If you’ve ever seen NBC's, The Office, then you know about Michael Scott, the narcissistic Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in Scranton, PA.

The annoyingly comical thing about Michael Scott is how he tries way too hard to make himself look good—usually at the expense of others. In episode one, season one, he actually awards himself a coffee mug that says, “World’s Best Boss.”

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In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus told a story about two men who went to pray. One prayed like Michael Scott (proudly), the other prayed nothing like Michael Scott (humbly). The story was less about the words of the prayers and more about the hearts of the pray-ers.

The first pray-er was a proud-hearted Pharisee, drunk on self with no capacity for humility. As a religious expert, he was good at being good. He would go throughout his day telling himself: “I’m amazing! I must be God’s favorite! Nobody loves God like I do!”

As Jesus points out, this man trusted in himself and treated others with contempt. Naturally, his proud heart poured out as he prayed…

11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

From the Pharisee’s prayer, we see 3 marks of a proud-hearted pray-er (i.e., how to pray like Michael Scott).

1. Proud-hearted Pray-ers are God-Minimizing.

Notice how quickly the prayer shifts away from God and back to the Pharisee. Here are some questions to help us know when we might be praying like this…

When I pray, am I out to make much of God, or are am I more interested in God making much of me? Do I minimize God’s worth by failing to adore Him as merciful and gracious or able and powerful? Do I minimize His faithfulness by demanding He give me more while never thanking Him for what He’s already provided? 

2. Proud-hearted Pray-ers are Self-Referencing.

A proud-hearted person’s favorite subject is self. Enter Pharisee. He mentions God once while referencing himself five times. The only reason God makes the cut is so that He can attend the Pharisee’s personal parade of self-glory.

Here’s the paraphrased prayer: God, I, I, I, I, I am really fantastic. Don’t you just love me. You’re welcome.[1]

Sickening, right? I mean, who really prays like this?

We do. You see, when our prayers are all about us, we are praying like this. They may not come out sounding this narcissistic, but we are still the focus.

More questions… if God answered every prayer I prayed last week, how many other people would benefit? How many… Would begin to follow Jesus? Follow Jesus better? Missionaries be empowered? Marriages be saved? Bills get paid? Prodigals come home? Addictions be broken? Sick find healing? Orphans adopted? Would finally forgive? Or, stay in school?

If the only person who ever benefits from my prayers is me, then I am praying like a proud-hearted Pharisee.

3. Proud-hearted Pray-ers are Others-Condemning.

In verse 9, the Pharisee, lists off the filthiest groups of people he can think of. The tax collector—who as I will share in the next post, actually was a filthy guy—makes that list.

Have you ever considered why those who don’t come to Church, don’t come to church? This is a big reason why. The un-churched, de-churched, sometimes re-churched are often victims of a condemning eye. 

Let’s examine ourselves by asking: who am I proudly condemning that Jesus died to pardon?

Is it… The person who pulls for a different team? The Social Media user who always gets more likes than you? The Dad who passively allows his kids to run buck wild in Target? The single mom who shows up late to Church and can’t get her baby to stop crying during the message? The Republican? The Democrat? The fit person? The overweight person? The addict? The rich? The poor? The LGBTQ? The straight? The black? The white?

Listen, it’s okay to give unequal weight to the ways of certain people. Jesus did that. It’s not okay to give unequal weight to the humanity of certain people. Jesus did not do that.

The main difference between those of us who think we’re better than others and Jesus is the fact that Jesus really is better than the rest of us. Later in Luke’s gospel, the same Jesus who told the story about the Pharisee, would go to die in place of the Pharisee.

So, instead of crushing our proud-hearts with the condemnation we deserve, Jesus humbles our proud-hearts with the commendation that only He deserves (see II Corinthians 5:21).

On the cross, Jesus prayed and died for proud-hearted people.

May this awesome truth humble us all.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” ~Jesus~

 

References:

[1] I am indebted to Mark Driscoll for this paraphrase in his sermon, Works Righteousness vs. Gift Righteousness: https://markdriscoll.org/sermons/works-righteousness-vs-gift-righteousness/

Posted
AuthorJeremy Woods

February 2011, 22 years old, seeping with pride, just getting started in full-time ministry: enter Jeremy Woods.

It was at this point, some eight years ago, that a lively and outspoken mentor of mine showed me something that would shape my life forever. Every day, he woke up early—well before he had to—and spent an hour with God.[1] As basic as it sounds, I found this to be radical.

