Change the Way You Pray: From Self-Improvement to Kingdom-Advancement

Hello, friend! Today, I’ve got another guest post from a fellow blogger called CoCo. I guest posted on her blog back in February, and now she has a special post for you guys on mine! Want to hear a great message about Christian self-improvement? Well, keep reading!

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I’m a perfectionist. I’m also an overachiever. Add in a tendency to strive for self-righteousness, and you get a flailing, floundering mess.

I have prayed so many prayers that God would help me to live a godly life in order to be pleasing to Him, and there’s nothing wrong with those prayers. In fact, God desires for us to pray in that way to ask for His help. It puts a smile on His face when we ask to be made like Jesus.

However, I’ve come to realize that my motivation for praying that way is often very distorted. I often make it about me, and my goodness, and what I’m doing for the Kingdom of God. 

I ask that I would be seen for my good deeds–a distortion of the biblical idea that we are the light of the world. I ask that I would be “blessed”–the false idea that the gospel is for our own prosperity. I ask that those around me would know that I am a Christian–for selfish, holier-than-thou reasons. 

I may be praying pretty words and even biblical prayers, but if my heart isn’t in it for the right reasons, then I’m no better than the arrogant Pharisee we read about in Luke 18:10-14 (ESV):

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:10-14 (ESV)

Self-Improvement Vs. Kingdom-Advancement

God has brought to my attention that there is a significant difference between self-improvement and Kingdom-advancement.

Self-improvement should never be our end goal. Why? Because our lives start and end with the gospel, and the Bible makes it very clear that we are saved by grace and grace alone. We play no part in our salvation beyond accepting it as a free gift. Our Christian works and reputation add nothing to our salvation. (Of course, faith without works is also dead, but that’s a topic for another article).

Consider these words from Galatians 3:2-3– 

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Galatians 3:2-3

No human attempt at righteousness is ever going to succeed apart from the grace of God. So why do we still strive to be perfect? Why do we still find ourselves trying to be holy on our own? 

It’s time to give it up.

It’s time to let it go.

It’s time to realize that our good works do not make us good people, just the same as our mistakes do not make us bad people.

If you are in Christ, you are a sinner made saint. You have a new identity–one that you don’t have to work to maintain through fruitless efforts of self-improvement.

As Christians, we shouldn’t pray self-improvement prayers as much as we should pray Kingdom-advancement prayers. A Kingdom-advancement prayer is a prayer of surrender that asks for God’s will over our own. It holds the idea that we are broken vessels, while God is the Healer–we are the clay while God is the Potter–we are the branches while God is the Vine. Self-improvement prayers ask for our own kingdom, while Kingdom-advancement prayers ask that God’s Kingdom come.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

2 Corinthians 4:7

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

Don’t Seek Glory–Seek Surrender

Do we desire to be a light for God? We should change our prayers from “may they see my good deeds,” to “may they see Christ in me and may God be glorified.” It isn’t about our reputation; it’s about God’s.

We shouldn’t pray for recognition or honor, but instead for humility enough to redirect all the glory back to God. His Word says that, in the end, it is the last who shall be first. 

We shouldn’t pray for others in order to boast about our godliness or because “I’m praying for you” is a nice thing to say. We should pray for them because we love people and desire to see God work in their lives. Prayer is not only public, it is also private.

So much changes when we shift from self-improvement legalism to kingdom-minded surrender in our prayer lives. That perspective takes the pressure off of us to be good and instead gives God room to work through us. Because of grace, life suddenly isn’t about being good as much as it is about being sanctified. 

Out of Our Hands and Into His

Since the Bible tells us that we are God’s stewards, we might be tempted to think that we hold all these resources in our hands and it’s up to us to spend them wisely in order to please God. And while that’s true in some ways (like in the parable of the talents), we must also keep in mind that our very lives belong to God–meaning that we ourselves are among His resources. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and tells the sun when to rise, but His word says that even our bodies aren’t our own because we were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). He will use us if we surrender to Him. Being a good steward starts with realizing that God is in control, and we are not.

The Church needs to stop using God as a catalyst for self-improvement and instead let God use us to bring glory to His name. God gives us resources so that we may advance His Kingdom, not give His Kingdom so that we may advance our resources. 

