The reason we don’t see our sin as that bad…

One of the downsides of our fallen humanity is that we have a propensity to justify our sin. We do it any number of ways. Here are a few:

  • Justification by blame-shifting: You make me so mad when you do that.
  • Justification by comparison: I know what I did was wrong, but it wasn’t as bad as what they did.
  • Justification though weakness: I tried to say no, but the temptation was too great.
  • Justification by independence: It’s my life; I think I should be able to do what I want.
  • Justification by merit: I had a hard week; I felt like I deserved the pleasure.
  • Justification by majority: Everybody else is doing it; it can’t that bad.

All of these justifications are wrong, but they feel so right at the time. I came across a great statement in my Puritan prayer book The Valley of Vision. In the prayer entitled “Humiliation” the old saint wrote,

Let me never forget that the heinousnesss of sin lies not so much in the nature of the sin committed, as in the greatness of the Person sinned against.

Now there’s a prayer worth remembering next time your desires start to justify your actions.

Next steps to change

(1) Set short-term goals – Are there short-term goals I need to accomplish this change?

(2) Pray specifically – What specific ways do I need to pray for change? With whom can I share these prayer requests?

(3) Search biblical resources – Are there other biblical resources that would help me change (i.e. books, media, websites, etc)?

(4) Develop a long-term plan – Is there a long-term plan I need to put in place as I move towards changing?

(5) Acquire accountability – Would I benefit from an accountability partner? Who will it be? When will I contact him/her?

Taken from Just Like Jesus: biblical strategies for growing well by Phil Moser

Available through www.biblicalstrategies.com

When God asks a question

The LORD said to Cain . . . “Why are you angry and why has your face fallen? (Genesis 4:6) 

Throughout the Scriptures God asks questions for which he knows the answers. He uses these questions to move the listener towards change. As a friend of mine once shared,

A question stirs the conscience, but an accusation hardens the will (Ken Collier)

For Cain, as well as for us, the point is this: inherent in the why question is that Cain had a choice. God was stirring Cain’s conscience when he asked why he chose to respond with anger instead of obedience.

In our English language this is captured in the word responsible; a word we often use without considering its meaning.We are response able – able to choose the right response. I recognize that it often doesn’t feel this way. Self-pity and the ensuing emotions consume our thoughts and feelings; so much so that we believe them to be our only option.  God wishes to challenge our thinking and so he asks, “Why did you choose to respond in the way that you did?”

 Cain chose to feel sorry for himself; so do we. He was not the victim of his emotions or circumstances. Self-pity, while an enslaving habit, remains a choice.  Paul confirms this in the book of Romans: “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” (Romans 6:16, NLT)

God’s question for Cain reveals this liberating truth: when you are embroiled in self-pity you don’t have to be. You choose to be.


Taken from Dead-End Desires: biblical strategies for defeating self-pity.

Available November 2012 through www.biblicalstrategies.com.

Assume God’s responsibilities and you’ll neglect your own

One of the common themes I’ve observed as a pastor is that people often fail to do what they should do, because they’re trying to do what only God can do. We are not equipped to carry out God’s role, but that doesn’t keep us from trying.  Here are some examples:

  • God sees the future; we can’t see it, so we worry instead (Psalm 139:16)
  • God knows a person’s inner desires and intentions; we can’t know them, so we develop a judgmental spirit questioning their motives (1 Corinthians 4:5).
  • God can change a heart; we can’t, but we try; we seek to control and manipulate others through our words and emotional responses (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Titus 3:5-6).

When we attempt to do God’s job we end up defaulting on our own. Look back at the emphasized words in the previous points. God told us not to worry (Phil. 4:6), not to judge the heart (1 Cor. 4:5), and not to control and manipulate others (2 Tim. 2:24-26). When we attempt to do what only God can do, we fail to do what he asks us to do. The Bible teaches we are totally inadequate to carry out God’s responsibilities (Romans 11:33-34).  This is why we not only do them poorly but complain because the burden is too great to bear.