At that point, I lacked vision and motivation in my personal time with God. When it came to sitting still and being with God, I didn’t really know where to start. Over the course of several months, I vividly recall this mentor describing how the “power of one hour” with God had transformed his life and how it could do the same for me.[2] Slow to respond, the Lord began to soften my heart.

The experience convicted me deeply and challenged me personally. So, I gave it a try. One hour with God, early in the morning. It was brutal. I fell asleep a few times. I struggled with consistency. I almost quit. Only after a grueling, +3-month pruning process, did the habit begin to stick. At that point, a Rule of Life was slowly taking shape. The word “rule” actually comes from the Greek word for trellis—a tool that enables a grapevine to get off the ground and grow upward, becoming more fruitful and productive. In the same way, a Rule of Life is a trellis that helps us abide in Christ and become more fruitful. It is an intentional, conscious plan to keep God at the center of everything we do.[3]

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Over the past eight years, my Rule of Life has shaped and shifted, but it has always involved a personal time with God, usually in the mornings. Simply put, this is how I seek to enjoy God each day. Never am I more prepared to face the day than when I get this time with the Lord. Never am I less prepared than when I don't.

Around four years ago, I landed on a Rule of Life concept, which God has since used as the penultimate driver behind four years of personal sanctification. I call it the 4x15 Model.

The “4” stands for 4 habits of grace that help my heart and mind feast on the gospel each day.

The “15” stands for the number of minutes I try and devote to each habit, each day. This doesn’t have to be 15. It can also be 10, 8, or even 5 minutes depending on your schedule / capacity.

I like to think of the model like a sturdy chair held up by four strong legs. Much like each leg is needed in order for the chair to support weight, each habit of grace is needed for my soul to be upheld in the gospel. What I so love about the model is how flexible it is. You can do it in 20 minutes (4x5), 32 minutes (4x8), 40 minutes (4x10), or even 60 minutes (4x15).

If you’ve never developed a personal Rule of Life but are ready to get started, you may want to aim for the 20 (4x5) or 32 (4x8) minute models. That way you can acclimate. Big change starts with small steps. Be encouraged.

Regardless of what time-frame works best for you, let me share how the model works. The pattern listed below is based around 1 hour divided into 4, 15-minute segments. But again, the model is flexible in both time frames and flow. The key is not so much that you have a rigid flow as much as it is that you include all four habits.

I have come to prefer the following flow with an hour as the ideal…

15 Minutes of Devotional Intake (Grace Habit #1):

Those who require room for creativity and/or spontaneity will find this habit deeply refreshing. That’s because there’s a lot of freedom here. Over the years, I’ve done several things with this time. For example, you can listen to a helpful podcast, read books that increase affection for God, warm your heart with Christ-exalting music or just sit still and enjoy silence.

15 Minutes of Bible Reading / Listening (Grace Habit #2):

Whereas the devotional intake portion leaves room for freedom, a focused plan is your ally on this habit. With a plan in place, you’ll find it more practical to read the Bible from cover to cover or get the most out of a particular book / section. For that reason, I encourage you to identify a Bible reading plan that will give you daily direction.

The Bible App by YouVersion is a great place to look if you’re searching for reading plan options. YouVersion offers whole Bible, partial Bible and topical reading plans. I’m currently working through a partial Bible plan on YouVersion called F260. Also, if you would like to have the Bible read over you, the Dwell App is a rich resource worth trying. Both apps are free.

15 Minutes of Bible Memorization (Grace Habit #3):

I’m a believing forgetter. If I don’t take the time to actually meditate on what the Lord is teaching me, it tends to go in one ear and right out the other. Just being real, I don’t recall what I read in the Bible a week ago. But I do recall what I memorized (Psalm 101:1-2).

King David said that one of the primary ways he safeguarded his soul from sin was by storing up God’s Word in his heart. Moreover, when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he overcame the devil’s lies by quoting Scripture.[4] If David, even Jesus, needed God’s Word in their hearts to overcome sin, you and I do too. I’ve heard it said before that when life cuts us, we ought to bleed God’s Word. That’s only possible insomuch as we’ve daily stored it away in our hearts through this thoughtful habit of grace. I simply couldn't do without it.

15 Minutes of Prayer (Grace Habit #4)

When it comes to listening, my need for grace is glaring. Those close to me will tell you that I’m not a great listener. When I’m in the flesh, I may get about 1/3 of the way into a conversation before mentally moving on, forming my own opinions or skipping ahead to the point. If you’re a type A, choleric, you might be able to relate…

Yes, the Lord is pruning me.

