How we become prone to self-pity

If you developed a top 10 list for Bible characters, Moses and Elijah would probably make the cut. Men of strong faith, used mightily by God, and respected by the people they served. Yet, both had moments when they struggled, when self-pity took root, and discouragement followed. The biblical accounts of their struggles are helpful, because God answers them, revealing his perspective on their situations.

What you learn from Moses and Elijah is that we are most prone to self-pity when see ourselves improperly. That improper view of self (and ultimately God) distorts the truth.

Here is the truth: Moses was used by God to lead the people out of their slavery in Egypt, but it was God who would do the delivering. Notice God’s words when he called Moses,

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey . . . (Ex. 3:7-8).

Moses was on the road to the Promised Land when the unsatisfied desires of the Israelites put him over the edge. It’s not that Moses hadn’t heard their complaining before, but this time was unique; because, Moses assumed the burden to be his that only God could bear.

Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent  . . . Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of the people on me? (Num. 11:11).

God never placed the burden of the people on Moses, Moses assumed it. While his life was typically characterized by humility (Num. 12:3), in this situation he thought to highly of himself. God was not placing a burden on Moses that he was to carry alone. Moses seems to have forgotten that God was the one who had promised to deliver the people.  

For a moment, Moses saw himself in the God position – as if the burdens of the world were his alone to bear. Trying to hand a seemingly impossible situation on his own brought about his bout of self-pity.

Ultimately we embrace self-pity not only because our perspective of self is too large, but because our view of God is too small. Notice the dialogue between God and Moses,

But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” And the LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.” (Num. 11:21-23)

God had promised Moses he would not have to walk this road alone, but briefly Moses looked around, felt alone, and lived that way. Ultimately, the burden was too great, and he reverted to self–pity under self–imposed pressure.

The answered prayer for which I never asked

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;

I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health, that I might do greater things;

I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy;

I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;

I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;

I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing I asked for but everything I hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among men, most richly blessed.

At the end of the civil war, this prayer was found folded in the pocket of a Confederate soldier.

Finding hope in despair…

During difficult times we all need hope. The Psalmist captured it this way:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation (Psalm 42:5).

 I can’t remember who said it, but the words were wise:

If I am in despair my hope must be in the wrong place.

A simple search on the phrase hope in brought about the following results. Read them slowly and soak them in.

Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love (Psalm 33:18).

Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you (Psalm 33:22).

Though he slay me, I will hope in him (Job 13:15).

… So that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments (Psalm 78:7)

Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word (Psalm 119:74).

You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word (Psalm 119:114).

. . . Hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption (Psalm 130:7)

. . . But the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love (Psalm 147:11).

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:22-24).

And here are some others passages on hope:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

. . . so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain (Hebrews 6:18-19).

So if you find you’re in despair, perhaps it’s time to refocus your hope. What are you hoping in…?

Believing in what we cannot see

The Bible says that “Faith is the realization of things hoped for, the confidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Perhaps you, like others, struggle to put your confidence in something or some-one you cannot see. Some people believe that if they can’t see it, it can’t possibly be real.

Imagine that I am holding in my fist a 1941-42 wartime mercury dime. A friend of mine tells me that such a piece is valued at $250. Because my fist is closed, you can’t see it. You simply have my word that it’s there. Whether you can see it or not, however, doesn’t make it any less real. Reality isn’t limited by what you see anymore than it is limited by what I see.  Let’s say that I wanted to determine whether you really trust me. Imagine that, in my system of values, whether you believed me was more important than all the things you did to impress me.

The best way for me to determine the sincerity of your belief is for me to ask you to put your confidence in me for that dime even though you have not yet seen it. If you do only that, I say, the dime can be yours. But you must believe even though you cannot see. When someone asks me if I believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior, my answer is a definitive Yes!  When they ask me how I can believe in what I cannot see, my answer is that I believe God when He says He cannot lie (Titus 1:2) and that His promise of eternal life to those who believe in His Son (even though they haven’t yet seen Him) is true (John 1:12).

And one other thing, I believe that one day He will open His hand, but I won’t look upon a $250 dime. Instead I will see for the first time the scars from the nails that bought my salvation.  Do you still want to believe only in what you can see?