Biblical Strategies Blog

Author Archives: Phil Moser

Standing against sexual temptation by seeing others as Jesus saw them.

Jesus saw people differently than we do. When the disciples saw children as a nuisance; Jesus saw them as citizens of heaven. When the religious leaders saw the tax-collectors as despicable; Jesus saw them as reachable. And when men saw prostitutes as disposable; Jesus saw them as redeemable—women in need of healing and forgiveness.

Learning to see others as Jesus saw them is an effective means to stand against sexual temptation, both in thought and action.  Jesus didn’t see people as sex objects to be desired.  He saw them as human beings, made in the image of God, broken and in need of healing.

On occasion I have counseled parents whose daughters were dancers in gentleman’s clubs. The image the parents gave was not one the paying clientele saw. Their daughters were broken women, struggling with bouts of fear and anxiety. They loathed their career, but lacked the confidence to believe they could do anything else with their lives. They depended on drugs to dull the pain they felt when they took the stage. Their stories were full of sadness. My heart broke as I listened to their parents tell the real story behind the stage personality.

Learning to see others the way that Jesus saw them takes into account the brokenness of those who have been sexually abused. Studies have shown that before the age of 18, one out of every six men and one out of every four women will have experienced sexual abuse. Those numbers are staggering. When I speak on this subject at conferences, I will typically have the men who were born the first two months of the year stand. Then I’ll have the women join them who were born the first three months of the year.  Then I tell the audience, those standing represent statistically the number of men and women in a crowd of this size   that were sexually abused. I’m always amazed at how many people are standing. Those in the audience grow quiet as they come to grips with the pain that has been caused by uncontrolled sexual desire. This is what it means to look at others through the eyes of Jesus.

A friend of mine learned to look through Jesus’ eyes on a global scale. In many parts of the world, sex-trafficking runs rampant. Women and children are taken from their homes in rural villages with the promise that there are good paying jobs in the cities. Once they arrive in the city, they are locked in brothels and forced to work the sex trade. My friend understood that unless they were given an additional work opportunity and taught a different trade, they would be caught in an endless cycle. He and his wife discovered a brothel in Asia that covered two city blocks and housed 20,000 women and children who were available to the highest bidder. He grew so burdened that he  and his wife packed up their belongings and started a business down the street from the brothel. Slowly, but surely they did what others before them have attempted: rescuing these women by teaching them a respectable trade and providing a safe place for them to survive.

This is what it means to look through the eyes of Jesus. We don’t see sex objects to be desired. We see broken people in need of healing and forgiveness.

Taken from Strength for the Struggle: biblical strategies for standing against sexual temptation

 

What you Believe about Anger Enables Your Anger Problem

Because anger is a mixture of our emotions, thoughts and choices, it often feels like something that happens to us. Our prideful tendency is to shift the blame to others, causing us to feel justified in our victimhood. We express this position when we say things like, “You make me so mad,” or “I wouldn’t get angry if you didn’t treat me like that.” But are we willing to relinquish that level of control to another person? Is that what we really believe? In the moment it might feel that way, but is it an accurate expression of what is really happening? When we practice an unrestrained expression of our feelings, we become more confident that their motivations are truthful, and we quit trying to discern whether or not they actually are.

The Greek language is, among other things, very descriptive. Its verbs communicate meaning through mood, form, voice, and tense. The voice of the verb indicates the doer and/or receiver of the action. In the case of anger, the active voice would read, “I made you angry;” whereas, the passive voice would read “I was made angry by you.” In the first case, I was the doer of the action; in the second case, I was the receiver of the action. But the Greek language, unlike English, also has a middle voice where one can be both the doer and the receiver of an action. The Bible scholar W.E. Vine makes a significant point about the word “anger.” He notes that eight of the times it occurs in the Scripture, it is in the middle voice. In those instances, it literally means, “I made myself angry by what you did.”What makes this Biblical truth so challenging to grasp is that anger rarely feels that way. It genuinely feels like: I was made angry by you.

