Pride, Punishment and Futile Prayers

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.'”

James 4:6 NIV

It’s a good thing I am not God.  If it were up to me to judge the world we would all be spending eternity in the fiery south if you know what I mean.  I’ve been called “judgemental” a few times in my life and while I have taken offense to hearing this, I’m realizing that label is a correct one.  Thankfully, with the awareness and confession, it’s not a label that I will keep.

I have sinned against many people in my life.  Sometimes it’s been accidental.  Often times, out of spite, it’s been completely intentional.  Yet somehow, God has extended more grace than I ever deserve.  I’ve sinned against God more times than I can count, often times even praying belligerent prayers.  Yet God still takes care of me, provides for me and guides me, no matter what I mistake I make.  I, on the other hand, have completely cut certain people out of my life all while striving to live “Christ like.”  Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

Recently I had a disagreement with someone I considered to be one of my best friends.  Things said to me cut deep.  I spent the day alone crying and stewing over what was said.  It also emotionally threw me back to a time when I endure a lot of verbal abuse.  A time I don’t like remembering or going back to.  In this recent disagreement I set a boundary asking to not be spoken to in such a manner.  However, the next message I received was an ongoing response of cuss words and accusations.  Rather than continue to argue I chose not to respond at all. A mature choice, right? I also chose to block this person from communicating with me ever again.  I had resonated in my heart that I was done with this person and the friendship.

Since that time, my path has crossed this person’s path a handful of times.  Each time I have done an excellent job at completely ignoring their existence.  To be honest, I have actually been proud of this behavior.  Why?  Because in my past I was the doormat type who would allow people to be verbally aggressive to me and actually believe their angry words were my fault.  I spent too many years allowing others’ opinions to define my character.  The past four years I have flipped this unhealthy behavior but gone to the opposite extreme.  I’ve confused boundary setting with total disconnection.  This too, is an unhealthy way to handle conflict and definitely does not build or maintain relationships.

Last Sunday, at the new to me church I’ve recently joined, the minister gave a calling to pray for others to know Christ’s love and shepherding.  He asked us to think of one person we could commit to praying for daily.  Guess who’s name immediately popped into my head.  I knew it was from God but I mentally argued and literally asked God to send me a new name.  He of course, is far more stubborn than I could ever be and I resonated with the fact that He was still calling me to pray for this friend.  I reluctantly agreed.  However when Monday morning hit, my heart was almost too hardened to pray.  In fact, I expressed great impatience with God’s timing as I have prayed for this person for several years.  I did soften and pray. I stuck to my commitment and have prayed for this person every day, with a stubborn, stony heart. I also ignored this person again when our paths crossed just a few days ago.

Yesterday I felt a stirring in my spirit that I was not walking in love or acting Christ like. I finally broke down and confessed this to two friends asking for help in processing the right way to handle this situation.  Here’s what I’ve learned.

As painful as this disagreement and separation of friendship has been I have learned that I am full of pride.  My choice to block this person, to completely ignore them when I have run into them, even some of the prayers I have prayed for them have all been done from a heart filled with pride and pain.  You know how God handled me during my own sinful time this month?  With more grace and blessing than I could ever deserve. I’ve been a jerk and God has continued to lavish His love and provision over me and my family.  If the real Judge of the world chooses to love me in spite of my bratty behavior, why do I struggle with choosing to love others in spite of theirs?  If Jesus chooses to pursue me even when I am acting my worst, why do I just give up on someone when he or she shows me their worst behavior?

The truth is, in my own human strength there are people I do NOT want to love.  They are toxic, untruthful, vengeful, and abusive.  Who wants to love any of those qualities, right?  Surely God doesn’t love those qualities.  But God DOES love the person/people who display these behaviors. God also calls us to love everyone, in spite of their behaviors.

There’s another person I don’t always choose to love.  She’s impatient, undisciplined, unkind and at times, hateful at others.  She cusses and thinks really mean thoughts when she’s mad.  Her temper has embarrassed her more times than she can count.  She doesn’t always keep her word. She can hold a grudge for a decade or longer.  Her list of faults is endless really.  But God-He loves this woman more than she could ever comprehend.  Which means, I need to love her too.  That woman, is me.  I even judge myself.  I went from refusing to let others judge me to judging myself.  I can be really harsh on me too!

Pride and punishment do not come from God.  Yes, the Old Testament is full of stories of God wiping out entire nations with leprosy, plagues, famines and wars.  Yes, the New Testament tells us we will all face judgement day. However, the New Testament also reminds us of what Jesus did on the cross.  Scripture depicts exactly how Jesus handled toxic behaviors and personal attacks.  He took it and He prayed for his offenders.  He did not walk in pride nor did He seek out punishment for His accusers.  In fact, Luke 23:34 tells us that while Jesus was hanging on the cross, nearing death, He prayed for those who were screaming “CRUCIFY HIM”, for those who spat on Him and beat Him.  He prayed “Father for give them for they know not what they do” as people were casting lots for His clothing.  God calls us to do the same thing, to pray and forgive those who have offended us.

