I never cheated in school. I was always too afraid. Afraid of a big scarlet "F" on top my paper. Afraid of an ominous visit to the principal’s office. Afraid of the terrible consequences listed in the class syllabus.
But lately I'm learning that plagiarism isn't confined to the English classroom or the inventor’s office—it threatens our spiritual life too.
In his book Prayer, Tim Keller summarizes the essence of sin as failing to glorify and thank God (Romans 1:18-21). He explains:
Think about plagiarism for a moment. Why is plagiarism taken so seriously? It is claiming that you came up with an idea yourself when you did not. It is not acknowledging dependence, that you got the idea from someone else. Plagiarism is a refusal to give thanks and give credit and is, therefore, a form of theft . . .
Do you see, then, why God takes this seriously? Cosmic ingratitude is living in the illusion that you are spiritually self-sufficient. It is taking credit for something that was a gift. It is the belief that you know best how to live, that you have the power and ability to keep your life on the right path and protect yourself from danger. That is a delusion, and a dangerous one.
Guilty. As I read Keller's words, I was struck by how often I commit spiritual plagiarism. Here are some ways I've started noticing it:
Speech– Taking the credit is perhaps the most obvious way we steal God's glory. Simple statements betray us like, “We saved a long time for this house,” or “I worked really hard to get here.”
We don't just take credit for our accomplishments. Sometimes we assume too much responsibility for our lives too. Common phrases creep into our vocabulary like: “I've got to put food on the table,” or, “I’ve got to pay my dues.”
Working, saving, and planning are all good and necessary. But when they become the source of our success or security, they take God’s place.
Silence– Sometimes it's not what we say—but what we don't say—that betrays us.
At times a hurried forgetfulness creeps into our lives. We go so fast and pray through our list of needs so quickly, that we seldom allow ourselves the time to reflect and offer God our gratitude.
At other times, we may discover a spiritual smugness settling within our soul. Deep within our heart, we believe that we deserved our answered prayer, we earned our nice possessions, or we raised our kids to behave rightly.
We never say such things. But over time our forgetfulness and pride callouses our heart, giving us the illusion of self-sufficiency.
Selfishness– Sometimes we just want our own way. Like a small child who finally gets the grocery store cookie she cried for, we often grab our blessings, gobbling them down, with little thought about the Giver.
In so doing, we inadvertently reveal our ultimate interests. That thing—our job, heath, house, or child—brings us more joy than God himself.
No wonder the ancient writers called thankfulness a spiritual discipline. It takes intentionality, humility, and work to cultivate a grateful heart.
Keller cites C.S. Lewis who said, "[We] shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest."
How do we do this? I'm realizing that it takes time and practice. I must stop long enough to enjoy the blessing, allowing it to guide me back to the Giver. Or as Lewis said, to look up the sunbeam to the sun.
When we pause to enjoy the gift and ultimately God himself, our heart is repositioned. With every "thank you," it grows softer and more humble. And slowly we see more and more as coming from him.
How do you struggle with stealing God's glory? How have you learned to give it back to him?