This is prime territory for self-pity to grow, as God’s dialogue with Moses revealed (Num. 11). So how do we overcome this tendency? By trusting God with those less than desirable circumstances and believing that he can accomplish something purposeful through them (Romans 8:28).

This was a truth that carried Joseph through betrayal, slavery, false accusations, and nearly ten years in prison.  At the conclusion of his story he reminds his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20)  Joseph had grown in contentment. He didn’t need his brother’s approval to feel successful. He found it easy to love them and forgive. He didn’t need pleasant surroundings or positive conditions. It’s not our circumstances that make us prone to self-pity; it’s our dissatisfaction with those circumstances. Self-pity takes root in the soil of discontentment.


Taken from Dead-End Desires: biblical strategies for defeating self-pity.

Available November 2012 through www.biblicalstrategies.com.

 

Feelings, truth and the promises of God

At the beginning of Moses’ ministry, God made him a promise: “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). At his retirement, 40 years later it was said of him, “And there has not arisen a prophet . . . like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do” (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).

So from the beginning to the end of his ministry God had been with him. God had never left Moses alone. In the middle of his ministry; however, weary from the complaints of the people, Moses does not acknowledge God’s promise. He leans instead into what he’s feeling.

Moses said to the LORD, “Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? . . .   I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me [emphasis added] (Numbers 11:11-14).

Was Moses really alone or did he just feel alone? Had God not kept his promise? 

God had kept his promise. Moses only felt alone, but he spoke about it as if it were a substantiated fact. Had he used God’s promises as his basis of truth, he would have endured those strong external and internal forces without succumbing to self-pity.

Years ago I memorized the following poem that has helped clarify this idea. In the poem interpret fact as God’s promises.

Three men were walking on a wall,
Feeling, Faith, and Fact;
Feeling had an awful fall,
And Faith was taken back.
But Fact remained and pulled Faith though
And Faith brought Feeling too.

If Moses hadn’t cut himself free from the anchor of God’s promise to him, perhaps his prayer might have sounded something like this: “God, I feel really alone right now. The people are complaining, they don’t like what you’re serving, and they insist that I do something about it. But even though I feel alone, I will cling to your promise that “you will always be with me.” Please strengthen me so that I don’t waver in my belief.”

For me, the prayer of faith always brings clarity. It is my self-pity that brings confusion. God made the same promise to us he made to Moses. In the New Testament we read, “‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say. ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6)

God’s truth doesn’t waver; I can’t say the same for my feelings.


 

Why do I still have unmet desires?

“Why am I hungry, Mamma?” the little boy’s voice pierced the darkness.

His mother sighed. “Yahweh has provided manna for us; it comes from God’s very hand.” 

“But I’m tired of manna. It’s all we ever have, and it’s not very filling.”

Again the mother’s sigh. “You sound just like your father, always wanting what you do not have.”

The Old Testament Israelites did their university training in the wilderness for 40 years; perhaps they could have finished earlier, but they kept retaking the same class: Contentment 101.  Moses gives us a peak back at the course work in Deuteronomy 8.

Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deut. 8:3, NLT)

Reading that passage recently I was drawn to the phrase “by letting you go hungry.” God let them hunger that they might learn to look to him and have their deepest longings met. You see, there is something more to live for than to silence your stomachs growling.

I have desires that are unmet. I’m betting you do too.  What if we began to view our unsatisfied wants as opportunities to turn to God and trust him?  What if, instead of complaining, the Jewish dad had taught his son that man does not live by bread alone? What if the son had seen a smile of knowing contentment on his father’s face even though the unmet desires remained? What if my sons heard in their dad’s voice the simple confidence that God knows best? What if they could never remember their father complaining? They can’t. But, by God’s grace, I can change that. So can you.

What if God has withheld from you the very thing you desire the most so that you might find your satisfaction in him alone? That’s the way you pass Contentment 101 even though you still have those nagging hunger pains.