It amazes me just how fleshly my intentions can be and how often I find myself caught up in a web of selfish thinking. I know I’m not alone; actually, it’s everywhere.The first thing that comes to mind is divorce. If you’re reading this and have gone through a divorce, know that I’m not here to criticize or analyze you or your situation. From those that I know personally that have gotten a divorce, it is because one or both spouses didn’t see eye-to-eye on something, or a lot of things. For example: the wife goes into the marriage with a lot of expectations, truly believing she will have the perfect marriage and that nothing can separate her and her husband. The husband goes in with expectations of his wife meeting his every need at any time, or he goes into the marriage with a very passive attitude, never wanting to upset her or force her into anything she doesn’t want to do. Pretty soon, these expectations manifest themselves in subtle ways: a “hint” here or there, an innocent conversation turning sour because of hurt feelings that have nothing to do with the situation at hand, but something totally different. There’s a point where one spouse eventually realizes that the person they married, or thought they married is not who they want to be with. There’s a point where the wife/husband gives up hope of the other one ever changing and being who they expect them to be. This opens another whole series of events, but eventually one will come to the place of “enough”, feeling completely trapped by what’s going on around them and then the only option they see to ever feel like they’re not trapped is divorce.
This happens a lot with parents and children. The parents spend 9ish months preparing for the new arrival of their baby, hoping and dreaming of everything that they’ll be when they’re born, then when they grow up. The dream about teaching them life’s most valuable lessons, I dream about teaching Elijah about God, others dream about the careers their child will have, the lives they will touch, the sports they’ll be good at. And I think the most common thing I hear among parents is, “I want them to have what I didn’t have, be able to do the things that I couldn’t do…”. This may mean getting a degree, having a lot of money to fuel the wants in life, going/seeing places their parents didn’t get to. So the child is raised with the mindset of giving them everything, fulfilling every need/want, seeing them reach those goals and dreams we planned before they were even born. But when they are old enough to make their own choices, they don’t always line up with what the parents had planned so they butt heads. Both feel completely misunderstood regardless of how pure the intentions are. Some children rebel because it’s their only way of feeling like they aren’t trapped anymore; some parents just give up trying to ever have the child they dreamed of, throwing the towel in on them.
We see it in churches and businesses. Long-term speaking, people leave the place they’ve been for a while because they don’t agree with something that is going on. It can be the way something is ran, the way problems are handled, the way someone acts, the environment. Anything. There’s a reason you starting going/working there, but after being in it a while you realize that there are some things being done that you don’t agree with in the sense that it’s not how you would do it. [I say you, but I include myself in this.] You don’t think that person does good at their job, maybe you could do it better, but you’d never boldly state that or even offer yourself up for the position.
With all of these scenarios, and I chose what I see as the three biggest ones, there is the same motivation behind it. A self-“righteous, pleasing, exalting, insert-your-own” attitude. For me, the biggest reality check as to when I am living out my life in this manner is found in Philippians 2:14. It reads Do all things without grumbling or questioning. Some translations use the word arguing or complaining. When I take a step back and realize that the reason I’m complaining about something, or questioning as to why it is/has to be done, it’s because I’m not happy about it. [I’m talking about negative reactions here, not positive. Sometimes we don’t agree with things going on and it’s a GOOD thing because it doesn’t meet up with God’s standards/truths. This isn’t about disagreeing with something because of a Godly conviction, but about disagreeing with something out of a selfish attitude.] Usually by the time I realize I’m complaining about something, it’s already been going on for a while. When I stop to look at why I’m complaining about it, the root is always because “it’s not how I would have done it”.
I just recently finished an amazing book and there was one overwhelming theme that stuck out to me through the book: selflessness. The book is about praying, but not the way I thought it would be. Instead, after reading a few pages, I realized this was going to be a BIG challenge for me. It takes you down a road of praying for others that requires a pureness of heart. There were many days I would sit down to pray some of the prayers in this book over other people and I’d have to stop myself because I didn’t really mean it. One day in particular I just broke down and confessed to God how there was nothing in me that actually meant what I was praying that day, that I saw no hope for this person and really didn’t want to because I was so hurt by them. God showed me more about myself through this book than I thought I knew. Crazy, right?!
I think I know myself better than anyone, but God knows me better than I know myself–I couldn’t even see the unforgiveness in my heart towards others because I was so busy focussing on how they would never be who I thought they needed to be. And the reality is, they never will be who I think they need to be. And that’s ok. They don’t need to be who I think they need to be, but who God created them to be.
Isaiah 55:8 puts it this way: My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts and my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. Hello humility! It does not matter how I, you, or anyone else thinks something needs to be done. God’s way is the only way that matters. I may not agree with how you run your business, but if you are running it the way God says to, then that is all that matters. My issue really isn’t with you, but with thinking that I know better than God. Which, isn’t that how Satan stumbled in the first place? By wanting to be like God, have the authority and power, the say-so in everything that went on because his ways were better than God’s ways? Regardless of how pure our intentions are, if done out of anything other than a Godly beckoning, it will always lead to disappointment. We cannot change someone, only God can. We cannot change the way someone runs something. It’s not our place to sit back and analyze how everyone else is living and if they’re doing a good job at it; it’s God’s place. I can honestly say that many times I bow my head in shame for criticizing someone doing the will of God in their life because it’s not how I would do it; then I realize that it’s not them I am disagreeing with, but ultimately I’m questioning God. When I realize that my thoughts are nothing like God’s thoughts, my ways nothing like His ways, there’s a freedom released because I’m not called to answer for the way someone else lives.
When I find myself complaining about something, I have to step back and look at the real reason I’m not satisfied. Usually it’s something within myself; usually it’s because my ways are not God’s ways, but I live thinking that everyone should live by my ways. There’s such a destructive power behind this mindset. It’s very fleshly in nature and Satan disguises it in all sorts of ways so that we never see it for what it is. I really like how The Message version phrases Philippians 2:14: Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! That’s so uplifting! With a pure heart before God, we can live a life this way-readily AND cheerfully! We don’t have to be upset because things aren’t ran the way we want. We don’t have to lose hope because that person seems like they’ll never change. When our thoughts are pure before God, He changes our heart to accept the things He has planned-he changes our heart to love others in a way that we never imagined. The whole saying ‘honesty is the best policy’ is no truer than before the One who created us. He knows our thoughts, motivations, intentions. If we are honest before Him, He will give us a pure heart and renew His right Spirit within us. A lot of times we pray for things to be different because it’s what WE want. Or we pray for things to be done the way we’ve made up our mind they need to be done. We may pray “Your will be done”, but we mean “I think it needs to be done this way”. With a pure heart before God, we accept His way with such a humble spirit, one that He gives to us.
If you find yourself caught in this way of thinking, living, complaining all the time, rarely cheerful, I pray that this verse is your prayer today. 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.] Let your hope be in God, not man. Look to Him for your joy, for your fulfillment, for your happiness, not man. Jesus IS the only perfect human to walk this earth so anyone else we hold to that standard will only disappoint us. Ask God to show you areas of your life where you seek your will above His and ask Him to renew in you a pure heart and right spirit. He will if you’re willing. Then all you ever wanted will no longer matter, but all God wants will.