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Posts Tagged ‘self pity’

When we praise the Lord, we are acknowledging what He has done in the past, what He is doing today, and what He’s going to do in the future,  We are recognizing His influence on our lives, bowing to His will, and submitting to His authority.  There can be great power in those times, and a tangible sense of connection between the spiritual and natural realms.  Unfortunately, when we indulge in self-pity, we are doing the exact same thing for our adversary.  In such moments our struggles are magnified beyond reality, and our view of God’s provision becomes eclipsed. 

 

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Last week my wife mentioned a sermon she’d heard about, “Scorekeeping”, which reminded me of something I’d written many years ago.  After scrounging around my notebook, I found it, and it seemed worth sharing.

Scorekeeping

 

Early in my walk with the Lord, I felt like He drew my attention to our very human tendency to keep score and/or to count the cost.  I believe that this trait is so naturally occurring in us, that most of us aren’t even conscious of the fact that we do it.

 

While we may not remember recording every little incident in our mental/emotional database, we can often recall them with amazing clarity when we feel like we’ve somehow been slighted.  These vivid recollections of what we’ve done for others, or what hasn’t been done for us, or what has been done to us, or what others got, or what we didn’t get… are all evidence that somewhere inside of us we’ve kept a pretty detailed ledger of these transactions.

 

We can often use the data from this internal record book as evidence to plead our case to others, or as a weapon against those we want to hurt, or as our excuse to withhold the love, support, and forgiveness God calls us to give.  It becomes the fuel for jealousy, covetousness, discouragement, slander and self-pity.  There is a natural tendency to want to keep these accounts balanced (e.g. I have given, therefore I am entitled to receive…) and to feel as though we’ve been victimized if they don’t, but as with so many other things in our human nature, this doesn’t really line up with God’s word.

 

If we were to be designated the scorekeeper for a football game, we’d first have to understand the point system.  We’d need to know that a field goal is worth 3 points, that a touchdown is worth 6 points, that a kicked point after touchdown is worth 1 point, that a conversion (i.e. a pass or run into the end zone) after a touchdown is worth 2 points…  Without that understanding, we couldn’t accurately understand or convey who was winning and who was losing.  It is the same in life; if we’re going to keep score, we better understand the point system, and as believers that understanding needs to come from our Creator.

 

As we look to His word, we can quickly see that our natural minds will likely score the game much different than our spiritual minds will.  The natural mind says that it is worth more if our good deeds are recognized and appreciated, while scripture says that it is more valuable if they’re not, because they then become an eternal treasure instead of a temporary one.  Our natural mind seeks to receive a blessing, while the spiritual mind understands that the blessing is in the giving.  The natural mind sees the cross as foolishness, while the spiritual mind sees it as the power of God.

 

Another way of expressing this dynamic is the metaphor of an account ledger.  Just like with a checkbook, every deposit and every withdrawal is recorded.  Once again our natural mind tends to want to make judgments about our state of being based on our account balance and again this comes in conflict with the ways of God.  The scripture is filled with passages that challenge this way of thinking.  We’re told not to return evil for the evil that is done to us; to bless those who persecute us and to love those who refuse to love us back.  Beyond telling us not to seek equality in these transactions, the Lord urges us not to even keep a record of them.

 

In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, the Master chastened the workers who complained that those hired in the final hour of the day were paid the same as they were.  He reminded them that He’d paid them a full day’s wage, just as they had agreed upon, and essentially told them not to be concerned with what He paid anyone else.  Jesus voiced much the same sentiment at the end of the Gospel of John, when Peter thought that John was promised something better than what he was; the Lord scolded him saying, “What is it to you, you must follow Me”.  Proverbs tells us that a stingy man is always thinking about the cost, while the epistles tell us that not only does love cover a multitude of sins, but that it also keeps no record of wrongdoing.

 

If we are going to be the people God destined us to be, we need to stop looking to this imaginary account balance for our sense of justice. Instead, we must trust that the God we serve is just and that His sovereignty is sufficient to ensure that justice will ultimately be served.  We need to remember that whatever measure we choose to use with others, is the measure that will be used with us.

