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


Having the right motives matters to God

Although we are encouraged to not judge another’s motives (1 Cor. 4:5), the Bible makes it clear that God does and will evaluate our motives.

Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God (1 Cor. 4:5, NASB).

Paul reminds us that the day is coming when our motives will be considered. That is because why we do what we do matters to God. Speaking to the multitude, with the Pharisees in attendance, Jesus made that clear. On three separate occasions he pointed this out in his Sermon on the Mount. Proper motives were an essential part of: giving (Matt. 6:1-2), praying (Matt. 6:5-6), and fasting (Matt. 6:16-17).

Notice Jesus’ words,

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matt. 6:1-4)

Doing the right thing for the wrong reason reveals a self-centered heart. We want our attention now, and if we don’t get it our response reveals our self-centeredness. Do you feel a sense of disappointment that you aren’t recognized, thanked or appreciated? The discontentment brewing within you is a warning that you really were not serving with the purest of motives.

A friend of mine often said, “The hardest part about being a servant is being treated like one!” The servant’s work often goes unnoticed, and the lack of public acknowledgment serves as a great motive-purifier.

John the Baptist shows us the way we should respond. His ministry was flourishing until Jesus appeared. Immediately some of John’s disciples became disciples of Jesus (John 1:35-42). As Jesus’ ministry gains notoriety, John’s ministry appears to wane. When John is questioned by his remaining disciples, his response is spot on.

You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:28-30).

Simply put: the right reason is always the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), the wrong reason is most often revealed as the glory of self. Which glory is your desire?

Getting the most out of another’s criticism

Being judged by another is hard even if it may be justified. These five essentials will prove helpful in finding purpose in the criticism.

(1) Realize a sovereign God is in it (2 Sam. 16:10; 19:20).

Even when the criticism is unjustified a sovereign God can still use it for our good. King David reveals this truth when he comes under harsh critisicm from the relative of an earlier king. David is fleeing for his life from a rebellious son. As he leaves Jerusalem a man by the name of Shemei is calling down sladerous curses upon him. While these are unjustified, David’s response is remarkable: Perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged, and bless me because of these curses today (2 Sam. 16:12). On a difficult day David accepts unjustified criticism because of his trust in a God to make all things right.

(2) Realize there may be truth to the perception (Rom. 14:16).

Paul reminds us that even those things we intend for good can be spoken of as evil (Rom. 14:16). Rather than have a defensive spirit, we would do well to consider if there might be some truth to another’s perception. Don’t be afraid to make necessary changes to your actions or your words.

(3) Ask a trusted friend if it’s true (Pro. 27:6).

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but  deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Pro. 27:6).

Do you have a good friend who isn’t afraid to tell you the hard truth? Then ask them if the criticism is justified. Bring a listen-to-learn attitude when they share. A good friend’s intentions shouldn’t be under fire even if wounds have to be given.

(4) See it as an opportunity to develop humility (Prov. 15:33-36).

Even when the criticism is unjustified it becomes a really good opportunity to grow in humility.

If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor (Prov. 15:33-36)

(5) Ask yourself, “Have I sinned or is this simply their preference?” (Jam. 4:11)

This question has been freeing for me as a growing christian. It gives me the opportunity to evaluate criticism through a Biblical grid. It’s so easy for any of us to elevate our preference to the level of the Scriptures. When it comes to evaluating another, I don’t want to hold them to the standard of my preferences. To do so is to actually down play the role of the Scriptures in my life.

This question is one that I first ask myself when I face conflict, but I have also learned its benefit in clarifying where wrong doing has taken place. Perhaps the individual bringing the criticism has brought sin-level-intensity to a preference-level-situation. Simply asking them where I sinned is a question that clarifies this difference.

Why judging another’s motives is wrong

You’ve been waiting all year for this. Admit it. It’s the July 4th weekend, and you’re headed for your favorite chili cook-off. You can already feel your taste-buds tingling. You see all the familiar faces lined up at the tables. But as you near the sample locations you don’t smell anything. As you look into the crock pots you don’t see anything. As the spoon goes to your mouth you don’t taste anything.

