For the last few weeks I have been preaching a series on temptation and how fasting strengthens us spiritually in order to help us deal with temptation. I spoke on the temptation to be a consumer and not a producer. I spoke last week on the connection between unhealthy competition and selfish ambition. The key is to learn healthy competition and how to work for the greater good and not just our good at the expense of others. This week I'll be looking at the temptation of fame or looking for our affirmation from the wrong place. The key is to have our affirmation come from the Lord and his call on our lives so that we aren't seeking to be affirmed in the wrong ways. All of this has lead me to think a lot about the our egos and how they function within our lives.
We need an ego to help develop a sense of self and provide some basic differentiations like my bike, my car, my gender etc...While the ego isn't bad there are some real dangers associate with the ego and part of our spiritual growth is learning and recognizing those dangers and how to deal with them.
The ego is both very fragile and very powerful.
It is fragile because it always wants to be first, better and have more than everyone else. You can see this in our lives when we are consumed with always wanting to be the best, have the most, achieve the most etc...Watch parents at their child's soccer game when things don't go well for their child or their child's team is losing. More often than not you will find parents who get out of control. The fragile ego is wounded because they are not in the "best position". When we are lead by the ego we will find ourselves constantly out of sorts, discontent and wounded very easily. We will also place too much importance on things that shouldn't have that much importance and not enough importance on things that really do matter. For example we will care more about the latest fashion than the famine in Sudan.
The ego is powerful because it wants to be in control of our lives and when left unchecked it will do just that. We can find ourselves out of control and reacting in ways that just don't seem to make sense. We can become childish, punitive and just plain mean. We can become like a wounded animal who wants to fight all those who come in its way. The ego is not designed to be the leader in our lives, simply a servant of the heart and will. We must learn to be lead by the Spirit.
The remedy for an ego that is out of control and easily wounded is spiritual practice, most especially simple biblical prayer and prayerful study of the bible. Simple biblical prayer means praying the words of the bible back to God. The psalms are a good place to start. Take a single verse and pray it for ten minutes. One verse, ten minutes, saying it maybe dozens of times. When the timer goes off be done. Get up and move on with your day. Trust God's Spirit to fill in all the blanks and to connect all the dots. Simple, yet profound.
Reading the bible slowly, and meditatively takes us out of using the bible for our purposes. Rather we are putting ourselves in a place to be formed by the words and to live from that encounter with God. This ancient and simple practices are so effective in maturing our hearts so that we are lead by the Spirit. To do this we simply read a handful of verses slowly, multiple times with a notepad next to our bible. If anything comes to mind jot it down. When the time is up, stop where you are, not worrying about how much you read. Simply trust that God is present in that time and that is good enough. These practices if done regularly will shape our hearts and mature us out of egoism and into Spirit lead lives.