 

The enemy of our souls wants us to believe that if we could get this imaginary score high enough that we’d find peace, joy & fulfillment; but the truth is that these things can only be found in the person of Jesus.  Keeping score and/or counting the cost keeps us focused on ourselves, our situations, our wounds, our failures and other people.  When we succumb to this way of living, our prayers can be reduced to reciting our score card to God (and anyone else who will listen), and we’ll ultimately forfeit the healing and provision His death gained for us.

 

If we really believe that Jesus paid a price that we could never repay, than we should have no need to count the cost.  Any price that we pay is a bargain compared to what we have received.  If we can grasp that truth, our scorecards and/or balance sheets, will become our testimonies.

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Crippled Lambs

Self-pity may seem to be a very natural and non-threatening emotion, but the spiritual effects can be dramatic.  Indeed, there is perhaps no state of mind more debilitating for a believer.  A love for the Lord certainly doesn’t make us immune to this; as a matter of fact it, is probably one of the most effective tools of the enemy against those who count themselves followers of Christ.

The problem with self-pity is that it keeps us focused on ourselves and bound to our circumstance, which countermands the scriptures exhortation to fix our eyes on Jesus (i.e. the author and finisher of our faith) and to focus on things eternal (2Cor. 4:18).  As we fixate on our condition, it opens the door for both our flesh and the “accuser of the brethren” to assert themselves.  In the spiritual battle that rages for control of our soul, this is no small matter.

Within the scripture we see some examples of how destructive this emotion can be.  As the nation of Israel was liberated from Egypt, the people witnessed a spectacular display of Gods sovereignty, as they were not only freed from, but literally plundered their oppressors.  Yet, a short time later, we hear them wishing for a return to their chains, all because the food and accommodations didn’t meet their expectations.

On a more personal level we see some of the prophets fall prey to this emotion, as Jonah bemoans his situation after finally delivering the message to Nineveh, and with Elijah as he hides from Jezebel.  In both of these cases, they had heard God clearly speak to them, had won great spiritual battles, had witnessed firsthand His miraculous power, and yet their self-pity effectively neutralized their faith, leaving them without hope.

As we focus on our difficulties, the enemy of our souls is quick to exploit those emotions, giving us an exaggerated sense of how bad things are.  When the vine that was providing Jonah shade withered, he said that he would be “better off dead”.  As the Lord queried him as to his anger at this, Jonah said that he was angry enough to die.  As Elijah was hiding from Jezebel, we hear him tell the Lord that he had been rejected and that he was the only one left.  Later, we learn that there were seven thousand who hadn’t forsaken the Lord.

This is the effect that self-pity has on us as well.  It magnifies our struggles beyond reality, and eclipses our view of God’s provision.  The spiritual principle is similar to that of praising the Lord.  As we are praising Him, we are acknowledging what He has done in the past, what He’s doing today, what He’s going to do in the future, acknowledging His influence on our lives, bowing to His will, and submitting to His authority.  As we know, there is great power in those times, and a tangible connection between the spiritual and the natural realm.  Unfortunately, we are doing the exact same thing for our adversary when we indulge in self-pity.

In other portions of scripture we see examples of those who refuse to indulge in self-pity, even when our natural minds tell us that they’d be justified to do so.  It was Job, who in the midst of his miserable situation, uttered one of the most hopeful phrases in all of scripture, “I know my Redeemer lives”.  There was Paul & Silas, unjustly imprisoned, and in chains, praising the Lord in the middle of the night.  And even more powerful is the picture of Jesus; beaten, bloodied, nailed to a cross, and praying that His Father would forgive them, because they didn’t understand what they were doing.  We later see Stephen do the same as he is stoned to death.

These men were being treated unjustly, but they wouldn’t allow themselves to focus on that.  Instead they focused on the Lord, and accomplishing His will in their lives.  We like to justify that we have a right to be offended, sad, angry, bitter…, but the cost of indulging those emotions is ultimately our ability to do the will of the Father.

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There is an old saying that goes something like, “I wish I knew back then what I know now”.  And as I look back to my own graduation, here are some of those things I wish I had understood.

