“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things… Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” – Romans 14:1-4
Self-improvement is a big deal today. A whole cottage industry has risen, developed and spawned an empire dedicated to various different ways of making money out of the fact that people don’t feel good about themselves or their lives. Can you imagine that? It’s such an accepted part of living today that ‘life sucks’ that people can make millions out of telling us ways in which it can ‘suck’ less, or at least ways in which we can care less.
One of the central mantras within any facet of the self-improvement industry is to simply ‘be yourself.’ The idea behind this is that by staying focused on who you are, and preventing outside influences from derailing you, you will succeed where others might fail. It’s so telling that people believe that they have to drum this simple adage into our heads, that something so obvious is considered such a vital life lesson: because the world of the outer self is plagued with the petty and the vindictive.
We’re encouraged not to take pride in ourselves, and the result of that is a world of people too embarrassed to step forward and rejoice in who they are and in their potential as people. We say things like ‘pride goes before a fall’ as though it was an intrinsic law of nature rather than a snide hope that a disliked someone will trip over their own feet. People love to take others down a peg or two, as though it was a divinely ordained mission that they’re undertaking to cleanse the world of those two pegs higher than themselves, and we love it when celebrities screw up in public, great graven images revealing themselves to have feet of clay. It’s the kind of comeuppance that has a word like ‘comeuppance’ coined to describe it: the desire to see someone get knocked off their pedestal. The Germans have a word that’s even better—‘schadenfreude,’ taking joy in the misfortune of others.
These are first principles that we need to check and redraw. Proverbs 23:7 reminds us that as we think in our hearts, so are we in life, and if all of our thinking has brought us to a place that we do not like, it’s time to think some new thoughts. Too many experiences of religion incorporate something similar to schadenfreude, dwelling on sins and flaws and mistakes rather than on the person of God. But we aren’t within those experiences. We’re within the heart of Christ, and His first principle, His first thought, is love for us, total and unconditional. It’s our responsibility to ensure that our first principles match Christ’s—that our thinking is compatible with God’s great heart for us.
The fact is that thinking highly of ourselves is vital in the Kingdom. We can go so far as to say that it should be absolutely, categorically impossible to be in Christ and not think highly of ourselves. God’s grace empowers us to believe and experience for ourselves the extraordinary things that have been done within us, that continue to be done, and allow us to rejoice in those things with a complete heart. It’s the birthplace of worship, this sense of wonder about ourselves that mirrors the Father’s love for us and the astonishing changes being wrought in our lives. That’s as far away from a stern and draconian religious idea of self-flagellation and obsession with sin as it’s possible to get!
The process of developing and realizing our potential in life begins with looking at the way that we think about ourselves. We are responsible for how we arrive at the party: when we get there, how we’re dressed, what we bring to add to the dinner table. If there’s an issue with any of that, then we need to look at our core ideas about what being a guest at a party actually means. If we have to cast around to find things to be thankful for in our lives, then our core assumptions need rethinking. The heart of Christ is one of effortless rejoicing. That’s where we need to be.
The assurances of God are to be trusted absolutely. His word is like iron. This means we can relax! When God promises us something, we can be assured that, given the right mindset within us, He will deliver it. His heart for us is majestic, a stunning and empathic love. This is the benchmark of our thinking: our attitude towards ourselves needs to reflect that. This isn’t the error of false pride in our achievements, or hubris. This is the recognition of the person of Jesus Christ within us, the simple magnitude of the Spirit moving about us, the awesome presence of the Father above us. There’s permission within that for us to be awesome (literally, inspiring awe) and to acknowledge exactly how awesome we are!
The act of conceiving something creates an expectation in us. If we’re convinced of our inadequacy, we’ll allow for the possibility of fewer possibilities in our lives. We’ll narrow our approach, discard the daring, and dismiss dreams and ambitions that fall outside the limited scope of our thinking. The promises of God create a warm and nurturing environment for us to discover our true identity in Him. That environment is called trust, something the world outside of the Kingdom doesn’t inspire in us too often. But we don’t live in the world, do we?
As that identity in God begins to unfold, we begin to anticipate again. A sense of excitement quickens within us. New belief blossoms, and possibilities that were closed off and abandoned reopen to us once more. Just as God’s heart for us allows us to create new assumptions and greater expectations for ourselves, so those new assumptions and greater expectations move us into a new place of excitement for God’s heart for us, and so on. It’s called the art of thinking brilliantly.
Jesus was all about challenging assumptions. It’s why He chose to bring His Word to the poor and lowly around Him: fishermen and prostitutes, tax collectors and widows. It’s why He chose to challenge the prevalent teaching that wealth was always a sign of the blessing of God—because the accompanying implication was that those without money and status were not blessed, and Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to all mankind, not just those already living in big houses.
Christ told his disciples of the story of the Good Samaritan precisely because He wanted them to reassess their core assumptions. The story tells of a victim of a terrible robbery and beating who lies by the side of the road, unable to move, and is ignored by people that the society of the time would expect to come to his aid, a priest and a member of the tribe of Levi. The third to pass, a Samaritan, would not have been expected to help the man because of the historical and ongoing issues between the Jews and the Samaritans at the time—and of course, the Samaritan cares for the man as though he is from his own family.
Upon seeing the widow giving money at the temple, Christ is moved to exclaim to his friends again, that she has given more than all of the rich people before her because she has given everything that she has—once again, seeking to show the disciples that they could no longer afford to rely of the received wisdom of the Pharisees, the institutionalized teaching that propped up the political classes of the day. Luke 18:9-14 has Jesus telling them another parable, that of the Pharisee and the tax collector, where the Pharisee thanks God that he is better than everyone else, while the tax collector humbled himself before God. He reminded them: “this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
So think for a moment. How does your personal report card look? Are you passing judgement upon yourself, based on perceived or actual judgement from others? How would you categorize your thinking about yourself? The Holy Spirit is ready for a conversation with you at your lowest ebb, the parts within you where you give yourself the lowest grades. He loves a challenge, and in turn He wants to give you the space within yourself to challenge those core assumptions that have you downgrading your life and your potential.
Start from a high place…and then carry on climbing. Your expectations for life will expand the higher you climb, until the point where you’re standing at the summit with the Father, and everything you can see is yours.