Running The Race (Part 4) Preparation Begins

     Last month I talked about the type of vision the church needs to carry out its commission to preach and share the life-changing message of the Gospel. We are indeed running a marathon through this world, carrying a torch that not only lights our way through the present age, but also is capable of attracting those who are looking for some type of light of hope in a dark world.

     Our vision on earth is only as substantial as our heavenly vision is of God, our place, purpose, and responsibility in His kingdom. So much of the church’s vision in America is earthbound by the ideas of beautiful buildings, numbers of people, the appearance of worldly success, and quasi spirituality that is void of any real touch from heaven.

      The problem with a Christian’s vision being earthbound is that he or she will have no real vision about heavenly matters. Christians who are bound by this present age will not see the significance in inheriting all the promises of God in the world to come. J. Gregory Mantle, in speaking of the vision of the children of Israel when it came to securing the Promised Land, made this statement, “There are always ‘buts’ and ‘howbeits’ when the eye is focused to see only the things that are seen. These men saw great cities, high walls, tall giants, but Him who is invisible they saw not. Faith always reasons from God to difficulties; it begins with God. Unbelief reasons from the difficulties to God; it begins with them. Faith brings in the Living God, and looking to Him, says, ‘We are well able.’ Unbelief departs from the Living God, and looking at the difficulties says: ‘We are not able.’”

      Since the vision of the American church has become more earthbound, it has lost its power to make an eternal impact when it comes to lost, seeking souls. It has failed to be a light that burns brightly in these dark, uncertain times. In fact, the darker the world becomes the greater the light of Christ should be shining in and through His people. As Andrew Murray pointed out, “A world lies dying in its need of the very message which the church of Christ alone can bring.”

      As we consider the heavenly vision and the high calling of the church, as members of this universal church we need to come to terms with how we can obtain and maintain a right vision in this world to ensure our high calling. As Jesus reminds us, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 20:16). Sadly, it seems that there are those who are content to live on the plateaus of quasi religion, settling for the idea that they have been called, and that fact seems to soothe their religious conscience. Granted, everyone has a different calling as to their mission field and how they are to serve in that particular field. Some serve at home, while others serve in foreign mission fields. Some serve on the streets, others in trenches, some in prayer closets, and others in their work places. However, being called and actually being chosen to run the race comes down to having the right heart attitude about one’s calling.

      When I first became a Christian, I had such zeal to do great things for the Lord but I was totally unprepared. My intentions were right, but my character was not established in the Word or tempered by the Holy Spirit. My zeal to serve Him was at a fever pitch.  After all, He had pulled me out of a cesspool of sin and depression after I was almost consumed by the muddy waters of hopelessness. At the time I could not see any way out of the whirlpool that was dragging me to the bottom of destruction: it was only when God threw me the only lifesaver (His Son) that I was brought to the top to breathe the clean air of His Spirit and His life, and be pulled to safety.

      I had such enthusiasm in my newfound Christian life, but I lacked experience (wisdom), seasoning (discipline/discipleship), and maturity (refinement) (Romans 10:2-4; 1 Timothy 3:6; 2 Timothy 4:2-5). In the initial years of my religious zeal, the Lord let me float off into dangerous currents. I realized in those dangerous currents that I did not possess the inner strength (character) to stand against the raging tides of the age I lived in. These tides were quickly taking my soul out into waters of judgment. I learned that it had to be God’s strength if I was going to do His bidding and stay the course that He had carved out for me. It is only as I chose to walk in God’s strength, that my inner character was finally tempered, shaped, and refined by the Master Potter.

      I cannot begin to count the many detours I took because of inexperience and the many disasters I created because I was not seasoned. I always put the cart before the horse, and when everything I attempted to do spilled out and dissipated, I realized that my activities amounted to vanity because they had no heavenly inspiration or power behind them.

