Posted on September 7, 2016
Posted on September 7, 2016
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Last month I wrote about the intense harmfulness of pride, this originally was one whole post, but far too long – so this post needs the one before, so you can read part one here.
Although it is self-affirming, it doesn’t do much good to simply diagnose the problem without an attempt at offering some part of a solution. So here is my best attempt at how we might begin to confront pride in ourselves. 1
4 years ago, our church community invited a lady to speak to us who was a qualified life coach. She came to teach our church community how to ask questions that would help us grow. While there were many good tools shared in that week, it was a story she told that made the biggest impact on me. She described a co-worker who naturally rubbed her the wrong way in most interactions. She described it such a way that made it easy for everyone listening to put themselves in her shoes and imagine their own ‘grace-grower’! She then spoke about how she began to develop a consistent point to pray for this person and at the same time was developing a very strong desire to be transformed by any means possible into the likeness of Christ.
Can you guess what happened next?
This same co-worker approached this lady and confronted her about a pattern of behaviour she had noticed. The co-worker did not communicate it perfectly and there may have been plenty of justification for push back. But she was so motivated towards transformation that she was able to sincerely thank this co-worker for the confrontation as her first response.
Now many of us can imagine saying the right thing as a response, through gritted teeth and then later bad mouthing the person to some others in a way that reassures us that we were in the right. But that was not the testimony of this lady, she literally had a sincere overflow of gratitude for the confrontation that she was able to respond to. In that moment I was struck with my absolute inability to do that.
I was imagining the very equivalent person in my life and thinking, “sure, I could muster enough self control to say the right thing”. But the idea that I could have a sincere response of gratitude that overlooked the way a confrontation came to me was as foreign as the idea of being able to laugh upon being stabbed. Many of us in the christian life have cultivated enough self-control to do the right thing, but what does it take to feel the right thing? I intended to find out.
In the following months I considered during times with God, how much value did I really hold in becoming like Jesus. Did I really value it above all else, like the many songs I had sung, enthusiastically described? Or was I secretly committed to be just nice enough to get by with my pride in tact. I realised that deep down I was committed to how people perceived me more than about who God knew me to be.
Although I didn’t have a marked story within those months to illustrate the growth I began to experience, I felt assured that this season shifted something in the foundations of my inner life. The power of pride was in some way broken down and that made many of the following decisions easier and more felt than before.
Now of course my intention is not to present a somehow finished work in this, but simply to encourage us that we can take steps forward, steps which make responses of spontaneous holiness possible. Would I struggle over someone harshly confronting me? Im sure I would, but instead of confronting them back in self-protection, I feel more assured that I might be able to take on the ‘meat’ of their confrontation and leave the bones to the Lord to deal with.
Often the good news of God has been compressed into simple phrases like “God loves for you” and while I believe that, the gospel also offers and maybe even begins by providing a way to say “I was wrong”. In fact to be renewed, reformed and resurrected into the kingdom of God, somewhere we have to have a deep revelation that “I was wrong”. This is the good news, that we get to be wrong and it doesn’t have to annihilate us.
We have to realise we are wrong about God; God in Jesus is nothing like the God we would have imagined. The trajectory of our imaginations outside of God would have never given us the story we were given. It would have never revealed the ‘right’ in a way we could have anticipated, and so we are left with an invitation, an invitation to say “I was wrong…”.
Of course, just like the prodigal son returns to the Father to say ‘I was wrong’, the Father bounds over with an embrace. That is the good news, that (if I can risk sentimentalising the process a little) that the Father squeezes the wrongness from us in an embrace and welcomes us into a vocation that will even further transform us2.
Our ability to recognise we were wrong and the humility and request for forgiveness that flows from this is essential to the gospel impacting our lives, and it is not just a one-time thing. For those of us that follow Jesus it actually is like a circadian rhythm in our stories that follows a pattern of being wrong, revealing our wrongness3, being forgiven , being renewed. This is the pattern of the person who is truly changing, truly reforming, truly transforming, again and again.
There is something else that I’ve observed; that our relationship to God is characterised by the same things that characterise our human relationships. I have observed enough to believe it to be true, that those who refuse or feel unable to forgive others are unable to forgive themselves. This is a big problem because the same place that forgiveness flows out towards others is the same place that God’s forgiveness and release flows in. God’s forgiveness is the very foundation for our knowing and experiencing God in all other ways. I have painfully observed that as people allow their inner lives to become increasingly filled with small unforgivenesses they find it increasingly hard to relate to, experience and participate in God’s life. Alot is at stake in this pride and forgiveness dynamic.
So to return to a biblical image of our lives, we are made to be like clay in the potters hands. God’s intention is not just to let us in the door of salvation, but to transform us over a life of salvation. Pride and unforgiveness do not contribute to God’s intended human flourishing, its made us like hard clay. Hard clay can not be loving moulded but has to be smashed into softness on the potter’s wheel or more terrifyingly set aside altogether. God intended us to be able to say “I was wrong” in order be transformed for God’s sake, for our sake and for the sake of the World.
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