As I’ve discovered in my own life, self-improvement and the need to be good can actually become a god if we aren’t careful. Resources are helpful, but when we are seeking them first they are no longer assets, but hindrances. 

Mercy Over Sacrifice

In the end, it won’t be about what we’ve done: the tithes and offerings that we gave, the good deeds we performed, or the Instagram captions we wrote filled with “Christianese” words. It won’t be about our friendly smiles or our modest outfits. 

It will be about what God did: redeemed sinners with His blood, performed miracles through the least of these, and changed lives for no reason other than His love for His children.

The least of these don’t need to be good enough for God; God needs to be good enough in the minds of the least of these.

Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’

Matthew 9:13

That is what David meant in the Psalms when He said:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17

I have had to learn that it’s okay to be broken. In fact, we are all broken, whether we admit it or not. But the ones who do admit it are the ones who find true restoration. The ones who ignore their brokenness and go on living in self-righteousness are the ones who are “well” and “in no need of a doctor,” as Jesus explains in Matthew 9:12. They continue to strive for self-improvement and miss the fact that freedom is found in surrender. 

Not only is it okay to be broken, it is necessary to be broken. 

Not only is it okay to not be enough, it is necessary to not be enough.

Those who are “well” get stuck in self-improvement and drown because of all the pressure. 

But those who recognize that they are broken and in need of a Savior will be passed from death to life and will fly on wings like eagles.

We can either continue to build our houses in vain, or we can allow the Lord to build them for us. The choice is ours to make.

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CoCo Ashley is a young writer devoted to using her words for the glory of God. She has been writing for as long as she can remember and dreams of one day publishing both fiction and nonfiction. When she isn’t writing, you can usually find her talking with her friends, reading a book, or simply being an introvert with music in her headphones. Connect with her on her blog at cocoschitchat.com.

Holding On Through Times of Suffering

Hey there! Welcome back to my blog. Today, I’ve got a special guest post from one of my closest friends, Luella. In this article, she will break down how suffering is ultimately for our benefit and how we should respond, while drawing examples from a special person’s life. Who is that person? Well, I’m not the one writing today, so don’t look at me, just keep reading!

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When was the last time that you were in a place of hardship or suffering?

The past week, month, or even a few years?

There was a clockmaker who was quite familiar with suffering and her name was Corrie ten Boom. If you don’t know who she is, she was a Dutch woman who was born on April 15, 1892 and endured hardships she faced during both World War I and World War II.

Now, Corrie was a simple and quite frankly, ordinary Dutch woman whose days were not spent doing very exciting things. She would go for a walk with her father, get the daily supplies, tend the watch shop, help repair the watches, and in the evenings, spend time with her family reading the Bible. However, God was using her in the ministry of teaching the Bible to the mentally disabled and housing those without a home in the small village of Haarlem, Netherlands.

The Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940 and Corrie got involved with God’s calling for her to protect His people. Helping the Jews was a massive and dangerous undertaking because while God wanted to protect His chosen people, the Nazis wanted the extermination of them. Protecting the Jews often resulted in great punishment in prison camps. 

Even though God could have protected her from the fate she was about to face, He knew what was best for Corrie. He allowed her to be imprisoned along with her whole family to protect the eight Jews she was keeping in her house. By the Lord’s grace, all of the Jews she hid in the secret room were not found! 

Through her grueling experiences in three different prisons and all of the things that happened in them, good and bad, the Lord still kept a close watch over her life. In her story, we learn why God allows suffering, how He uses our hard situations to bless us and others, and in what ways we should respond to our own suffering.  

Ground Rules 

Let me just lay out some of the ideas and theologies I will be using throughout this article so that we’re on the same page.

Suffering and struggle in life doesn’t mean God isn’t in control of what is going on or that He is maliciously letting us suffer; instead, He is giving us room to grow and deepen our character and relationship with Him. God knows exactly what needs to happen in our lives to produce the kind of character we are lacking. Most often He does that through hard experiences, as we’ll see with Corrie.

With that said, let’s get back to her!

Why God Allows Suffering

Sure, Corrie had a great faith before the trials she went through, but God gave her the experience she needed to put even more trust in Him and an even more profound passion for spreading the gospel.

