How Much Do You Love Yourself?

When asked the question, “How much do you love yourself?” What is your answer? Well, I love myself enough to make sure I have food to eat, clothes to wear and a warm place to sleep. I also love myself enough to want to have close relationships with my children and family, to bring happiness to others and to enjoy intimate friendships with other people. I also love myself enough to want to hear encouraging words, compliments and uplifting messages. I love myself enough to want to avoid painful situations, to run away from abusive relationships and to have people help me and forgive me when I fail. I love myself enough to want to survive.

I have been struggling with some deep issues in recent days involving an unforgiving heart, deep disappointment and anger. I know in my head I need to let go and trust God to work situations out but I have this roiling, churning uneasiness in my spirit. In my devotions this morning, I was reading Matthew 22. Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders who were trying to attack his teaching. One Pharisee asked him a ridiculous, simple question any Jew would have known. “According to the Law of God, what is the greatest commandment?” Instead of ignoring the trite attack, Jesus answered promptly, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” But, he didn’t stop there. He looked at the smug, self-righteous leaders and replied, “And the second greatest commandment, equal to the first, is to love your neighbor as yourself.”

You see, I have been stuck on the first part. I love God on all levels and I strive to know him more personally each day. I don’t consciously do it but I can be like the religious leaders on my high horse sitting high and mighty above the “dregs of society”. I can be judgmental, and have been, and can consider my life better than some people. I pat myself on the back and say I’m not in the mud with the drug addicts, the alcoholics, the child abusers, the failures. Truth is, though, even if I keep the first commandment but don’t keep the second, to love my neighbor as myself, I’m no better than any of them.

Jesus was constantly criticized for fraternizing with prostitutes and tax collectors. He faced down his critics by saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) Those were his neighbors and he was loving them as much as he loved himself. He met not only their physical needs but their emotional and spiritual needs as well. His love for God didn’t end with himself; it extended to the world around him to people entrapped by pain, hopelessness, suffering, addictions, and guilt.

I asked for God’s forgiveness for my unloving attitude, which was eating away at me, and I also asked for his help in seeing people with his eyes. In my own power, it is difficult to see the small grain of hope buried in the desperate, seeking heart of another human being but if I strive to see people as God sees them I can overcome my prejudice and judgment and love my neighbors as I love myself and as God loves me. There have been times in my life when I was no better (on many levels) and yet God’s loving eyes, his forgiveness, changed me.

How would my world change if I asked, when confronted with difficult people, “Do I love this person as much as I love myself?”

Four Fingers Pointing Back

Look at the four fingers pointing back at you

Look at the four fingers pointing back at you

I’ve been feeling quite oppressed lately. Not depressed but oppressed. There is so much “heavy” stuff going on in the world today and at times, as a Christian, it is overwhelming. So many issues which make me question, “Where is God in all of this? What is my role in all of this? How do I respond to this?” It is easy to point the finger at others who I believe are the cause of my righteous oppression but recently I was convicted. Remember the saying, “If you point a finger at someone, four fingers are pointing back at you”? God has been speaking to me, through His word, to convict me and to teach me how to respond to the oppression I and maybe others are feeling. I apologize if this gets long-winded but I believe its important.

2 Chronicles 7:14 is a verse most Christians know. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” We are God’s people and we are called by his name–Christian. Christians who are to be followers of Christ, the son of God. God is not speaking to the government or any other special interest group. He is speaking directly to Christians. If we want the oppression to cease and we want to see positive changes in our world there are four things–four fingers–he has told us to look at.

First finger–humble ourselves. Micah 6:8 says, “What is good? What does God require? To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” Jesus in Matthew 23:1-12 used the Pharisees as an example of what is NOT humble. The Pharisees set themselves up as paragons of righteousness. Their practice of religion was supposed to be an example of how to live a righteous life but they were laying “heavy loads” on the people. Unreasonable expectations, rules and regulations, and harsh judgement of their lives. The opposite of humble is pride. Do we feel we are better than other people around us? Do we lay heavy loads on other people to meet expectations or follow rules? James 4:12: “There is only one lawgiver and judge, the One who is able to save and destroy; but who are you to judge your neighbor?” Jesus said this exaltation of self would only result in a forced humbling due to their self-righteous behavior. He admonished us to humble ourselves just as he was humble (Matt 11:29). By humbling ourselves before God, Jesus promised us rest–rest from feeling overwhelmed by everything going on in the world around us, rest from feeling oppressed. James 4:6 tells us, “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Letting go of what we think or want and accepting what God expects of us is humbling. If we do this, he promises to give us grace to handle what life throws at us.

Second finger–Pray. Again, Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6:5-15 how we should pray. He used the word hypocrites in relation to people who make a show of their religion in public, who want people to see them as pious and recognized for their spirituality. This was in direct opposition to how Christians should pray. Our prayer is to be in secret, in a quiet place, where we can bring our petitions before God. He used the “Lord’s Prayer” as our example. We aren’t to pray putting ourselves above the sin of anyone else. We are to praise God, to honor and exalt him. We are to pray for HIS will to be done not ours. We are to pray for the forgiveness of OUR sins not the sins of people around us. We are to pray for his deliverance from evil and temptation. God is sovereign, he knows what is going on in the world around us, and he is omnipotent. We are to pray and leave the results to him.

Third finger–Seek his face. There are multitudes of scriptures telling us to seek God’s face. Why? Because when we are seeking God’s face we don’t have time to find the faults and errors and mistakes of other people. We don’t have time to feel oppressed and misunderstood. Psalm 119:2 says we are blessed if we seek God with our whole heart because if we do WE will walk in his way. We aren’t to be concerned if anyone else is walking in God’s way. If we are seeking with our WHOLE heart, there is no room for looking at the sin of others. Psalm 119:11: we treasure God’s word in our hearts so WE don’t sin. If we seek God, look for God, listen for God then he will take care of the rest. Jesus said in Matthew 6:33 if we seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness then all the rest would be taken care of.

Fourth finger–Turn from their wicked ways. Wow! Its not saying the world around us will turn from their wicked ways but God is telling us to turn from OUR wicked ways. What wicked ways could a Christian possibly have? Psalm 34:14 says, “Depart from evil, seek peace and pursue it.” James 3:10-12 tells us to refrain from speaking evil, turn away from evil, do good, seek peace and pursue it. The prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 26:3 was told by God the Israelites were doing evil because they weren’t listening to God or walking in his law. Christians, myself included, want to set ourselves up as people who are icons of spirituality but we are no better than anyone else except for the fact we have recognized our sin, repented of our sin and restored ourselves to God by accepting the blood sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ. That’s the one difference. We still covet, envy, gossip, think mean thoughts, judge others, hate others, refuse to help the needy, etc. God wants us to turn from those wicked ways–to walk a different way. Our words are meaningless unless we have actions to prove our sincerity.

God has told us, in 2 Chronicles 7:14, if we look at the four fingers pointing back–humble ourselves, pray, seek his face, and turn from our wicked ways THEN he will hear from heaven and forgive OUR sin and heal our land. He will hear us when we show him we mean business. He will forgive OUR sin–sin of omission, sin of being lazy, sin of not caring for our fellow man, sin of envy and hate, sin of judging others, sin of not trusting him to take care of the situation. If we are occupied with building our relationship with God, if all Christians would unite and do what God asked, we would see change in the world because he promised he WILL hear from heaven.

Today, look at the four fingers pointing back at you, just as I have, and ask yourself, “How can I change myself to change the world?”