      I am so thankful that God was and continues to be longsuffering with me. He was not only longsuffering with me in my immaturity, but He continues to be as He works the very life of Christ in me so that I can truly reflect my loving Savior and Lord to the world (Romans 8:29; Philippians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

      This brings me to the attitude Christians need to acquire to effectively run the race and carry the torch of the Gospel. In my early Christian years, I thought my real challenge were my practices. It was my sinful practices and my emotional state over my plight that first revealed that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. It was for that reason as a new Christian I tried to reform the old man in me, force my pride to comply outwardly to some form of godliness, and adjust my intellectual presentation to look Scriptural. In essence, I attempted to clean up my act, but in time I discovered it was actually my heart attitude towards God, life in general, and who I thought I was in the scheme of things that needed to be transformed (Romans 12:1-2).

      In my Christian infancy I did not realize that pride clearly sat on the throne of my self-life. It was pride that convinced me that I could reform myself enough to be godly and make my actions acceptable to God. The more I tried to reform myself, the more the “old unregenerate nature” would raise its head, proving to be selfish, conceited, and godless.

      I had to face that even the best of the “old unregenerate disposition” was filthy rags before God, and the more I tried to clean myself up, the more my disposition revealed perversion reigning in my mind that was still very carnal, my emotions that were untempered and driven by selfishness, and my inner character that was still naturally bent towards the flesh and the world (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 8:5-14; Ephesians 4:11-15).

      It is important to point out that I first came to Christ because I was broken over my sinful ways, but it took seven years into my Christian walk before God could break me at the point of my self-sufficiency and another five years to break me at the place of my conceit, and, needless to say, the breaking continues because pride is interwoven into every area of the self-life (Psalm 34:18; 51:17; 2 Corinthians 3:5).

      Self-sufficiency (self-confidence, reliance) is a form of pride along with arrogance (heart attitude), haughtiness (feelings of superiority), judgmentalism (self-righteousness), conceits (intellectual, worldly wisdom and cleverness), and all forms of selfishness (self-absorbed, self-importance, self-centered, and self-serving to name a few). Pride can be found at every stage in which the old disposition operates. As already indicated, it is an attitude, a feeling, a look, a high opinion of self, a religious notion and practice, and on and on for it knows no boundaries and is always being driven to come out on top of all situations (Proverbs 3:7; 6:16-17; 11:2; 16:18; 21:4; 29:23; Isaiah 14:11-15; Romans 12:16).

      The essence of pride is nothing more than the exaltation of self in some way. It does not matter if you clothe pride with syrupy sweetness, fake humility, quasi spirituality, victim mentality, or self-pity; self is still being exalted in some superior fashion to make it appear honorable when in fact it is dishonorable in every way. It is watching out for self and insists on being right, while being arrogant in its opinions, harsh in its judgments, unreasonable in its demands, superior in its conclusions, and condescending in its presentations. Such exaltation is nothing more than idolatry, the humanistic practice of worshipping man.

      It is clear in such matters that the creation (man) is being exalted above our Creator the true God of heaven (Romans 1:20-26). Whether it is man’s carnal, depraved intellect that consists of worldly knowledge, or humanistic perverted New Age, occult enlightenment, along with his abilities to invent, his charismatic ways to decieve, his social deeds to attempt to make society better, or his compromising ways of making every sinner or wicked person feel good in his or her sin, man is being clearly exalted in the position of savior and God. However, the Bible is clear that there is only one Savior, Jesus Christ and that one Savior is God, Lord and Redeemer (Isaiah 43:10-12; 44:24; 45:21-22; Luke 2:22; 1 Corinthians 8:6).

      As Scriptures point out God resists pride but so do others (Matthew 23:12; Luke 18:9-14; James 4:6-10; 1 Peter 5:5-6). There is nothing more irritating and frustrating to one’s spirit than when he or she is dealing with someone who is riding high on his or her conceits while standing on the pinnacle of high, dogmatic opinions. Unabated pride can intimidate and cause people to walk on eggshells to keep the fire-breathing monster of pride at bay. People who are ruled by their pride prove to have fragile egos that can’t afford to be challenged, possess vanity that must be constantly stroked due to innumerable insecurities, and are temperamental and unpredictable in their actions. Pride is unstable in its ways because it fears failure and rejection, often becomes aggressive towards being wrong, refuses to be found incompetent, and will not let go of the reins of trying to control matters according to what it perceives to be acceptable.

