Proud people abuse prayer. Jesus teaches us that prayer is about communion with our heavenly Father. Prayer involves adoration, confession, intercession for others, expressions of gratitude, and more. The arrogant person knows nothing of these elements of prayer, rather prayer is all about them. Prayer is about getting from God, and using God, not communing with God. Correction of the narcissistic prayer life will mean speaking directly to three kinds of misuses.
The prideful person views God more as a divine butler than the Sovereign Lord of the Universe. God exists to make them happy, and they pray, then, with an attitude of entitlement. They don’t request so much as demand. They pray with expectation, not in faith, but rather in the assumption that they deserve special, preferential treatment from God. He will answer their prayers because of how important they are.
Such individuals need to be challenged to see their parallels to the individuals described in James 4. The Apostle warns:
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
This will be hard for them to see at first. Their own arrogance blinds them to any possibility of sin, and they will have a long list of benefits God has bestowed on them – most of which center around their own self-importance. They key is to address their arrogance with God’s opposition. To emphasize what they do not see. Even their boasting about “answered” prayers is evidence of their sin. God “opposes” them because all their prayers are centered around their selfish demands and desires. They pray in order to “spend it on [their] passions.” Confrontation on this point will be difficult, but consistent exposure of their presumption will be key.
Secondly, the arrogant individual will use their prayers as a means to control others. The so-called “narcissist” has private conversations with God in which He delivers to them special messages for everyone else. Before they can do anything they must “pray,” and unsurprisingly God’s will is in agreement with their own desires. They often use prayer as a way to get out of undesirable requests: “I prayed about it and God told me I shouldn’t serve in that ministry;” “I prayed about it and God doesn’t want me to loan you that money;” “I prayed about it and God has told me to stay home this weekend.” At other times they will suggest that God has revealed another person’s sin or failure. So the proud individual has special insight into another person, and can serve as God’s unique spokesman to them. This allows them the ability to control and manipulate others. They may even use such tactics to try to take over a counseling session. Such approaches to prayer are a form of spiritual abuse. Wayne Oates describes this form of abuse when he writes:
This becomes exploitative when such persons begin to issue demands to a spouse, a fellow church member, or a television or radio audience, arising out of “private talks” they have had with God. This corruption of prayers of petition and intercession manipulates and coerces other people, many of whom fall prey to the tender trap of narcissistic religiosity. The narcissist believes so definitely that “God is at my beck and call” that many people are taken in by such colossal self-assurance. (Behind the Masks, 47-48)
In such scenarios there is no way to validate what a person says. How do we know if God is speaking to them? How do we know what God has said? That, of course, is all part of the plan. If you can’t validate it then you have to simply take my word, and then I hold all the power.
But Scripture warns us that every prophecy is to be tested and evaluated (1 Corinthians 14:29). Such evaluation comes from the Word of God and the Spirit of God speaking in our own lives (John 16:7-15; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). No one has absolute spiritual authority over us. Even spiritual leaders, like pastors, have a limited authority. We are right to challenge, to be discerning of, and to confront others. The proud person needs to be reminded of the limitations of both their authority and their responsibility. They are not Lord over us (1 Peter 5:2-3, though directly applied to pastors this verse has implications for all). Nor is the proud person directly responsible for another’s spiritual growth. We all have a part to play in helping one another grow; we are called on to fulfill the various “one-another” commands of Scripture. Yet, this does not give us the right to act as the Holy Spirit in someone else’s life. The spiritual abuser must know their role and limitations.
Lastly, the arrogant individual uses their self-confidence to test the validity of prayer. Prayer is used to ask for the absurd in order to confirm God’s existence in the immediate moment. They will pray for the glass of water to float in the air, or the shaking of rooms, or water turned into wine. If God doesn’t answer then they are vindicated in their disbelief either in prayer itself, or possibly in the existence of God all together. Such individuals should find a cautionary parallel in Jesus’ encounter with Satan in the wilderness.
When Satan goes to tempt Jesus he tells our Lord to command stones to be turned into bread, or to throw himself off of a high place trusting he won’t be hurt. To such “dares” Jesus responds:
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matt. 4:7)
God does not bow to our demands. He is not mocked, nor controlled. Nor does he play games to win our trust. Either we trust God because of who He says He is and what He has already done, or we don’t. If we are not convinced by God’s already established means of revelation then we will not be convinced even by the miraculous (Luke 16:31). The arrogant abuse prayer and as such will find that God has no regard for their requests.
It is, of course, easy to make a list like this and show the faults of the narcissistic prayer life. It is not quite so easy to get the self-absorbed to see it. This requires the passionate praying of counselors and loved-ones. Only God can truly awaken the proud to their sin. Good counsel is important, but the Spirit of God working through the Word is the only true hope of change. So, while we confront the abuse of prayer, counselors must also pray.