By Larry White
(Originally delivered in Boise, ID. June 26, 1991)
When we pray, we ask God for what we need and for that about which we are concerned. We pray for our immediate needs and desires. But when we pray for what God wants for us, it is a lot more general of a request. If we want what is best for us we pray for God's will to be done. But there is still a desire to break the bounds of our environment and circumstances and realize what God intended all along. We want more. We want the best that God can give us.
There is a negative side to that request however, of which we need to stay aware and not forget. When we ask for God's best in our lives, the place he is likely to lead us is to the cross. We normally avoid pain and humiliation at all costs. We shrink back from slander and rejection and will do most anything for people's acceptance. God's best is available to us, but only through the cross.
Look at what Jesus said when he was confronted with his eminent death.
But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Of what do you think when you consider the crucifixion? Pain - Rejection - Humiliation - Failure - Loneliness - Sorrow - Sin - Death. But look at how Jesus saw it. He had in view his own cross - but all he saw was his glorification. It was through this means of torture and death by which he would realize God's best for himself and all of humanity.
I have a friend in Tacoma who liked to stand in front of his wood stove in his robe to get warm. One day it caught fire and instead of taking it off or dropping and rolling, he ran all the way up to the upstairs shower to put it out. A large percentage of his body was burned and he had to have a lot of painful skin grafting and so on. About a year later, we were visiting and he was talking about his ordeal and the pain.
(Being direct) I asked, "So what did you learn from this experience?"
He said, "That absolutely anything can happen."
I thought to myself, "He will probably learn more from it than that." It was as if he had not yet considered that he could gain from the pain.
A few of us here have been through a lot of pain. But of course we should not only conclude that bad things happen and now they are happening to me. Or people fail and I'm a failure. But rather, there is a God who loves us very dearly and he has allowed pain to be in our lives for a reason - pain brings gain, if we will learn from it.
Like Job's experience - God did not send the pain, but he set a limit on it and allowed it to happen. We need to trust God in our pain - and he will heal us and bring us out of darkness. He has allowed it for a reason.
Some of the things I have been learning recently from my failures are not things that I had not known before, but it is like being held back a grade in school and having to learn it all over again. God is very patient with me.
I would like to go over very briefly some things that I am being taught again and it may help others here to cope.
Our life here on earth is an identity crisis. We come into this world asking "Who am I?", and we spend the rest of our time here trying to find out. The core of my identity and self-worth is very important.
The one most important factor in a person's psychological makeup is his self-esteem, how you view yourself - whether good or bad, your self-worth, your identity. Psychologists believe it is formed between the ages of 1 and 7 years. During that time your core beliefs about yourself are established.
What is amazing to me is that you may not know what you believe about yourself. And if you have a problem there with wrong beliefs about who you are and your self-esteem, you may not understand what is going on or what the hidden problems are. But God can help you and show you the truth.
Who we are as to origin is that God created man and set him in a garden to live and work and have communion with his creator. When Adam sinned in the garden of Eden, it was important because it was the fall of man. The reason is that Adam constituted the entire race of mankind, because he and his wife were the sole representatives. They were the human race. When Adam sinned, mankind bore the consequences, which was physical death.
Therefore, just as through one man Sin entered the world, and death through Sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.
When Adam was expelled from the garden - mankind was expelled, and we are born into and live in a world dominated by sin. We are not born depraved as most denominations teach today, but we are born into the context of a depraved world and quickly become so, (but still not totally).
-- In the garden man was blameless, unashamed, clean and holy, we had peace and fellowship with God, and we had life without sin.
-- In the world we have guilt, shame, we are unclean and unholy, there is fear, disgrace and rejection from God because of sin, and there is death.
If you picture the world as one gigantic sty and mankind born as swine into this muddy mess, you would have it about right from a spiritual perspective. Most people take the identity of the hog and run with it, never aspiring to anything higher. But some of us cannot accept that we are just animals in this pit and begin looking for our true selves.
I ) From the casting out of the garden - this is where we are introduced to the two systems or ways for a man to take, who is seeking his true self-worth and identity.
This is the chart that is used for the rest of the sermon starting with the lower world course.
Satan is our adversary. He is the deceiver that seeks to blind us to who we really are. He is the "god" of this world.
But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,
in whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, so that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine on them.
Satan is the father of lies and the author of the course of this world.
