For several weeks now we have been focusing our attention on what I suggested in my last sermon was the key to the doorway into 2 Chronicles 7:14 – and the means by which we can embrace the abundant Christian life as God intended. That key which unlocks the power and reality of this verse; that key which begins this daily process leading to God healing our land; that key which unlocks the power of our whole relationship with God in every imaginable way is HUMILITY. We also saw that the archenemy of humility; the exact opposite of humility; the thing which robs us of the power and fruit of humility is PRIDE.
In the last sermon we began to look at some of the practical implications of pride in our lives and how these attitudes and actions can rob us of the humility we need to pray, to seek God’s face, and to turn from our sin. I would really encourage you to re-connect with that sermon and review those four areas we covered:
- Pride is self-satisfaction.
- Pride is self-sufficiency and self-reliance.
- Pride considers itself above instruction.
- Pride is insubordinate.
Let’s now move on to the next one which has so many implications, and is so important, that I will only deal with this one today, and even then, I’ll only be scratching the surface.
> Pride takes credit for what God does
There are so many examples I could draw from in Scripture to demonstrate this manifestation of pride, but one of the most vivid is the case of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon:
Daniel 4:30-32: [Nebuchadnezzar said] “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”
Then, after his season of humiliation grazing in the fields like an ox, Nebuchadnezzar is restored and confesses:
Daniel 4:37 “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right, and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”
This is one of many passages in the Bible and many stories of life in general which demonstrate one particularly ugly manifestation of pride which can be found in almost every human heart.
When we take credit for what God has done, we rob Him of His glory, we rob ourselves of His true power and we place the focus back on man’s ability and not God’s. The worst part about this is that it can be so subtle and often camouflaged. The vast majority of the time we are not aware that we are even doing this until some brave person, led by the Spirit, points it out to us.
In the case of King Nebuchadnezzar, it was pretty blatant, but I am sure it didn’t start that way. This form of pride can start in such little and almost invisible ways and the story of Nebuchadnezzar is a reminder of how bad it will become if we don’t catch it early and nip it in the bud.
One of the most common examples of this characteristic is evident in how we deal with prayer and God’s answer to prayer. This is hard because we must acknowledge that there is most definitely a partnership in prayer – we do have a role to play in the process of prayer – and yet when I hear some people talking about what God has done, in answer to prayer, far too often the focus seems to shift to them rather than God. It is often subtle, almost always unintentional, but all too common. It is also a powerful tool in Satan’s hands to deceive us and rob God of the glory due His name.
Let me share two pictures with you. They are vivid extremes, and I stress that. This is not a black and white issue – there are many shades of grey here and we need to work out in our own heart where we stand. But these extremes will highlight the problem for us.
We see a well-dressed business Executive standing outside the office of a very wealthy and incredibly powerful man. This Executive is here to put a proposal to this wealthy man in an attempt to get him to part with some of his money for a worthy cause. The Executive is polished, prepared, dressed in his new pin-stripe suit, new shoes, a brief case full of research papers in his hand – the fruit of his training and learning. He has all the goods; he has all the technique; he knows all the principles; his job is to negotiate with this man – the one who has all the money. That is an important point. This Executive has nothing, in reality. The man on the other side of the door is the one with all the resources. So, the Executive plans to use his skills and his training to secure some of those resources. The door opens, he enters and the negotiation proceeds.
Sometime later the Executive emerges, a huge smile on his face, obviously very pleased with himself and walking slightly taller than before. He winks at the receptionist as he heads for the front door and says smugly, “I did it!” No comments about the generosity of the man behind the door. No recognition that he could just as easily have said no. No concept at all that it was an act of grace even to be given an appointment in the first place! The Executive heads back to his own office, boldly enters the door shouting to his colleagues, “I did it; I got the money; my plan worked; my strategies were perfect; all that training paid off; I followed the principles of negotiation perfectly and … I did it!”
We see a man hanging over a cliff by a rope. He has tied a knot in the end, and he is holding on with all his might. He is helpless; the only way out is down and that’s not a pleasant thought. In his own strength he can only just hold on. All he can do is cry out for help and believe that he will be rescued.
So, he uses all the energy left in his tired body to call for help, over and over again, trusting that someone will hear him. Finally, someone does. A man reaches over the cliff and says, “Hang on … I’ve got you; I won’t let you fall.” He pulls the man to safety. Now the man who was hanging on for his life is overwhelmed with gratitude and cannot believe that his feeble cry was even heard. He heaps praise and thanks and gratitude upon this saviour who rescued him.
When this man arrives home, he doesn’t boast about how he saved himself. He doesn’t talk about the quality of his cry for help. He doesn’t brag about how the man saved him because he was persistent (even though he was). All he can talk about is the man who saved him. He says nothing about his own part in that – for his part was nothing more than a feeble, but persistent cry for help. An important part, nonetheless, had he not cried out for help, He may have not been rescued at all and yet his focus is completely on his rescuer.
