Last week I had the first response to Eldest Son Matt’s questions about his encounter with a homeless man named Brett on a recent trip to Salt Lake City. Matt relayed the emotional and gut level prayer that Brett prayed for him.
I asked to pray for him (Brett) and said a generic prayer of protection, hope, forgiveness, and provision of resources. I reached for my wallet again and he stopped me. He asked to pray for me. He prayed a beautifully inarticulate prayer with his raspy broken voice,
“Matt, I pray you will not do drugs like I have. I pray your children love you and accept you. I pray your woman will love you and stay with you. I pray that you have a home, job, and food. I thank you for not being scared of me and talking to me. I pray that we can see each other again.”
Did you see it? He prayed that I wouldn’t be him. Pity turned to grace. It was his grace for me.
So here are Matt’s questions for today. How can a man I knew for 20 minutes pray the most sincere prayer for me? Can the pride that sequesters us to insincerity (we are all guilty) be broken in normal life circumstances?
I have been thinking about this a lot. I think the answer to the first question and second are the same.
You and I still have lots of it. Brett doesn’t. Brett has nothing to “protect”. His image was not damaged by being real with you. He was not the least bit concerned that you would think he was a failure. He admitted that. Brett did not need to impress you and win your favor. You had extended grace yourself by giving him time and attention. How sad is it that a man created in the image of God thanks you for not being scared of him and for simply talking to him. You made me realize how I too often choose the safe route.
Part two of your questions is the tough one to address. Can that pride that causes us to be so phony be overcome in normal life circumstances? I wish I could say yes and give you 3 easy steps to conquer pride. But I have to be honest with you. This will be a lifetime project. I have gotten better at allowing the Holy Spirit to gain control of my pride. But I still take back control at times. Why? Because I do have things to “protect”. I want you to think I am smart, successful, a good husband, a good Dad, a good Christian. The truth is I am all of those things some of the time but definitely not all of the time. And why is that such a problem to admit?
G.K.Chesterton once said, “If I had only one sermon to preach it would be a sermon against pride.” Powerful. Because Chesterton was a man with a lot of insight on a number of issues. We foolishly take ownership and control of things that we do not really own or control. The ultimate irony for control freaks is that they truly control nothing. One moment (like your Mom’s cancer diagnosis) causes your house of control cards to come tumbling down. We have no control. So we should remember daily that we are called to live our lives as “dual citizens” with both earthly and heavenly goals. As C.S.Lewis more eloquently stated…
“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”
I think when we have that perspective we have a chance to put things in perspective apart from a tragic life circumstance. Seeking a very intentional balance of eternal and temporal helps to keep you grounded. Homework assignment for you. Read Romans 12 everyday for a month. Maybe change translations each week to get a different feel and to keep it fresh. Memorizing that text for living would go a long way toward your goal of living an authentic and transparent life. Here is a little snippet from The Message…
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
I love the language. Don’t be “stuck-up” and don’t be the “great somebody”. I really dislike the “no cursing under your breath” part. That is such a great way to be a covert “Bad Christian”. Paul does understand our nature.
Focus on what matters. As you alluded to in your letter it is easy to get off course in those years when you are establishing your career. I did. But here is what I have figured out. You gain satisfaction from your career, from doing a good job, and from success in various endeavors. But you gain joy from relationships. The most common verse on pride is likely Proverbs 16:18 about how pride goes before a fall. But earlier in Proverbs we read this truth.
Pride leads to disgrace,
but with humility comes wisdom. Proverbs 11:2 NLT
Matt, when I think of the Christians who I most admired, respected, and desired to emulate there was one common trait.
That is not a popular word in this culture. But if you want to really pursue your goal of authentic relationships then seek to be humble and kind through the power of the Holy Spirit. You will fail at times. But if you stay sensitive to the gentle, quiet voice of the Holy Spirit and the not always so quiet and gentle voices of those who love you then you can succeed more often than not. Your goal is a Godly and worthy goal. I will pray for you as you pursue it. Your thoughts?