You head to the judge’s table to report the problem you’re having. They inform you that this year things are being done a bit differently. They have planned an invisible chili cook-off. You will need to judge what you can’t see, taste or smell.  

“I can’t do that,” you say. “I can’t judge the invisible. I need some empirical evidence.”

The coordinator looks at you confused. “Every day you judge the invisible,” she says,  “You’re quite good at it. Just use your imagination like you usually do.”

Motivations. Unspoken intentions. Why a person does what they do. All of these elements are invisible to you and to me, but we don’t have any problem judging them in another’s life—even if we have to use our imagination to do so. We don’t really think about it that way; because we’re convinced that we know this person well. Our picture of the things we can see is so complete that we assume we are the best judge of the things we can’t see.

I think this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged” (Matt. 7:1). You and I can’t judge the heart the person. Unless they tell you what they’re thinking, don’t assume you can tell them. Such judgment reveals one’s arrogance. Only God knows the heart (Jer. 17:9; 1 Sam. 16:7).

That is why the apostle Paul didn’t take it too personally when others were judgmental of him.  Hear the humility he offers in his defense. He admits he doesn’t really know his own motives that well, and this makes him pretty certain that no human evaluator does either.

As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. 4 My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. 5 So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due (1 Corinthians 4:5 NLT).

So if you wouldn’t feel comfortable judging an invisible chili cook off, maybe you should be a bit more cautious rushing to judgment on another’s unspoken motives and invisible intentions.

Whose words have the power to change?

When it comes to our communication with others our words are to be gracious and forgiving.  Note Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:29, 32

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. . . Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph 4:29, 32).

So why aren’t our words gracious and forgiving? Why do we feel the need to say more? Why do we feel we must shout the truth instead of whisper it? Why do our conversations go so quickly from gracious and forgiving to manipulative and harsh?

We might say we’re just trying to get our point across, but I’ve been wondering if the underlying cause is too much confidence in our words and too little confidence in God’s Word.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12).

If God’s Word is sufficient to discern the thoughts and intents of another’s heart, then my role is nothing more than to dispense the truth; depending on the Holy Spirit to use it to bring about change. Certainly I should communicate it in a way that is winsome and gracious with a readiness to forgive. The point is: I am not the instrument of change in another’s life. God is.

How might my speech be altered, if I really believed that a Bible passage had more power to bring change than my words, my argument, my logic, my passion, my sarcasm, my silence? Here are three acknowledgments of this truth:

I don’t need to bring harsh words.  Words are like scalpels. They can be beneficial in a surgical procedure, but they can also cut, and cut deep. As I have studied anger in the Scriptures and examined it in my own life I have found it to be manipulative. It isn’t a healing element. It is a manipulative one. Harsh words are used to convince another how they have hurt us, and how they need to change for our sake. Let’s see, we hurt them, so that they will stop hurting us…hmmm?

I don’t need to speak exaggerated words. Sometimes we stretch our words, or conveniently leave something out to make a stronger case. Do we really mean that a person does that ALL the time? While it might be true that they lied to us does that make them a LIAR? If I call them a name, am I not saying I believe they’re characterized by the action? Is there anything gracious about name calling? The power to change another is not in the exaggeration of my words, but in the clarity of God’s Word appropriately applied.

I don’t need to have the last word. I don’t need to send one last salvo as I walk away from the conversation. I can give the Holy Spirit time, and he will continue working on the heart even in my absence. Perhaps when I insist on the last word I’m only sending notice to the Holy Spirit that what I have to say is more important than what he has to say. Might it be better to close the conversation simply with “I’m praying for you”? And mean it. And do it.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind…correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to knowledge of the truth . . . (2 Tim. 2:24-25).

How do you evaluate yourself?

