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Self-esteem vs. Christ-esteem

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     One of the little responsibilities that goes along with being a pastor is that of occasionally giving a reference for someone who is applying for a job or a school.  I was filling out a reference form one day when I came across a question that asked me to assess the person’s “self-esteem”.  I found myself in a dilemma.  If I rated him low in self-esteem, the school would have interpreted it to mean that he was unconfident and self-pitying (which he isn’t).  But if I rated him high in self-esteem, I would have also been saying something untrue, since I associate self-esteem with pride, and I consider this person to be truly humble and Godly.  I eventually decided to just leave that line blank.

     I know that it is possible to define self-esteem in such a way that it fits Biblical teaching.  Our goal is to judge ourselves according to God’s view of us, not the world’s or our own.  Paul tells us, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:3).  God sees believers as His dearly loved children, as those created in His image, bought with the blood of His Son, gifted by His Holy Spirit, and being re-created into His Son’s image.  We not only should but must “esteem” or honor the image and gifts of our Lord that are present in our lives.  But that honor is really directed towards the Lord, because “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  (Ephesians 2:10).  As a matter of fact, Paul tells us that we should become so focused upon Christ and upon being like Him, that we lose our old worldly identity – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). 

     The problem is that the world has set the definition for the term “self-esteem”, and to them it doesn’t have anything to do with honoring God’s work of redemption and re-creation in our lives.  What they really mean is “self-glorification”, or, in its worst forms, “self-deification”.  I have sat through anti-drug, self-esteem-based programs where kids are told to stay away from drugs because they are so special, too special to get involved with drugs.  This isn’t obedience to God; it’s obedience for self-interest.  When the child becomes convinced that disobedience (drugs, fornication, violence) is more to their advantage (and to their glorification in the eyes of their peers), they will chuck the “just say no” approach.  The Bible teaches that our lives are worthless without the work of God’s grace in us – “There is no one righteous, not even one…no one seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless.”  There is no real “esteem” to your life apart from Christ.  

     If self-esteem isn’t focused upon Christ, then it is a lie; it’s idolatry, the worship of self.  The Bible directs us away from the narcissistic tendencies of our sinful nature.  Paul says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3).  We should be focused upon the Lord and the needs of others, to the point where we begin to forget about ourselves.  Here is one of my favorite quotes from C. S. Lewis:  “The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object.  It is better to forget about yourself altogether…”  He goes on later to say that a truly humble person isn’t one who is always thinking lowly thoughts about himself; it is the person who doesn’t think about himself at all.  Our goal in life isn’t self-esteem – it is Christ-esteem!

in Prayer

Ask the Pastor - Prayer: Does it Change God's Will?

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Senior Pastor Oakwood Presbyterian Church

QUESTION: ““Can my prayers change God’s plan for history?”

ANSWER: First, let me ask this question:  Would you really want your prayers to be able to alter the complex course of human history?  Wouldn’t that be far worse than letting a two-year old toddler drive your car on I-95?  What an audacious request for me to make – to be able to have God direct the affairs of my life and every other life connected to mine according to my extremely limited and skewed perspective!  It reminds me of a prominent television evangelist who many years ago claimed that it was his prayers that diverted a hurricane that was bearing down upon his ministry headquarters.  If his prayers were the ultimate factor in determining the path of that storm, then what about the prayers of those people whose homes and towns were destroyed farther up the coast? 

     We need to be content to trust in the sovereign, wise plan for every detail of history that has been conceived in the throne room of heaven, from the Lord’s vantage point.  It is even easier to trust in that complex plan that weaves the lives of all people into a  tapestry when we remind ourselves that there is a driving purpose to His plan - that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

     I know this only begs another important question – if our prayers don’t change the events of our lives, then why should we pray?  “Because God commands it” is one answer, but it isn’t a very satisfying one.  God wouldn’t command us to do something with no purpose.

     Another answer sometimes given is that, even though prayer doesn’t change things, it does change us.  And that is very true, and very important to understand.  Prayer is, by necessity, an act of faith and trust.  Prayer isn’t a method to obtain what you want; it is communication upon which a personal relationship with the Lord is based.  It is an acknowledgment that you depend upon the Lord completely, and that you trust in Him to guide, protect, and provide in your life.  If there is no prayer in your life, then you are living in the flesh, trusting in yourself and your own resources.  Prayer trains you to be humble and to rely upon the Lord.

     But there’s still something unsatisfying about that answer.  It helps to understand that prayer is helpful because it changes us, trains us to live by faith.  But if that’s all prayer is, isn’t that a lot like the boot-camp sergeant who makes the recruits dig a deep hole, only to tell them to fill it in again when they’re finished?  Yes, it builds character, but it has no purpose to the rest of the world, no benefit to anyone else. 

     Is that the case with prayer?  I think not.  Here we have to take a peek into the mysterious things that lie beyond the puny intellectual abilities of sinners like you and me.  We can’t comprehend how it is true, but the Bible declares that, in some way, God is able to incorporate our freely determined choices and actions into His perfect plans. 

     That’s why God is able to incorporate into His plan even the sinful actions of men, while not being the cause of their sin.  For example, in Acts 2, Peter describes the crucifixion of Christ in this way:  “This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”  God planned every detail of Christ’s crucifixion, and that plan included the sinful actions of the Jewish leaders.  And yet these sinners were fully responsible and accountable for their sins.  We cannot comprehend it, but we accept it to be true.

     In a similar way, God’s sovereign plan also includes our prayers.  One of my favorite quotes on prayer comes from one of my professors in seminary – he said, “God never sets about to do anything in this world without first moving His people to pray for it.”  God doesn’t need my prayers to accomplish His will, but He honors me with the privilege of participating in the process.  I know it doesn’t answer all the questions, but it is important to recognize that God’s work is almost always preceded by the prayers of His people.  That gives me a sense of urgency in regard to my prayer life – He will use my prayers as an integral, even necessary component of His plan for the world.  It also shows the foolishness of expecting to see God’s work in my life or in the lives of others if I’m not praying for it to happen!

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