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by Pastor Jack Lash
In 1997, after 15 years of ministry, God began a very long and very needed process of revealing some things to me about myself. He began to show me some things that were very wrong about the way I had been thinking. I knew I was not the man I should be. But boy did I underestimate the problem. I came to find out my problem was not that I didn’t do the things I should do. My problem was that I didn’t see the things I should see. For instance, I knew that I ought to be more warm, and more bold. But God began to show me that my real problem was I didn’t see people as Jesus saw them. God began opening my eyes to see what I had done, what I had been like.
What I had thought were holy aspirations He began to show me were largely fleshly. I had a zeal for God. But mixed into that zeal was a lot of heroism and pride. He showed me that I was full of self-reliance, self-glorification, thanklessness, prayerlessness, compassionlessness, know-it-all-ness, harshness, thoughtlessness, cockiness, smugness, earthly-mindedness, a sense of superiority, a judgmental spirit, a cavalier attitude, and a non-encouraging style, to name a few. A whole assortment of sins, but the essence of all them is pride.
Do you remember the story of Peter’s denial of the Lord in Luke 22:21-23; 31-34; 54-62? He had confidently declared, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Doesn’t that sound like a godly statement! Who (besides Jesus) would have ever thought at the time that it was an evil statement! Satan is so subtle. He can make sin look so godly. He can make poison look so healthy. He can make adultery look so faithful. There can be so much pride in “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back...”
What’s the problem with marriage today? Why so much divorce? Most Christians today would answer that the commitment is not taken seriously enough. But I think there’s a deeper-rooted problem. It is arrogance. I think most people take their commitment pretty seriously. When they say “I do” they really do intend to be together for life. I think the deeper problem is that they think it’s going to be much easier than it really is. They think they have what it takes. They think they can handle it. They are arrogant and self-reliant. It’s not the “I do” that’s the problem, it’s the unspoken “I can” behind it that’s the problem. And God often has to let us go to show us we can’t; He has to remove some of His grace from us so we can see what we’re really like on our own.
“And he went out and wept bitterly.” — a bitterness not only over his denials, but over the humiliation of having denied Jesus after making such self-confident promises.
Sold out to Jesus?
The day I became a Christian, I remember being outraged over those who weren’t sold out. I thought I was in a special group: sold out for Jesus. And for the next 27 years I lived in the conviction that I was sold out to Jesus but that most Christians weren’t. And my vision as a pastor was to create a church of sold-out Christians who would be a challenge and an inspiration to the rest of the body of Christ.
Now, of course, I understand the very real danger of not being sold out to Christ, of being lukewarm in our faith, in being double-minded (James 1:8) and wavering back and forth. But there is also an opposite danger, there is a problem that goes along with being sold out to Jesus. Not that there’s actually a danger of being sold out to Jesus, but there is certainly a danger in thinking you are sold out to Jesus.
I realized I was using a very narrow list of criteria in evaluating my own devotion. There was a lot of criteria I wasn’t including in the evaluation process, like:
1. A broken and contrite spirit
2. A heart of compassion for the lost
3. A mind set on eternity and not on this earth
4. A love that compels
5. A heart of forgiveness toward sinners (Jesus was the Friend of sinners)
6. Considering others as better than myself
7. A constant, keen awareness that apart from Him I can do nothing
In short, like Peter I discovered I was not nearly as sold out to Jesus as I thought.
The Sinfulness of a Can-do Attitude
In Exodus 24:7 when Moses took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the Israelites, they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” But of course as it turned out they weren’t obedient. In Joshua 24:16-19 when Moses’ replacement renewed the covenant with the next generation of Israelites, the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods... we will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” But Joshua knew better. He said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God.” Paul says it this way in 1Cor.10:12: “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” There is a problem with thinking we stand.
It’s a great thing to want to be obedient. But how in the world can we be confident that we can be obedient without the Lord’s help? Sheer determination will never do it. We need help. We can’t do it ourselves. So much of our so-called obedience is just the flesh. It’s obedience Pharisee-style. The Pharisees had a zeal for God — that’s what we’re told in Romans 10:2. But their zeal for God was of the flesh, not something the Holy Spirit had produced in them.
In Psalm 30, David tells a similar story about his own life. In verse 6 he confesses his pride: “I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall not be moved.’” If we had heard him say this, we wouldn’t have thought he was being proud or self-righteous. This is David, a godly man. He knows his strength comes from God. He goes on to say it: “By Your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong.” And yet his awareness of God’s strength was subtly evolving into pride and self-assurance. And just as God had to send a thorn in the flesh to Paul to keep him from becoming conceited, God had to hide His face from David, to plunge him into godly desperation: “You hid your face; I was dismayed!”
Remember Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the publican in Luke 18:9ff.? The Pharisee’s prayer started with thanks. “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Who can argue with giving thanks? But there is a very fine line between being blessed and being self-assured. Jesus commended the example of the tax collector, who, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He’s the one who went down to his house justified, rather than the Pharisee.
This is why it’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom: their success goes to their head and they think they’re really something. Winning streaks are dangerous to the soul. They stir up pride. Even the blessings of God can go to the head.
How can I fight this relentless temptation to pride? First of all, this dragon in me will not be slain until I am gone from this world and my sin is removed. Secondly, if I could conquer this myself, it would make me proud, which would mean I hadn’t really conquered it. The bottom line is this: I need help and I need it desperately. I can’t do this. My heart is corrupt and deceitful. Humility must come from outside. There is no such thing as humble men. There are only humbled men. Peter had to go through his betrayal. Jesus had said to him: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Well, Jesus is with us too. He is praying for us. Even now He is supervising the project of remaking us. He didn’t hate Peter for what he did. Jesus didn’t just receive him back, He drew him back. And then He uses Peter: “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers...feed My lambs, tend My sheep, feed my sheep.” (John 21:15ff.) And in the end Peter was so much more useful to the Lord than when he was saying, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.”
After much of this process had taken place (it’s still not over), a friend gave me a book by Steve Brown entitled What Was I Thinking? Things I’ve Learned Since I Knew It All. It was the book I had wanted to write. (But it’s so much easier when someone else writes it — and it’s much better than I could have ever done.) I strongly recommend reading the book.