recall certain requests you once made of the Lord that now only induce cringing for their selfishness.  What waste, no? 

It is not unwise to patently assume the presence of pride in our lives - we will usually be correct - and prayer life can serve as good gage of pride.  Do you hesitate to repent to your God?  Do your prayers themselves die in your throat?  Are your praises brief and skin deep?  Then you have but one recourse:  you must go before your worthy God and admit of your prideful indifference, and beg His help once more as you move through your heart with an attitude of ruthless impatience, seeking to stamp out every instance of pride - identify it, confess it, and set yourself against it!  Do this again and yet again until every spark of pride is devastated and the Lord crowds your heart!  This absolute ruthlessness against ourselves must be an indispensible feature of our prayers.


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