The advice my two friends I spoke with yesterday and today, gave me included this: Instead of blocking someone, pray and ask God to give you eyes to see them the way He sees them and a heart to love them the way Jesus loves you and me.  They both also talked about forgiving this friend and asking myself how would Jesus handle this situation. If you’re going through something similar, I want to encourage you to study what God’s word says about pride, recognize what is and isn’t Christ like and ask the Lord to remove your heart of stone, replacing it with a heart of flesh.  Most importantly, confess your own sins, be reminded of God’s grace and forgiveness extended to you and always choose to walk in love.  One last thing, just this morning I confessed to the Lord there are people in my life that I want to hate (the friend described in this post is not one of them) especially if hating meant they would change their toxic behavior.  God answered me with this: Hate is not what changes the world.  Love and intentionally choosing to love those who are hardest to love is what brings about the change I desire, within them and within me.

Don’t choose pride.  Never choose punishment. If you do, like I have, expect your prayers to be futile.  Instead, choose love and choose forgiveness.  Then watch how effective your prayers will be!

Can We Change God’s Mind?

“But Moses objected. ‘What will the Egyptians think when they hear about it?’ he asked the Lord…”

Numbers 14:13a

I’m currently on my second round of reading through the Bible in its entirety.  Right now I am in the middle of the book of Numbers.  It’s not one of my favorite books to read.  I find all the census stuff and statistical information to be boring.  But when I start reading about Moses and the Israelites, God gets my attention.  Chapter 14 is a prime example.

In this chapter, the Israelites are complaining about God’s way of rescuing them.  In fact, they don’t feel rescued at all.  They not only grumble, but they question if God is even helping them.  The chapter begins with the Israelites saying, “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!…Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle?…” (Verses2b-3a)  This grumbling makes God’s anger boil.  Enter Joshua and Caleb to intervene by reminding them of what the Promised Land looked like.  The Israelites want nothing to do with their encouragement.   Instead, they actually discuss stoning Joshua and Caleb.  Now, God is enraged.  He appears before all of them but He speaks only to Moses.  This is where the passage gets interesting.

God is so fed up with the Israelites doubting Him that He declares He will disown them.  He is ready to wipe them out with a plague and make a new nation “greater and mightier than they are!” (verse 12)  But Moses objects.  Now if you’re familiar with Moses, then you’re probably aware He questioned God’s calling for Him to even lead the Israelites.  He ended up with Aaron as a helper because He doubted God’s ability to make Him an effective leader.  Now He is in the wilderness with this same group, they’re mad and grumbling, ready to stone Joshua and Caleb.  God is enraged and Moses is caught in the middle.  Suddenly he gets a bout of courage and objects, TO GOD!  Here’s a paraphrased version of how Moses responds to God (and by paraphrase I mean my own modern day terminology of Moses’ rebuttal to God’s wrath.)

Moses musters up courage and responds to God with,

“Dude listen-I get it.  You did all these amazing acts of rescuing them from slavery, providing for them every step of the way and defeating every enemy they crossed paths with.  I mean You’ve literally made it rain with bread (manna) and foul (quail) just to prove Your power in their lives and again, to shut them up from all their whining.

“Here we are again dealing with their doubts, lack of faith and grumbling.  But the Egyptians are still around.  I’m just curious, and I mean no disrepect in asking this question, what do you think the Egyptians would say if You wiped out the Israelites now, here, in this wilderness?  What message would this send Your enemy?  They know the power You displayed rescuing Your people from their land.  They know You’ve appeared to us face to face and that it’s Your cloud that hovers over us.  They know that You go before us by day and by night.  If You destroy Your people now, Your enemy will say, “The Lord was not able to bring them into the land He swore to give them, so He killed them in the wilderness.” (Verse 16.)

Moses continues by asking God  to prove His power once again and even reminds Him of His own words that He is a God “slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion…” (verse 18.)  God responds by agreeing to pardon the Israelites as Moses requests, but denying all who have grumbled against the Lord access to the Promised Land.  Their death sentence is secured right in that wilderness.

If you read this passage at face value, it could be interpreted as Moses changing God’s mind.  In fact, it’s almost as if God is being irrational and Moses steps in and says, “Ok God, before You bring the plague, let’s take a deep breath and see if there’s another solution that won’t ruin Your reputation with the enemy.”  Seriously, it almost looks like God is flying off the handle and Moses is like, “Calm down! Let’s rethink this.” Did Moses actually change God’s mind?  Can you or I change God’s mind?  The answer is, ABSOLUTELY NOT!

God is not a being who can be reasoned with or who’s mind can be changed.  God is also not a being who gets irrational.  God is God.  He is omnipotent and omnipresent.  He always was and He always will be.  He ordained everything that has happened and will happen throughout the entire world’s existence. He is the Master of the Universe.  Therefore, nothing that happens, not even an entire nation grumbling against Him, surprises Him.  Before God even ordained Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, God knew most of them would be faithless and never see the Promised Land.  But He chose to rescue them anyway. I don’t believe He ever intended on destroying them with the plague he threatened either.  I believe God said what He said to Moses in chapter 14 to test Moses’ character and to sharpen his leadership skills.  God already knew how Moses would respond to His wrath against the Israelites.  He knew yet He made the threat anyway.  He did so, giving Moses the opportunity to intervene for the people God called him to lead.  I also think God did this to remind Moses of the kind of Power God really has and that His word is not void.  God always keeps His word.

Numbers chapter 14 is a great reminder of God’s faithfulness and His ability to test our character.  If your character is being tested, God is simply sharpening you for the position He’s called you into.  If His direction or response seems irrational, step up and speak out His own word to remind yourself that He is in control, He is all powerful and His word is never void.  Don’t try to change God’s mind.  If you or a loved one is messing up, do intervene, with prayer, concession and confession.  Like Moses, your confession and intercession could be the game changer in their life or your own.