Yes, I covet your prayers.

Point being, my clumsy listening skills make prayer especially difficult, but all the more needful. Most often, we view prayer as more about God listening to us than us listening to God. The danger here is that of a largely self-centered posture. Thus, why I prefer to place prayer at the end of the model. I've noticed that when I expect God to listen to me before I listen to Him, I trend toward mindless, me-first prayers. But if I listen to God before expecting Him to listen to me, then my prayers inch their way closer to God’s heart and gospel. The first three habits are how we listen first. The fourth habit is how we respond through faith. In this way, we place God’s Word and wisdom above that of our own.

*Two disclaimers:

1. This model is a way, not the way. You may have already settled on a Rule of Life that helps you keep God at the center of your thoughts, motives, words and actions. If so, praise God! I would love to hear more about it. If nothing else, just know that this model has been that for me, which is why I wanted to share it with you.

2. I don’t spend intentional time with God every day like I should. I know what you’re thinking: “But you’re a pastor. Don’t you get paid to pray and read your Bible?” Well, yeah, something like that. But more to the point: I don’t share this because I’m batting 1000, I share it because time with the Lord is essential. Though we come up with many other reasons for not putting God and His Word first, one of the more common reasons I hear is this: “I don’t know where to start.”[5]

I hope and pray that this content can help you get started.

If you’re full of questions, ask away!

For God's Glory,

JW

Footnotes.

[1] Thank you, Stuart Henslee!

[2] I borrowed this wording from Ronnie Floyd in his book, “10 Things Every Minister Needs to Know.”

[3] I credit Pete Scazzero for introducing me to the idea of a Rule of Life in his book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.”

[4] Psalm 119:11, Matthew 4:1-11

[5] Others may include… I don’t understand what I read; I'm way too busy; Fortnite is calling; or I'm just really into Netflix right now.

 

Posted
AuthorJeremy Woods

Something I go back to often is my own daily need to “swim in the gospel.” The idea (not original with me) is simple: much like there are depths of the ocean that are impossible to fully plumb, so are the depths of God’s love, acceptance, and plan for us in Christ impossible to fully grasp.

As much as we think we may comprehend God’s free gift of grace, we could never find the bottom. God’s love toward us in Christ is deeper than the Mariana Trench, higher than Mt. Everest and more endless than the sands of every seashore.

Knowing this, Paul prayed fervently that believers in Ephesus “may have the strength to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth,” of “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” In this robust prayer, Paul makes it clear that the very strength that brings the all-surpassing love of God home in our hearts are the truths of the gospel (Ephesians 3:14-21).

As Tim Keller puts it, the gospel is not merely the ABC’s of the Christian life, it is the A-Z of the Christian life. It is not just how we start, it’s also how we continue. The same gospel that saves us is the same gospel that changes us. Much like a fish was created to swim freely in water, you and I were created to swim freely in the grace and acceptance of God provided us in the gospel. However, because of our brokenness, we are quick to jump out of the pool.

A great way to keep swimming, and certainly go deeper, is by praying what JD Greear refers to as “the gospel prayer.”[1] The aim of the prayer is to saturate our heart and mind in the paradigms of the gospel by rehearsing its truths each day

Before I give you the gospel prayer, allow me to share how God has used it in my own life. At the beginning of this past week, I set a lunch-time reminder to pause what I’m doing for five minutes and say the gospel prayer out loud each day. In doing so, I seek to bring the four gospel-aspects of the prayer to bear on my emotions and circumstances. I actually paused writing this so I could.

Through that time, the Lord moved me…

… to confess and repent of sinful moments when I’ve attempted to earn, replace and supplement His approval with lesser loves.

… to invite blessing over people who have inured me.

… to pray boldly for salvation and restored marriages.

… to be still and let go of the pressure to be everywhere for all, know it all, and fix it all.

… to sing the promises of God out loud (at ease, no one else was around).

Ultimately, the prayer has increased my ability to “swim in the gospel.”

I believe it can increase yours as well.

So, here it is, in four parts…

In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.

Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy.

As You have been to me, so I will be to others.

As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.

 

[1] The gospel prayer is actually the outline for Greear’s tremendously helpful book, “Gospel.” You can get it here: https://www.amazon.com/Gospel-Recovering-Power-Christianity-Revolutionary

 

Posted
AuthorJeremy Woods