 

  1. Life is not a ride, it’s a journey.  A ride is simply being carried along to wherever the vehicle happens to be going, while a journey has an ultimate destination, which requires some navigation and effort to complete.  Unless we purpose in our heart to be someone, or to do something, we are likely to live life like a pinball; propelled by gravity and bouncing from one obstacle to another.  Anything worthwhile in life will require some investment on our part.  Those who are unwilling to make such an investment will generally be pushed along by the winds of circumstance to some uncertain end.

 

  1. Not everyone who agrees with you is for you, and not everyone who disagrees with you is against you. In this era of political correctness openly disagreeing with someone is often viewed as being “intolerant” of their beliefs.  But there are times when caring for a person dictates that we confront and contradict them.  Conversely, there are those who are perfectly willing to allow you to drive headlong into disaster, as long as it serves their own selfish agenda.

 

  1. Misery not only loves company, it wants to settle down and have children too.  I’ve noticed that miserable people not only seek out other miserable people to bond with, but that they’ll often unconsciously sabotage anything that has the potential to pull them from their misery.  There are few emotions that are as debilitating and self-sustaining as self-pity.  Generally, the only way to remain free of such feelings is through a dogged determination not to live that way.  As long as we are willing to blame other people, and circumstances, for our condition, we will remain powerless to change it.

 

  1. What other people believe about you isn’t as important as what you believe about yourself. Only the things which we genuinely believe have the ability to impact how we live.  Therefore, the only words (positive or negative) that have the power to move us are those which we accept as truth.  If a man concludes that he is a failure, no amount of praise or encouragement can bring him to victory; and if a man concludes that he is an over-comer, no amount of criticism can hold him back.  While we are generally powerless to keep others from speaking about us, we possess the ultimate responsibility for what we are willing to accept as truth.

 

  1. Planting apple seeds won’t get you an orange tree. Just as dependable as the law of gravity is the concept that we will reap (i.e. harvest) what we sow (i.e. plant).  Though this phrase is immediately recognizable to most people, there are few who actually live as though it were true.  Our human nature will often cause us to be unforgiving with other people, while expecting generosity in return; to be deceptive about our motivations, while expecting others to deal with us honestly; and to be selfish about our desires, while expecting others to be considerate of us.  We must always remain conscious of the fact that the cup we use to dispense blessing is the cup that we will eventually drink our blessings from.

 

  1. For everything there is a season and it’s important not to despise the season that you’re in.  If you live long enough you notice that there is a sort of pattern that life follows and that things come and go in seasons.  While we have a natural tendency to like some seasons better than others, I’ve found that every season comes with both challenges and blessings.  If we focus on the challenges of the season we’re in, we’ll often miss the blessings, and spend our time pining away for the season to change.  Conversely, if we focus on the blessings of each season, it makes the challenges easier to endure, and brings a sense of variety to the journey.

 

  1. It’s doubtful that anyone is really “out to get you”. Generally, a person has to be of significant consequence before someone is willing to invest the time and energy it takes to conspire against them.  I would suggest that we are more often damaged because people aren’t considerate of our position than we are because people have made a conscious effort to hurt us.  Though this knowledge doesn’t necessarily dampen the pain, it should aid in our endeavor to forgive.

 

  1. When you keep your own score, you always feel as though you’re losing. The problem with keeping score is that we naturally tend to under-appreciate our blessings, and to have an exaggerated sense of our hardships.  Because of that, people who keep score in life generally feel as though they’re never quite being given their due.  Ultimately, it’s better to just give our best in any given situation and to let someone else keep the scorecard.

 

  1. The path of least resistance is rarely a road worth taking.  Often what causes something to be valuable is that it cannot be easily attained.  It follows then that the most valuable things in life normally require some perseverance to apprehend.  While everyone may sincerely want these kinds of things for their life (e.g. a healthy body, a strong marriage, a successful career…), few are willing to endure the process it takes to secure them.  Unfortunately, we live in a culture that increasingly values convenience above quality, and in which many of our children have grown up with an expectation of the instant gratification of their desires. Many a parent has worked hard to ensure that their kids get a great education, so that these children won’t have to struggle like they did.  But this ignores the fact that it is in the midst of the struggle that we tend to develop our character and work ethic; and that without this development we are generally ill equipped to handle adversity.  I’ve found that you can teach someone with character and work ethic just about anything, but without those qualities, an education becomes of little value.  I’ve also come to believe that giving my children everything that I didn’t have when I grew up will likely handicap them for life.

