Tag Archives: humility

When praying for someone is an act of aggression

pharisee and tax collector“I’ll be praying that God show you the error of your ways.”

It should be nice to have someone say that they’ll pray for you, right? Yet look at the above statement. There’s something about it that smacks of the Pharisee’s prayer in Luke 18, the pious superiority revealing itself in HolySpeak.

The “loving” statement above says that we have a difference of opinion, but my opinion is God’s opinion. It’s like the old joke about the two musicians arguing about how to perform a Bach concerto. Finally one says, “Listen, you keep playing it your way. I’ll keep playing it Bach’s way.”

Condescension. “Someday you’ll see how wrong you were.” Smug superiority. “Yes, I used to believe that way, until I really studied these passages.”

Here’s a news flash: You’re wrong.

Here’s another: I’m wrong.

Here’s a whole string of them: N.T. Wright is wrong. The Pope is wrong. Your preacher is wrong. That guy who is on every workshop is wrong.

We’re all wrong about something. And we need to act like we’re aware of that.


Image courtesy Sweet Publishing

Knowledge that puffs up

proudI’ve shared with some friends a concern I have about attitudes I see in our churches. Worse, these are attitudes that I see in me.

On the one hand, there are areas in which I’ve become uncomfortable with traditional interpretations and longstanding traditions. I’ve come to see things in a different way. If I’m not comfortable, I communicate those things poorly, coming across as: “If you were truly enlightened, you would understand this issue as I do.”

In other areas, I play the exact opposite role. I grow frustrated with those who seem more interested in criticizing and rejecting than they are in actually evaluating the status quo. I look on in dismay as they seem to dismiss God’s Word in an attempt to conform to culture. On my worst days, I communicate the idea that I stand for truth while they are promoting heresy.

If I’m not careful, in each case I put the emphasis on knowledge, rather than on love. Which is something that is directly addressed in the New Testament:

“We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.”

(1 Corinthians 8:1–2)

There is no need to stand idly by while the church drifts away from what is most pleasing to God. Nor is there an obligation to kowtow to legalism in order to please the overly sensitive. However, there is a great need for humility, for entering every discussion with the recognition that we may be mistaken in some way.

I had a roommate in college that I only shared a room with for one semester. One Sunday, the speaker at church made a reference to unwritten creeds. My roommate was reflecting on that idea later, and he said, “Our only creed is the Bible. When we need to know something, we consult it. We’re always going to find the same thing, but we consult it anyway.” And that last line states the problem well.

One of our teammates in Argentina described what he had found upon visiting his supporting church while home on furlough. They had a new preacher, a man who had been blessed to learn everything learnable during his 35-year lifetime. The man had written a book on biblical interpretation. My teammate asked him if there was any chance that he was wrong about anything in that book. When the man replied that there was no such chance, my teammate said, “Then there’s no point in our discussing the Bible.”

When we enter a discussion with our minds made up, then it can hardly be called a discussion. When we think that truth begins and ends with us, then we will spread division everywhere we go. When we value our knowledge above our love for others, then that knowledge will never equal truth.

I shared the following short prayer with those friends on Facebook:

Father, help me to value love over knowledge! And especially help me to love those who know more than I do.

photo by David Schauer on FreeImages.com

It’s hard not to be a jerk

It’s hard not to be a jerk. Harder for some of us than others. We go through life, hopefully growing in knowledge and understanding. As we do, we want to enlighten others around us with our new insights. And we often do it in the wrong way.

It happens to people when they become Christians. Many overwhelm friends and families, expecting them to share the same enthusiasm for their new-found beliefs. It happens when people join multi-level marketing networks. Or when they find a diet that works for them.

It happens as our religious views change over time. We often look at others a bit condescendingly, expecting them to eventually arrive at the “better place” we find ourselves in. Or we study a certain view, reject it, then want to help those who accept it to see the error of their ways.

It can be done well. I’m not good at it. I’m better at being a jerk. I like playing with words and phrases, and I can use that in belittling ways. I’m trying to do better, but it’s a weakness of mine.

I’ll try harder. I want to share the things I’ve come to believe, convictions I’ve come to hold, while having enough humility to recognize that I could be mistaken. Along the way, sometimes I’ll be a jerk. But I’m trying not to be.

photo by Marijke Baan

Do you speak Greek?

I was reminded again yesterday as to how we often think of speaking a foreign language in binary terms. That is, you speak Greek or you don’t. You know Russian or you don’t.

It’s funny that we do that, because any of us who have taken a year or two of a foreign language knows that language ability is a sliding scale, not a yes/no question. It’s not whether or not I speak German, but how well. Being able to say “Nein” doesn’t qualify me as a German speaker.

Years ago, the singing group Acappella wanted to bring out an album in Spanish. They got someone who “knows Spanish” to translate their songs. Unfortunately, this person apparently didn’t know enough to admit that they didn’t know enough, and the translations are abysmal. At least two of the songs have serious mistakes in the title, one of them containing a word which doesn’t even exist in Spanish! It’s really unfortunate, because the singers themselves did an excellent job with the pronunciation.

I guess the learning of just about anything is that way. Is there a subject where you can say that you have learned it completely? In terms of language, there are still nuances of English that surprise me, aspects of the grammar that native speakers regularly get wrong.

I should draw some deep philosophical point at this time, but I really don’t have one. For me personally, these things remind me that I need to learn humility. And I need to have the wisdom to not present myself as an expert when I’m not one.

Any thoughts?

When original isn’t good

Photo by Ove Tøpfer; from Stock Xchange

I got a message on Facebook the other day, asking me to look at some Bible studies someone had prepared concerning Jesus’ return. This person told me: “I show things completely differently and in a different way than you have seen before…”

When I hear something like that, little alarms go off in my head. When it comes to Bible study, originality is not a good thing. When I reach a conclusion that I’ve never heard before, I try to find someone else who has reached that same conclusion in the past. Failing that, I show my tentative interpretation to others (sometimes here in this blog), asking them to show me where I’m wrong.

The fact is, it’s hard for me to believe that so many godly people could have studied God’s Word for years without someone arriving at the right interpretation. If I come up with a truly original interpretation, odds are that I’m truly wrong.

When it comes to Bible study, originality is not a good thing.