      The Bible clearly addresses pride at every level and stage, but the problem is we rarely recognize it in ourselves. Granted, we can usually see it clearly operating in others, but pride is the beam in our eye that keeps us from seeing its deceitful, profane operations in our own lives (Matthew 7:1-5). Christians are often shocked by the greatness of the pride in them when first confronted with its workings. The reason we Christians are often broadsided by our own pride is because we never start out to take a pride trip, but Proverbs 16:2 explains the dynamics of this dilemma, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits.”

      Pride puts us in a wrong frame of reference, opening the door for a wrong spirit to operate in and through us. The presence of this wrong spirit becomes obvious by the fruits that are produced in the end. These fruits vary with the situation, but they always leave a bad taste in people’s mouths as they struggle against frustration, resentment, anger, bitterness, jealousies, despair, abuses, and oppression.

      In Hebrews 12:1 we are instructed to set aside any weight that might beset us as far as running the race. There are many weights that can hinder us from running the course set before us, but the biggest weight can be our pride. The attitudes and ways of pride put all the burdens on us to ensure the outcome of a matter, proving to be the opposite of godly love, while the rule of pride is contrary to real faith, and the fragile reality of pride insists on life according to its terms and is void of any real hope.

      The question is how do we overcome something that is such a part of how we think, act, and live? The first thing we have to realize is that we cannot give any audience to pride. In other words, we deny it of its right to call the shots in our life, determine our present reality, and become the final judge in our conclusions (Matthew 16:24-25). In order to not give audience to pride, we must ask God to reveal the workings of our pride in our own lives.

      I remember when the Lord began dealing with my pride. Each incident still serves as a definite milepost in my spiritual growth. I have often described His dealings with it in this way. “First he took a small teaspoon to it, making me aware of it. Next He took a shovel to it making me uncomfortable. Finally He took a backhoe to it, which became a grave offense to my actual pride.” At the time I reminded Him that if He went any deeper, there would be nothing left of me. I will never forget His response, “That is the idea.”

      Pride makes life about ME, while genuine faith always makes all matters about the LORD. This idolatrous sin often becomes our point of identity in and to this present world, but as Christians, to know who we are in Christ, that particular point must be uncovered and rooted out. However, we must be aware that it is a most uncomfortable and humbling process, a process that involves a lot of breaking at the different points where pride reigns. And, the tool God initially uses to break and humble His people at their pride are those things that would offend their pride the most, causing them to end up on the wrong side and vulnerable. Such offenses are for the purpose of exposing the sinister ways of pride to each of us. Admittedly, as I became more aware of my pride I became embarrassed about the arrogance of its past workings along with the various cloaks I put on it to make it look wise, honorable, and wonderful. The embarrassment escalated as I realized that others saw through my cloaks and games and that it was I that was operating in a type of denial and delusion.

      I even remember there was a point where I became desperate because my pride seemed to abound in every direction I looked. As I became overwhelmed at my pride, I cried out to the Lord. He simply showed me that I was focused on my pride and not on Him. By changing my focus to look upward instead of within and around me, I would allow His grace to flow through my life and eventually it would end up reigning through righteousness, clearly subduing the influence and power of my pride (Romans 5:20-21).

      Pride is a big subject; therefore, next month I will scripturally show how we are to recognize and confront pride in our life, but meanwhile, if we as believers are going to be effective in running the race, we must be ready to do as Isaiah 1:18 instructs, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” The Lord wants to reason with us about those things that beset us in our walk and growth, hinder us in our race, rob us of an effective testimony, and cause our passion to carry out our commission to wane. He wants to restore us to the excitement of that first love, ignite our flame, and place our feet on the right path.

      If you find yourself struggling over your pride or any other besetting sin in your life, know that the Lord is either knocking on the door of your heart or waiting for you to turn around. All you need to do is by faith open the door or turn around and face Him in true repentance, while asking for mercy. It is from this point that He will prepare a table for you where He will not only reason with you about your besetting sin, but He will reason with you about it in light of His love, mercy, and grace.