Now I told you they were extremes and when you see the full implications of those extremes, they will be very confronting. You may not like them at all and may even struggle with my application – but work with me here and let God use these extreme pictures to clarify this issue of pride when it comes to prayer.
I am not talking about our standing in Christ. I know some of you may already be racing ahead thinking, “Hang on, I have already been rescued, once and for all; I am seated with Christ in the heavenlies; my position when I come to God in prayer is not that of one who is hanging over a cliff. I have already been rescued.” I totally agree but I am talking about our attitude, our recognition of our relative place before God. I am talking about humility and pride. So, in light of that fact … let’s get ready for what God is going to show us.
God is doing some wonderful stuff every day in so many people’s lives in answer to prayer. I guess those two images, extreme as they are, serve as a powerful warning. We can so easily become like the Executive. It is so easy for us to lose our focus and take the glory away from God.
Anyone who knows me will understand that I am a strong supporter of equipping and training and certainly, prayer is one of those areas in which we can be taught and trained – not with man-made techniques or formulas – but trained in our understanding of God and His heart and His grace and His generosity and our position before Him in prayer.
The more we know God; the more we abide in Him; the closer we get to Him; the greater our effectiveness in prayer. Why? Not because we learned how to negotiate stuff out of God like the Executive in our illustration; not because we have obtained skills of communication which give us a higher strike rate in the prayer department. The most important equipping we need is in the area of intimacy with God.
”Draw near to Me and I will draw near to you. Abide in me … get to know me … stick close to me … know my heart and mind … and you will get everything you ask for in accordance with My will.”
“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God and He will lift you up.” (Great verse for the man hanging over the cliff!) …
“Blessed are the poor in spirit (those who know their poverty of spirit) for they will experience the power and majesty and glory of the Kingdom of God.”
That message is all the way through the Bible. Humility is the key to the door of throne room of God – there is no other way in. As we get to know God more, as we draw closer to Him and He draws closer to us, we are even more humbled in His presence, but our trust and our faith grow – just as it does in human relationships. The more you know someone … the closer you get to them … the more you trust them and know their character and their will.
So, I guess I am saying that if you see the two pictures I gave you as two extreme ends of a continuum, then we need to be a lot closer in attitude to the guy hanging by a rope over a cliff than we are to the confident business Executive. That does not minimise the importance of prayer and the benefit of all the training and equipping which we might give and receive concerning prayer. God exhorts us to ask. He has given us this responsibility in our partnership with Him. I cannot allow any room for the fatalistic approach which says, “God will do what God wants to do, regardless of what I do.” That is inconsistent with most of what I am teaching in this very series and stands against many clear instructions in the Bible.
Our responsibility in prayer is absolutely vital … yet our attitude in prayer is equally important because this insidious kind of pride will rob us of the beauty and the wonder of answered prayer and will rob God of the glory due His name.
When you want to report what God has done in answer to your prayer, you need to think very carefully about what your role really was in the whole prayer process. When God clearly answers your prayer, stop at that point, and walk over to the mirror on the wall and look hard and long at the image you see. Do you see the self-confident Executive who just managed to get what he wanted from the Boss … or do you see the incredibly grateful and overwhelmed man who was just rescued by someone who cared enough to hear his feeble cry.
I don’t care if you fasted and prayed for days; I don’t care if you prayed in tongues and bound the enemy; I don’t care if you have studied the principles of prayer and have tips and techniques coming out your ears! The bottom line is simple: you were on a rope hanging over a cliff, powerless to fix the problem yourself so you cried out for help (which is the beginning and end of your part in this) and someone else; someone other than you, chose to be in a place where they could hear you and they chose to heed your cry and help you. That should be your attitude, always and forever, when you come to God in prayer.
It doesn’t matter who we are; what Church we attend; what our attitude is to spiritual gifts; whether we shout or whisper; kneel or stand or dance; are alone or in a group – we are all in exactly the same place of powerless dependency when we come to God in prayer and we all need to have the same attitude of humility.
In my mind’s eye now, I can see a sweet, quiet, little old lady rugged up in front of the fire at home, praying day and night for her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren; day after day after month after year; she prays that they will find the Lord and be protected and safe. I see the joy on her face when she finally learns that one of her little ones has been rescued by the Lord. No one will ever know what that lady prayed, she is seen by no one, heard by no one and has no one to report this miracle to, yet God is awesome and gracious and has heard the cry of His child.
By stark contrast, I can see a prominent preacher on a stage in front of 15,000 people in a healing crusade waving his hand and praying a prayer and watching hundreds of people fall under the power of the Spirit, healed in an instant from all manner of disease and deformity. Everyone knows about that answer to prayer – the whole world can watch it on TV, and yet at the heart of that miracle, God is awesome and gracious and has simply heard the cry of His child. The setting, the volume, the exposure, the supposed ‘anointing’ on the preacher – that is all totally irrelevant.
