There was a time I believed every church member would automatically and wholeheartedly embrace the call to prayer, and that more prayer would always bring more blessings. Today, I have learned otherwise. The culprit that has spoiled my expectations is pride. I call it “the pride divide.” Because the enemy is always counterattacking any renewed emphasis on prayer, the insipid infection of pride can infiltrate the hearts of both those who embrace the initiative and those who do not.
I have learned that when we get serious about prayer, we pick a fight with the devil at a whole new level. Our enemy’s tactics are subtle, serious and often divisive. While the “pride divide” is not inevitable, it is common if individuals become casual about the spiritual battle and lose sight of the highest objective of prayer in the life of the church—which is transforming intimacy with Christ, not a program of prayer activity.
Pride is described as the snare of the devil (1 Timothy 3:7). The snare makes its way into the prayer movement in such subtle fashion it is hardly noticeable until the symptoms show up in serious conflict. Pride is like bad breath—everyone knows you have it but you. This snare needs to be identified, exposed and addressed to prevent its destructive power from undermining God’s plan for a praying church.
Two camps can easily emerge. The first group I call the “resenters,” the second, the “resisters.” No one really plans to join either camp but the signs of subtle pride are obvious once they occur.
Camp One: The Resenters
The “resenters” can surface among those who jump wholeheartedly into the prayer ministry. As they relish their new experiences they share the blessings of prayer with great enthusiasm. Because prayer is something that must be experienced and can seldom be adequately explained, others who aren’t as involved don’t share the excitement. This lack of participation can be interpreted as a lack of spirituality—or a failure to support the leadership of the church. Soon the prayer-energized saints begin to resent the non-participants, feeling they are carnal.
Without great care and sensitivity a pharisaical-like pride can begin to surface in our lives. While the real fruit of prayer should be seen in humility and grace, the snare is always present. This can create an equal and opposite reaction.
Camp Two: The Resisters
Soon, the roots of pride can grow deep in the soil of a different group. I call them the “resisters.” Non-participants begin to dig in their heels and even become antagonistic to the new initiatives. Typically, they are reacting more to the overbearing zeal of the enthusiasts than to the actual call to prayer.
Of course, some Christians do not sense a need for a deeper walk with Christ. Their flesh can push back when they see others growing with a deeper spiritual enthusiasm. Self-satisfaction and an unwillingness to expand their prayer experience can be symptoms of stubborn flesh—but not always.
Deconstructing the Pride Divide
So what is a church to do once the pride divide has reared its ugly head? In my years of prayer leadership as a pastor, the following lessons have helped break down the “pride divide” and keep everyone focused on the right goals.
Honesty is the best policy – Church leaders must acknowledge the divide, or at least the potential for it, and determine to address it openly with understanding and grace. Several times over the years, I have spoken openly from the pulpit on a Sunday morning of this dilemma. I have noted the devil’s desire to undermine prayer and unity in the congregation. Just the act of exposing this danger allows people to talk about it, recognize it and find greater resolve to avoid it. It also serves public notice on the forces of darkness that we are all alert to their schemes.
Understanding goes a long way – It is helpful for the “resenters” to remember that just because someone cannot participate in the prayer programs does not mean they are less committed to seeking the Lord. The “holdouts” may have a variety of legitimate reasons for not participating in the call to united prayer. Simple issues like scheduling conflicts, job responsibilities or health concerns may prevent them from plugging into the programs as they would like. Of course, some hold back due to fear, intimidation or ignorance. Ultimately, it is the Lord’s place, not ours, to judge others’ motives. Not all non-participation is motivated by pride.
As a leader, it is important to remind people that “the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). It is good to explain to the “resenters” that public prayer activity is not the only gauge of spiritual authenticity. “Resisters” need to be reminded that the extreme outward zeal of the prayer adopters often reflects a very sincere and seeking heart, for which we should always be grateful.
Prayer is intimacy, not activity – As prayer ministry develops, it is very easy to get wrapped up in the activity of prayer and lose the focus on the core issue of relationship with God. This is really the contrast we see between the prayer approach of the Pharisees and that of Jesus. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees for reducing prayer to a public display of religious superiority. In contrast, He told His followers to humbly gather in a secret place to experience intimacy with their Father in heaven (Matthew 6:9-13). Similarly, we can fall into the trap of making prayer a “program for God” rather than the pure and simple pursuit of His person and presence.
The program mentality is fertile soil for the weeds of pride. Prayer leaders must emphasize the difference between a prayer program, which is focused on activities and numbers, versus a prayer culture, which is about people praying in a variety of equally legitimate forms.
Only the Holy Spirit can motivate people to pray – Ultimately, only the Holy Spirit can draw people into a deeper commitment to prayer. Any other pressure can become polluted with guilt, intimidation, and carnal obligation. If Jesus wants His church to be a house of prayer, His Spirit is able to make it so. Each of us must find our place in this plan, and graciously pray that others will do the same. This environment of humility and grace makes it difficult for the “pride divide” to thrive for very long.
“Resenters” should regularly place their trust in the Holy Spirit rather than announcements and recruitment efforts to motivate others to pray. This takes the pressure off human efforts to push things forward. Instead, we must trust the Holy Spirit and ask Him to do His work, in His way, to call His church to prayer.
“Resisters” should be encouraged to listen, not to the voice of prayer enthusiasts, but to the voice of the Holy Spirit. That still, small voice is the ultimate invitation to intimacy with God and is fully sufficient to diffuse pride and build a house of prayer.
Grace for the “Pride Divide”
First Peter 5:5-6 reminds us, “All of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”
Real humility works in concert with honesty, understanding, intimacy with Christ, and a focus on the power of the Holy Spirit. This humility invites grace and allows us to express mutual submission. “Resenters” can trust Christ for the grace that will draw others into prayer. “Resisters” can receive the grace that will lead them into prayer. Together, they will be exalted to a higher level of spiritual understanding and intimacy as they learn to seek the Lord on the common ground of humility.
(Adapted from Appendix 2 in the book Old Paths, New Power. For more information on this book, CLICK HERE.)
This article originally appeared here.