It often gets a bit dicey when we congratulate ourselves for having accomplished a spiritual objective. Like two people arguing about which is more humble, the very act of patting ourselves on the back for spiritual achievement is self-contradictory. And yet, it is almost irresistible. And subtle. It is often hard to recognize that ugly grin of pride. But abstract talk is cheap. Here's what happened today:
Pastor Joe was preaching about gratitude. Let's stop right there. Anyone who knows me knows that for the past three years I've been engaged in the spiritual discipline of giving thanks every day, for all things, and in every circumstance. I've learned a lot over the course of these three years, and when Joe announced his theme, the thought ran through my head, "Move over; let the expert take charge here." I dismissed it at once, but the fact that it even popped into my head is indication of the insidious nature of pride. To think that I know more about gratitude than anyone else except perhaps the chronic complainer is ludicrous. And yet the thought was clearly in my mind. It's like, "Where did THAT come from?" I know, of course. As St. Paul says, it rises from the sin that is a part of me.
But recognizing and rejecting that prideful thought wasn't enough for God. He had to hit me with a one-two punch. The Scripture Joe quoted came from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 where Paul says, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." I've done much better than formerly with the "in everything give thanks," and not too badly on the "rejoice always." But sandwiched between those two commands is one I've stumbled over so completely that you could say I'm dead in the water with it.
"Pray without ceasing." I've often talked about the uneasy relationship I've had with prayer. A big part of that is my impatience. I am a lousy deer hunter because I get impatient. If I don't see action in the first half hour, my mind starts racing: "What am I doing out here? I'm wasting my time! I have things to do!" (Fidget, fidget, fidget). Prayer is often the same for me. It is a discipline that requires practice lest it degenerate into a laundry list of requests that gets rather tedious on my end; I can imagine it gets tedious for God, too. And yet we have this command, "Pray without ceasing!" Yes, it is a command, not a suggestion. Just as I learned that I had been sinning by not giving thanks, so I am sinning if I am not in a continual attitude of prayer. I'm not even sure what that means, but Paul minces no words here, and leaves me no wiggle room. It is God's will in Christ Jesus that I pray continually. Failure here is a matter of deliberate disobedience. Which means I had better devote the same kind of attention to prayer as I have given to gratitude these past three years.
I must admit, I don't always like it when God brings me up short, but I am grateful today for this clear word from my Heavenly Father. So here we go, on another adventure; this time it's not only gratitude in all things, but also prayer at all times. It feels like I should be having a ticker-tape parade sendoff. I doubt that will happen except perhaps somewhere in God's realm of the Spirit, the angels are lined up cheering me on as I start down this path. Maybe not, but I like the thought, and it does match up somewhat with Hebrews 11:1. Before you go to sleep tonight, raise a little cheer for me. I'm off and running!