Next time God answers your prayer, close your eyes and picture Him pulling you up on that rope and then, only then, will you be able to report that to others in a way that exalts the Lord and not you. I believe there are many times when we should not even mention the fact that we prayed. I must be honest and say that I cringe, just a little, when people share answers to prayer and begin by telling us about what they did in order to get God to do something. That may not be their intention, and I am not scolding anyone here, I am just delivering the warning which God needs us all to hear because this applies to us all. When God does something wonderful in answer to our prayers, why do we feel the need to share our part in that?
I know that it can sometimes build people’s faith to hear that God does answer our prayers, but the Bible says we are to declare the wonderful works of God, day and night. It doesn’t say we are to declare our fruitful prayers! Only a small difference in wording but there can be a huge difference in attitude.
When God answers your prayers and you feel you want to glorify Him for that, then go ahead and do just that – glorify God. Shout it from the mountain top if you like: “Our God is so awesome … let me tell you what He has done this week … let me declare His wonderful works.” Sometimes it will be relevant for people to know that you prayed, but most of the time, it will only serve to put you in the spotlight instead of God.
Now don’t misunderstand me here. There is no great crime in telling people you prayed … even David in the Psalms did it when he said often, “I sought the Lord, and he heard me…” It is the attitude of our heart that matters. We just need to understand that those listening to us may not know our heart and we may inadvertently draw some of the glory from God in the way we report what God has done.
Let us be very careful then, lest we rob God of His glory and give people the wrong impression of what prayer is all about. I know I am on thin ice with many people in the Body of Christ in even addressing this issue … and yet it is so very important, and I see pride creeping in so often. If humility does not saturate our being before, during and after coming to God in prayer, we are setting ourselves up for a really rough ride.
Let me cut right to the bone here – when we adopt the prideful, man-centred Business Executive position in prayer, even if only in part; if we think that the quality of our presentation, the words we use, the technique we adopt, the time we spend, the language we adopt – anything at all to do with us – is what secures the answer to our prayer, then not only are we proud, arrogant and deceived at that point, we are setting ourselves and those around us up for a huge fall.
Before we brag (unintentionally, maybe) about a prayer we prayed which God answered, we need to ask ourselves why we prayed in the first place. Was it our compassion, our insight, our concern for someone which prompted our prayer? Perhaps. Or was it the Holy Spirit laying a burden on our heart to pray for that person or situation?
I believe the Bible when it tells me that my fallen human heart in its natural state is wicked, selfish, and oblivious to anyone but me! So, if I find myself in prayer, crying out to God to intervene in some situation in my life or the Church or others I care about, I have no doubt whatsoever that the Spirit of God led me to that point – nothing in me would do that. So, God gets the glory at the beginning and the end of the whole process of prayer – as it should be.
Assuming you are still with me … allow me to probe a little deeper. What we do when the answers to our prayers are not what we expect or want will be determined totally by our attitude to God and ourselves before and during that prayer. When you give it your best shot before God and the outcome is the opposite of what you prayed – where do you go with that? What do you do with that? I know where many people go, they go to the place Satan prepares for those whose attitude to God and prayer is wrong and they begin to doubt themselves and ultimately they might even doubt God.
“If only I had prayed longer, harder, more often, in the Spirit; I should have fasted; I should have called others to pray with me; if only I had repented of that habitual sin that I still struggle with; if only I had done this or that…” What torture we endure when we set ourselves higher than God in prayer!
I know people who ‘pray the blood of the lamb’ over their house and family every day; others who ‘put on the armour of God in prayer’ every morning. When they forget to do that, and something invariably goes wrong that day – they attribute it to something they did or didn’t do. These are tools of the flesh dressed up to look spiritual. When prayers like this are prayed in some ritualistic, even magical manner, they are closer to witchcraft than any of us would want to think. They are nothing but spiritual formulas designed to move the hand of God or worse still, spiritual ‘spells’ we cast each day.
God wants a relationship – not works of the flesh – that is why He calls us to humble ourselves, pray, seek His face and remove all barriers to that intimacy … then … His hand will move. But even then, He is still God, and we are not, and stuff will happen which we do not like or understand. People get sick; accidents happen; tragedy strikes, and people die – even when so many in the body of Christ are praying otherwise. When that happens, our God should receive no less glory than when we get what we ask for.
We can cry out to God and ask Him anything we like, and He will always listen – but there will be times when we don’t get the result we want and our response to God at that moment will reveal much about our relationship with Him, our faith in Him and our trust of Him. When tragedy strikes; when things don’t go well; when our prayers seem to have no effect; we have a choice: we can rob God of His glory and walk around in a daze, scratching our heads and wondering what when wrong – sooner or later that kind of thinking causes us to withdraw from God so far that we stop asking for anything.
Alternatively, we can determine that God will be glorified in everything, and we can fall to our knees and say with Job after he had just lost everything in his life that mattered other than God, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb … naked I shall return … blessed be the name of the Lord.”
… and we can join Jesus in the Garden of anguish and tears the night His Father said no to his request to take the cup from Him … as He gave glory to God and said, “Not my will, but yours be done O Lord.”
… and we can join with the apostle Paul when he penned these powerful words …
Romans 11:33-36 “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and i knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”