“…are they important?”

The title of this post owes its existence to my father – someone who has forgotten more than many, many people will ever learn. I love him dearly, and I know he loves me reciprocally. We are incredibly alike in many ways (a fact my mother and several others love to point out regularly) but we could not be more different in so many ways – a fact that not as many people who know us both appear to have fully comprehended, to my ongoing bafflement. However.

As a child, I was desperate to fit in. Nothing unusual about that. And like lots of other children, when I found myself the object of playground teasing (and occasionally worse), I would complain to my father – who, whatever the level of aggravation could always be relied upon to keep his cool, ask the right questions, establish the facts – etc. At some point it will be useful to post on the subject of how he taught me to think from a very early age – but right now, suffice it to say that I was placed on a personal critical-thinking development programme that for a small boy was astonishingly rigorous – and the legacy of that has been both a profound blessing but also a remarkable curse. More on that some other time.

One element of this pertains to this post. At certain times, when I was busy venting my spleen about the alleged unfairness of so-and-so and what they did and what they said and how that made me feel and all the rest – he would wait for the right moment, and then pause the flow and ask me, “Alexander: are they important?”

Are they important? These people who are bothering you, pestering you, trying to make your life miserable in whatever ways they can, petty or otherwise…are they important?

As the years have passed (well over quarter of a century) since he taught me to ask that question, in hindsight, I am truly astonished at how well I seem to have applied that lesson on certain occasions and how spectacularly I have managed to forget it and find myself trying to become acceptable to folk whose approbation did not matter, could not matter, might never matter – and in so doing, relegate the most important relational priority – that of GOD’s approval of me – to the next division down.

This would be an example of what I personally call “the insanity of humanity.” And the disaster is that I am in excellent company. Our societies have shaped us to the extent where to become and remain a genuinely independent person has in fact never been harder – but the level of personal self-delusion across cultures and generations has also never been higher.

And so we come to the coup-de-grace of this post – a quotation from the SDA lesson quarterly for this very week. It is something from Monday’s lesson, and it reads thus:

“If our sense of self is impacted for good or ill by those closest to us, what does that tell us about the place that God should occupy in our lives?”

What does God think of us?

Here’s why that question is so massive – the build-up to that question has taken the student on a biblical journey, starting with Genesis 1:26, 27; Psalm 8:5; Psalm 100:3; Acts 17:24-28. You read those texts and connect the dots, and it becomes super-clear that God has a very high regard for His creation – of humankind.

This does not mean that we can abnegate ourselves from our identity as sinners. But it does mean that when we are tormented by our sins and guilt, we do have to recognise that God the Son became a man in order to take on our very nature – as human – and go to the cross and die in our place. He could not and would not have done that if we were not important!

So Satan’s plan is to try and drive us to the opposite extremes on either side of the truth. Either he will beat us down with our sins and guilt and we will fail to recognise that God will forgive if only we accept His Word. So when a person says that they cannot believe that God would forgive them, they are saying that God is a liar. It is is false humility- but the kind that destroys lives and even leads people to suicide.

Or – we will develop an unhealthy sense of our own self-worth. Check out the Pharisee in Luke 18:11. The KJV expresses it as the Pharisee “praying with himself.” The NASB says “praying…to himself.” Can you even imagine that? A supposedly God-fearing Pharisee, and Scripture records the man as praying TO himself, never mind God…?!!?

And the terrible tragedy is that most Christians swing as if from pillar to post from one to the other. This is why so few of us have found the “peace that passeth all understanding!” [Philippians 4:7]

I have had to learn that God does in fact think more highly of me than I do myself. When you realise how holy God is, you realise how terribly sinful you are. So you then just lower your expectations of what God would want to do for you, in you and through you. But God does not work the way we do, and we so often run ourselves into the ground trying not to ‘work’ too hard because we’re good Christians and we know that our works can’t save us – but then, if the church brethren approve our ministry and our ‘good works’ and praise God as a result, we know we must be doing something right…and if they don’t, then we’re in trouble…

I have just clocked the fact that this post is essentially a continuation of the last post – which was written earlier today. But the seed for this post was planted last night!

Today – tonight – I plan to ensure that the God who made me, who redeemed me, who has protected me, empowered me and called me is the only One whose opinion I really care about. Even those closest to all of us will be human and fickle at times, but the only consistently ‘important’ opinion is that of the Holy One of Israel. He proved how much He values me. Nothing and no-one else can ever match the regard He has for you – and me. You know the expression about how some people go ‘looking for love in all the wrong places?’ That is far more widespread than many of us have ever stopped to realise.

Today, if you need to re-wire your external approval rating priorities, remember that God loves you more than you have the capacity to love yourself. More than anyone else can ever love you. What kind of God makes the fact of a person hurting themselves by self-abuse a sin against Himself? Think about it!

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