Our church is under spiritual attack. In fact, all churches are under attack. Every single believer in Christ is engaged in a constant, inescapable battle against spiritual degeneracy in three forms: Our unbelief of God’s word, our lack of forgiveness of others, and our unhumbled pride in what we are and have done. So, I would like to propose a challenge for us this summer.
Here are three specific things for your concerted reflection and prayer which I have gleaned and adapted from reading J.I. Packer’s article, “Self-Care for Pastors: Riches from the Anglican Devotional Tradition” (Crux, December 2003/Vol. 34, No. 4, pp.2-13).
1. Let us pray and ask the Lord to give us individually and corporately a greater capacity to trust Him and His promises. Packer writes: “In these days of liberal Christianity in our churches and post-Christianity in the culture outside, unbelief of God’s affirmations in the Bible and the gospel is rife. Justification by faith (being accepted by God while yet a sinner) is not understood and divine promises are not received and trusted.”
Consider praying through a simple promise of Jesus for us like Matthew 16:18 or Matthew 28:18-20 and ask to increase your faith to trust the Lord to do what He says He will do. Why not heed the counsel of John Murray who urged believers to spend at least fifteen minutes every day meditating on some word of God connected with His promises to His people and then plead with Him for its fulfillment. If fifteen minutes seems a bit much, why not dedicate five?
2. Let us pray and ask the Lord to give us the grace to forgive others the way that we have been forgiven. Packer speaks bluntly of this avenue of spiritual attack: “Unforgiveness, which is a form of unlove, is regularly an expression of hurt pride and resentment, disguised as self-respect. As Jesus often warned, unforgiveness is a total block to the blessing of God” (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37). Wow! A total block? This should move us to examine our hearts to see if we are nursing a spirit of unforgiveness towards anybody.
Whom do you need to forgive? Yourself? Your spouse? An in-law? A fellow church member or pastor? Let’s resolve to become a church that models grace in all of our relationships as we forgive others just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). What an impact we would have in our city if we follow the Lord fully in this matter of forgiveness.
3. Let us pray and ask the Lord to make us people who are marked by humility, free from the spiritual cancer of pride. At every stage of our Christian development, pride is our greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend. The person who is always finding fault is full of pride. Pride is spiritual cancer because it eats up any possibility of truly loving others. Proud people are critical people. You need to look no further than the renowned Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice “who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish.”
Packer parses this avenue of spiritual attack with convicting precision: “Unhumbled pride, as is often said, takes four forms: Pride of face, when you think you are most handsome; pride of race, when you think your skin is the best color; pride of place, when you think you are better positioned than others; and pride of grace, when you think you are one of God’s top people – and pride of grace is the worst of the lot. All these forms of spiritual degeneration banish true spiritual joy, which for healthy believers is constant, and create pitfalls for pastors in abundance.”
On the other hand, humility is the blessed gift of self-forgetfulness. A humble person simply thinks of himself or herself less. Paul sets it forth beautifully in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
May I leave you with one helpful skill to cultivate the grace of humility. Actively look for ways that God is at work in the lives of other people around you. Ask yourself: Where have you seen God’s grace and Spirit at work in the lives of others in your family, your work place, and your church and tell them so? Are the members of your family more aware of the evidences of grace that you’ve noticed in them or of your barrage of criticism? How about your kids? When was the last time you specifically shared with your son or daughter an evidence of God’s grace that you’ve noticed in his or her life?
Our vitality, unity and outward focus as a church are easily threatened by squabbles and conflicts. Please take this challenge personally and pray that the Lord would send times of refreshing from His presence so that we become people marked by our strong trust in the Lord and His promises, by our readiness to forgive others the way that we have been forgiven, and by our humility that willingly serves the interest of Jesus Christ in the lives of others.