 

  1. There are few jobs easier than being a critic and few that are more taxing than being a builder. I’m ashamed to admit that there have been times in my life when I’ve been like the guy who sits in the back of the classroom, ridiculing the person who’s teaching the class.  Playing the role of critic, while someone sincerely tries to have a positive influence on the people around them.  While I might try to rationalize that their efforts were less than perfect, or maybe even in vain, life has taught me how little that criticism helps anyone.  It takes a tremendous amount of effort and patience to bring unity where there has only been division, or to stir a group to battle, when they’ve only known defeat, or to restore a sense of hope to a place of desolation…  The builder must make a concerted effort to create, while the critic can bring destruction with little effort.  As a witness to, and a participant in, both of these processes, I’ve committed myself to spending the rest of my days being engaged in the building up and not the tearing down.

 

  1. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.  Experience teaches us that the road to victory is generally paved with some amount of defeat; and that how we respond to those defeats will generally determine whether or not we ever come to the place of victory.   While victory tends to be the goal of every player, I’ve found that what we remember is how they played the game.  It is not necessarily the player with the highest winning percentage that captures our imagination, it is the player who played unselfishly, or with integrity, or who overcame the biggest odds…  Even for those who taste great victory, it is always in a moment that quickly passes into a lifetime of other moments.  At the moment we pass from this life, it won’t be that moment of glory that matters most; it will be how we lived all the other moments that ultimately defines us.

 

  1. It’s hard to be Clint Eastwood if you’re really Mr. Rogers. As I was growing up my conception of what a man was came largely from my father, who was a big fan of men like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.   Throughout my adolescence there were other icons (e.g. John Travolta – Saturday Night Fever, Sly Stallone – Rambo, Don Johnson – Miami Vice…) who seemed to collectively shape the culture’s conception of manhood, and who I unconsciously graded myself against.  Since I was nothing like these men I assumed that I just wasn’t much of a man, and in subtle ways I let their image affect how I walked, talked, dressed…  But as I got older I began to notice that there weren’t many things less attractive than someone trying to be something that they’re not (e.g. a middle aged woman dressed like teenager; a suburban white kid acting as though he grew up in the ghetto; a man with a bad toupee, acting as though it is his natural hair…).  I eventually came to peace with the understanding that regardless of the fact that I bear little or no resemblance to the trendy cultural images of manhood, the best thing I could do was to be myself.  That catharsis has  allowed me to do things like wear the clothes that I feel comfortable in; to act silly in public, just to make my kids laugh; to say “I love you too honey” when I hang up the phone in front of someone; to cry at sad movies…, all without feeling self-conscious.  I highly recommend it.

 

  1. Love grows over time. We live in a society that seems affixed on the idea of trading in and up, on an almost constant basis (e.g. cellphones, computers, cars, houses…); and that basic philosophy carries into our relationships as well.  Most of our cultural allusions toward love seem centered on initial attraction and the titillation of something new; but that is ultimately the shallow end of the relationship pool.  It isn’t until you’ve experienced a love that lasts for years that you come to understand the depth and profound fulfillment that accompanies it.  This same aesthetic applies to friendships as well (i.e. I wouldn’t trade a few old friends for 500 “friends” on Facebook).

 

  1. No person or thing can “make you happy”.  People can support us, love us, inspire us, and even enhance the quality of our life.  But unless we determine within ourselves to find the joy, the beauty and the hope within our given circumstance, we will never be “happy”. The idea that it is someone else’s role to bring happiness into our life places tremendous pressure on our relationships, often causing them to fail (e.g. they just don’t make me happy anymore…).  Similarly, material things do not have the ability to bring satisfaction to our souls.  I’ve noticed that people, who can be grateful for what they have today, will generally be that way regardless of what they have.  And that people, who crave something more, will normally continue to crave regardless of what they get.

 

  1. The best things in life cannot be held in our hands or necessarily even be seen. A young person’s dreams are often rooted in tangible gains, like a mate, income, a career, a family, a home…  But as a person attains those kinds of things, values seem to shift from the tangible to the transcendent.  At the end of a long life, it is things like friendship, faith, love and hope that are ultimately treasured.

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