Jesus gives a strong admonition, that before we talk to another about how they sinned against us; we ought to first consider how we might have sinned against them. In Luke 17:3a he says, “Be concerned about yourselves…”

But how do you go about this process of evaluating yourself? The Psalmist wrestled with this question, and came up with four short prayers (2 words each) that prove to be an excellent starting point.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life (Psalm 139:23-24)

Here is an excellent evaluation process in 8 words or less: Search me, know me, test me, and lead me.

Search me. The Hebrew word haqr is rendered as search, probe, spy, examine. It was used to describe those who infiltrated enemy territory to find weaknesses in the enemy lines or cities. It’s like we should be saying, “Lord, find my weaknesses, my propensities to sin. Locate where I am easily tempted to sin, and eradicate them.”

Know me.  In Hebrew throught, the heart is defined as one’s thoughts, emotions, and most significantly, one’s will. On more than one occasion the Bible communicates that, although we think we know this part of us well, we do not.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it (Jer. 17:9).

So when the Psalmist says to God, know my heart there is a humble acknowledgement on his part, that he can’t know it himself. A spirit of defensiveness in our evaluation should be like a neon light warning us that something has gone radically wrong with the process.  We want God to know us, because we admit we don’t know ourselves very well.

Test me. The Life Application Bible adds this helpful note:

David asked God to search for sin and point it out, even to the level of testing his thoughts. This is exploratory surgery for sin. How are we to recognize sin unless God points it out? (LAB, p. 1262)

Ask yourself, “Am I thinking the way God thinks about this situation?” A trial or difficulty provides a great test to evaluate our thinking. If our thoughts are wrong, it is only a matter of time before our attitude, words, and actions will declare this.

Lead me. There is ongoing action to this word.  It provides opportunity to show a spirit of submission to the Lord through the heart of the evaluation process. Leading necessitates change. If I’m heading one direction, but God is taking me another I will need to submit my desires to his.

For just a moment, imagine this: What if I spent as much time in personal evaluation of my sin, as I spent thinking about how I would address other people in theirs?  How might that alter a potentially judgmental spirit?

Oh Lord, search me, know me, test me, lead me. . .

Taking off the judge’s robe…

The question “Has anyone ever felt judged by another?” resonates with nearly all of us. Perhaps that’s why most people are fond of quoting Jesus’ words: Judge not, that you be not judged (Matt. 7:1). We don’t want others to judge us, but we still want to maintain our own thoughts about others.

Jesus is not giving a blanketed statement that communicates we must tolerate theological error. Nor is he saying that we ought never to get involved in the life of another who is choosing sin.  Jesus’ statement about not judging has parameters. It is not all-inclusive. Consider, for instance, that we are told to judge the difference between truth and error (1 John 4:1), or that we are asked to judge a brother who is in rebellious, unrepentant sin in order that he may be restored to God (1 Cor. 6:5).

The verses that surround Jesus’ statement about judging help us understand what Jesus meant.

Judge not, that you be not judged . . . Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matt. 7:1, 3-5).

Jesus wants us to understand this truth: We are forbidden to judge another without first evaluating our own sin.

In Luke 17 Jesus speaks about rebuking and restoring a brother, but he gives this advice with a strong warning: pay attention to yourself (Luke 17:3a)
Other translations capture it this way:

So watch yourselves! (New Living Translation).
Be on your guard! (New American Standard)
Take heed to yourselves (New King James Version)
Pay attention to yourselves! (English Standard Version)
Be concerned about yourselves! (Lexham English Bible)

No matter the translation, the message is clear. You better take a good look at your own heart before you begin to evaluate another person. Be on your guard. Make sure that repentance isn’t necessary on your part.

Perhaps such introspection would change how we address a conflict. What if, before you ever addressed another, you spent some time in personal reflection considering your part in the conflict? How might that change the outcome of the conversation?

What if we actually pulled the plank from our own eye, before we tried to help another with the speck of dirt they have in theirs?

Only when we’ve taken a good hard look at our own propensities to do wrong will we come to another with the humility necessary to move them along towards restoration. If we are unwilling to receive the Spirit’s correction, but we expect another to receive our correction, the Scripture calls us a hypocrite. A title that is well deserved (Matt. 7:5).