And you he made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the Sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
That is the pattern of the world that has been set up to cater to man's flesh and keep him ignorant and deceived about who he is. Satan gets us to believe something that is not true about ourselves.
Personal Worth = Performance +
Who I am, my being, is determined by my doing and others' opinions of me
1.) Performance, whether you succeed or fail: as a citizen, at your job, in your abilities, in your family, or interpersonal relationships - your performance as a human being, determines your worth as a person.
If your worth as a person is based upon your performance, then you have no security (your identity is not secure) and your self-worth is only temporary, (according to your latest performance) and not "to the bone". It is not something you carry with you. Your worth is determined by your doing. How you measure up; whether or not you've got what it takes, or can't you cut it? Maybe you just can't make the grade. Maybe you're just -- a loser!
We become performance addicts. In order to feel good about ourselves we will have to measure up whatever the cost.
The root problem is a lack of self-worth based in the truth of God. Success or failure in the world determines our self-esteem. So the first major deception of Satan that we swallow is that if I fail in my performance, then I am (my person is) inadequate. My being equals my doing.
2.) Now Acceptance follows right along with this. Since through performance I gain my worth, then what others think about my doing is paramount. We have to be the best, the strongest, the fastest, the smartest, the funniest, the most popular, the coolest. Now a days it is the one who couldn't care less, the meanest, the baddest, the hippest.
Remember the movie "The man from Snowy River"?
-- A young man isn't good enough to court Jessica, the rich man's daughter - he doesn't have a lot of horses, plus he lives in the mountains.
-- Comes the day to round up a bunch of renegade horses, and all the real men of the area go out to catch them.
-- The young man ends up as the only one who could catch all these horses and he does it singled handedly, and he corrals them by himself in front of Jessica's father and all the other men.
-- So he has this Elvis Presley smirk, cracking his whip over these horses; the men all have knowing looks of admiration; and Jessica is gushing.
-- Now he has established his self-worth by out-performing every man in the town, including Jessica's Dad (who had the most worth because he had the most horses). And now everyone's opinion of him changes from him being a dweeb to him being a real man.
So I as a dumb worldling go out of the theater convinced, that to feel good about myself, I have to out-perform other men at being manly and I have to get others around me to think highly of me for it. Truthfully, I, as a Christian, went out gagging because it was such a blatant example of the world's lies.
What happens when I fail and others reject me for it? My self-worth crumbles and I start having a bunch of different psychological problems - fear of rejection, a compulsion to please everyone, controlling or manipulating others to make myself look good. The result is that I must be approved by certain others to feel good about myself.
Two other wrong beliefs come out of this progression.
3.) The logical result of Satan's world course is fear - fear of failure, both in ourselves and in others. Then arises the belief that those who fail are unworthy of love and deserve to be Punished. The consequences of this belief is the fear of punishment - punishing other people for failures - blaming other people for my failures and withdrawing from God in the fear of punishment.
4.) The last one is Hopelessness. The belief that, "This is the way I am, I can't change, I am what I am, I'm hopeless." This is from where our deep sense of shame comes, and holds us bound to pessimism and a poor self-concept. "You know me, I can't do that, I'll never be any good."
I've heard Children 7 and 8 years old in our own congregation here say this. Where did they get that idea? It is reinforced by their playmates who have the same problem and want to punish them. "You screwed up, we don't like you anymore." You're gonna get it." "You deserve what's coming to you." "You can't do anything right." The child with no other input but what the world in one big orchestrated chorus chants over and over again with every failure - he believes it down to the bone, the core beliefs about himself way down deep. But the whole thing is one big lie. It is part of The Deception, the course of this world.
II ) What is God's answer to this? What is the truth about my self-worth? God in his great love for us and grace toward us from the beginning of the world, made a plan for our redemption.
1.) God's answer to our first wrong belief is Justification by faith.
But now a righteousness of God apart from law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even a righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by his blood, through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time his righteousness, that he might be just and the justifier of the one who is of faith in Jesus.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but through a law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of law.
For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds
are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
Blessed is the man to whom the LORD
by no means will reckon sin.”
Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was reckoned to him, but for us also, to whom it shall be reckoned who believe in him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
So, God, seeing that we did not have what we needed, (right doing) took instead what we did have, (faith) and counted it to us as right doing. He justified us. God has forgiven all of our sins, all of our failure to perform adequately. He has taken me at my worst and loved me anyway. He has forgiven me and I am totally pleasing to him in Christ, through my faith in him who raised Christ from the dead.
So our real self-worth is not based upon how well we perform - it never was. In fact there is no amount of right doing that we could ever amass that would be enough.
Through faith in Christ, I am totally pleasing to God independent of my performance. So I do not have to fear failure in the world's eyes anymore. Of course that does not mean that I become a spiritual slob and never strive for excellence. But who I am inside is independent of whether or not I succeed in this world.
2.) God's answer to our wrong belief about acceptance, (that I have to please certain others to feel good about myself and survive) is Reconciliation.
... and by him to reconcile all things to himself, by him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now he has reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in his sight – if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Even though I was once his enemy in my own thinking because of my evil doing - God has forgiven me all of my sins and taken me into a close and intimate relationship with him. Consequently, in Christ, I am totally accepted by God. And since the God of the universe accepts me, whose opinion is any more important? I no longer have to fear rejection from others, trying to please them at any cost, I know I am pleasing to God - and therein lies my self-worth. Now I can relax around others and feel good about myself independent of what they do or say or even think.
In Christ, we do not have to please men.
3.) God's answer to these related wrong beliefs: "Those who fail are unworthy of love and deserve to be punished" is Propitiation. That means an appeasement. That God's wrath against sin has been appeased and satisfied in the death of Jesus for us. I no longer have to fear punishment. I no longer have to blame and accuse and punish others. I do not have to withdraw from God in fear. Christ has died for us and taken all the punishment away, and so we are deeply loved by God.
Now we can mirror his love in our lives by being patient in kindness toward others who fail - being quick to forgive, emulating the compassionate love of Christ in our hearts.
4.) The answer of God to hopelessness of ever changing is Regeneration.
Regeneration means to be born again. You have a brand new life in Christ. Our spirits were made alive to God when we by faith were baptized into Christ and raised to a life characterized by newness. (Jno.3 and Rom.6)
Far from being hopeless, the borders of your life and what you can experience are limited only by the potential that God has in living the life of Christ in and through you.
Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.
But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by his grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate perverts, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortionists will inherit the kingdom of God.
And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
He does this by the activity of the Holy Spirit who makes us partakers of God's divine nature, (2 Pet.1:4) and who enlightens the eyes of our understanding with experiential knowledge, (Eph.1:17-18) and who strengths our spirits with his power, (Eph.3:16) to live before him in godliness and realize, in a practical way, the righteousness he desires in the life of his children (Rom.8:4).
So feelings of shame, hopelessness, inferiority, passivity and isolation can be changed by God's grace in making you alive in Christ. It gives you unlimited potential and great hope.
The life of a child of God cannot be lived through the flesh. We now bear the image of Christ and we serve God through the spirit, realizing in our present situation the righteousness that he has imputed to us by our faith, letting him realize that righteousness in us through his Spirit in practical ways, letting the inner holiness that he has established in our spirits rule our flesh (our human nature) and accomplish the works of God that bring him glory.
III ) We need to let each one of God's answers nullify the wrong beliefs that plague us in the flesh.
How do I do that?
1.) What am I feeling? (What is this emotion that I'm having?)
2.) Why am I feeling this? (What am I thinking?)
3.) Which of these 4 wrong beliefs is involved?
4.) Reject the wrong belief - correct your thinking according to the truth of God's word.
5.) Take action, walking in the truth of who you are in Christ (as if it's true) with some positive affirmations about yourself in relation to God. "I am totally pleasing to God and accepted by him. I am totally forgiven, renewed and made complete in Jesus Christ."
So, who are you?
Are you a deceived, weak human being relying on your performance in the flesh and the opinions of certain other people for your self-worth and identity? Have you been crushed deep inside by your failures? Are you believing Satan's lies?
Or are you the person God created in Christ, justified and accepted by God despite your performance and what others think about you?
God loves you deeply and has given everything for your salvation and happiness, even the sacrifice of his own son, so you can be completely forgiven. He wants us to live.
He requires that we change our minds about our lives and turn to Him, trusting in him for forgiveness as we are immersed into Christ for a new life. At your worst, God loves you and will forgive you. If you want to give him your life - please let that be known.