While she was helping the Jews find safe places to stay, God was shaping her reliance on His strength and His provisions that she would otherwise not have had. Later, she would be in situations where what God had supplied her with in past experiences would be put to good use. In our lives and in Corrie’s life, His gifts often come in strange packages and always at the right time.

How God Uses Our Suffering to Bless Others

Not only will our suffering shape us into the person God wants us to be, but will also be a tool He uses to skulpt other people’s lives at the same time! Through Corrie’s time in the Underground, the secret revolution against the Germans, her head was always on a swivel and she was scared for the lives of everyone she was protecting, for her family, and herself if they were ever found out.

Despite that, in that time of dread and trusting God, she rescued eight-hundred Jews! Even in her darkest hours in prison, the love of Jesus was still her lifesaver and she tried very hard to get past her own suffering to help others. 

During her time in person, she and her sister Betsie would hold prayer, worship, and Bible studies whenever they could and God would always provide them with the supply of strength, translators, and also peace from the guards. An example of this is the story of them and the fleas.

God is Ultimately Glorified in Our Suffering

Have you or your pet experienced or even just heard a story of how awful fleas are? Fleas are little insects that live and love to burrow their little icky heads into a host and drink their blood until they look like a swollen balloon. Ravensbruck prison, where Corrie and Betsie were staying at this point in their story, was infested with them! Their cots, clothes, blankets, and themselves were all stricken by these little demons of pain and infection, but they too served God’s purpose. 

Somehow, Corrie and Betsie would go uninterrupted while teaching others about Christ and helping them. That was because the guards detested the fleas and would never go into the room to ever find their prison ministry. How incredible God is to find such a clever way to use suffering for His children’s good! 

After the war, Corrie fulfilled the prophetic vision Betsie had told Corrie before she died of making a sanctuary for people who went through the horrors of prison. Corrie could personally relate to all of them since she had gone through the same thing. She also traveled the world telling people about the hardships and trials they went through, but also how God brought them through it all.

Though she died in April of 1983, her story has continued throughout the world to comfort those who are hurting and are equipping those who haven’t yet experienced pain like that with the courage they need to fight when it comes. One of the people Corrie had influenced with her story was Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni is paralyzed from the neck down due to a diving accident and battled with depression for many years because of it. A few years into her new condition a friend gave her Corrie’s first book, The Hiding Place, which gave her hope in her suffering and the power to move onto what God had for her. 

Suffering Opens Opportunities 

This one will make your toes curl, but oddly enough, our suffering opens opportunities we would not otherwise have. Knowing what a certain type of suffering entails will open opportunities for God to work through you to help others who are or have gone through that same suffering.

As I have already mentioned, Corrie opened a house for prison survivors and truly helped them to forgive their guards or fellow countrymen who betrayed them. When we are in that suffering, God still uses it to benefit others! All of the eight-hundred Jews who Corrie assisted in saving were saved in a time of their distress, but at the same time she put herself into their suffering.

All of our suffering points to God and how He is using this time to prepare us for eternity with Him in heaven, where there will no longer be pain and suffering.

You see now, God is exemplified in the anguish we go through! He desperately wants us to have a relationship with Him and sometimes He uses our suffering to dip our toes into the world without Him. When we finally realize we need to run back to His grace, He doesn’t turn us away because we didn’t love Him before, but opens His arms to give us a warm embrace. Then He’ll sit you down to tell you how He was using the hurt to bring a certain characteristic we needed for our future along with a story of how He loved us way before we were even born.

The love we see Him pour out on us is the love of a great Father who, no matter the circumstances, will always do the best thing for His child.

Closing

With all of those things in mind we now ask, “How then am I supposed to deal with suffering?” There are three things I’ll leave you with.

First, our suffering is ultimately for our good. All God wants is for us to be is fruitful and sometimes that fruit is made with a freeze, like how tulips have to be planted before winter so their bulb will break in the winter and produce a dashing flower in the spring. 

Second, God may even plant some other bulbs in our life that we can help show how there is a time coming where they too will become beautiful flowers, like dahlias.

And finally, those flowers may be used in a bouquet or in a pot or simply left to grow for people passing by, and they will be used for a greater purpose. 

We shouldn’t be viewing our trials as trivial; instead, we should look at them the way James describes them in James 1:2-4:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4 NASB