Let me illustrate with an imaginary character by the name of Jack. Jack has anger problems. He knows it. His boss knows it, and most significantly, his family knows it. Like all of us, Jack’s inner life is comprised of his thoughts, emotions, and choices. But because of the deceptive nature of emotion, it always feels like circumstances are conspiring against him. And because he determines truth largely by how he feels, he believes other people are causing his anger. It’s almost as if he’s not an active participant. The reason Jack feels this way is that when he’s angry, his thoughts seem to run on their own; he doesn’t feel in control of his emotions. The only thing left of Jack’s inner identity is his choices. Yet, with his thoughts and emotions fueled by his anger, it feels as if his choices have been taken away as well. He’s even expressed it this way: I don’t have a choice but to get angry. Jack feels like he’s boxed in. We might even think of him as “Jack-in-the-box.”

But the Bible teaches that Jack isn’t trapped in a box where his emotions, thoughts, and choices are decided for him. Notice the propositional statements of Scripture: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1). I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13). Or do you not know that you are the slave of whatever you choose to obey (Rom. 6:16). For you were called to freedom, brothers…through love serve one another (Gal. 5:13). As a believer, a better presentation of Jack would look like this image. Jack is set free to engage his emotions, thoughts and choices as he will. He received a new heart at the point of salvation. That new heart, filled with the Spirit of God, enables him to set his thoughts upon Christ, engage his emotions around the things of God, and make choices in light of the will of God. Certainly this is a process, and I would not want to infer that an emotional change takes place overnight. Still, our emotions usually follow what we have chosen to think about. With his new heart, Jack can now make choices and think differently than he did before. This is a theological reality that is incredibly freeing.

But, when Jack is angry, it doesn’t feel that way. From his perspective in the box, it feels like anger is happening to him—like others are causing his anger. His son’s refusal to do his homework consumes his thoughts, his daughter’s belligerence fuels his emotions; and when his wife greets him at the door with a honey-do list, Jack feels like his choices for the weekend have already been made for him.  As shown below, from where Jack stands in the box, it feels like his thoughts, emotions, and choices are out of his control. When anger is at work, he doesn’t feel free in Christ. He believes he has no other choice but to get angry. Because of our tendency to shift the blame for our wrongdoing to others, we are prone to interpret our anger in the passive voice. We are quick to say, “You make me so angry when you do that.” This is the angry man’s belief system: he believes that others are causing his anger.

But remember that the Bible speaks of anger occurring in the middle voice. So, to bring what you believe in line with what the Bible is teaching, you need to say, “I make myself so angry when you do that.”   Jack believes he is in a box because of what others are doing, but the truth is that he is the one controlling his thoughts, emotions, and choices. Biblically speaking, Jack’s anger occurs in the middle voice—he is the one causing it. This is why you will never overcome anger without first correcting your belief system. While anger feels like something that’s happening to you, it is actually something that you are doing to yourself. Your belief system matters. When you think about how you were wronged, you feel more justified in your belief system, and anger naturally follows. If you meditate on anything long enough, you will begin to believe it. The order matters: thinking leads to belief, belief fuels your emotions, and the emotions erupt in angry speech, actions, and attitude.

Understanding anger in the middle voice actually brings great hope. You are free in Christ, even when it doesn’t feel that way. Work on bringing your belief system in line with the Scriptures; bring every thought captive, and you will discover that he who the Son sets free is free indeed.

Taken from Fighting the Fire: biblical strategies for overcoming anger

4M Training: a unique approach to spiritual growth for men

Biblical Strategies is excited to introduce 4M Training: a unique approach to spiritual growth for men. We encourage men to: Mature in their faith, Master key habits, Minister inside and out, and Mentor the next generation. This is done through a brief teaching video, guided small group discussion and accountability as the men develop the key habits of Bible reading, Scripture retrieval, prayer, and walking in the Spirit. Here’s a look at Unit 1: lesson 1 (both the video and the manual). Welcome to 4M Training: a unique approach to spiritual growth for men. Available November, 2017.

To view the video click here.

Here is the introduction and lesson 1 from the 4M Training Manual.

How do I change my mind about my anger problem

The New Testament word for anger describes a person who is taking a long time to think about how he will respond.  While he’s taking time, he isn’t seeking a spiritual replacement or patiently waiting for God. Instead, he is hunkering down in his hurt, judgment, and indignation. Bible commentator William Barclay refers to this as,

A long-lived anger … the anger of the man who nurses his wrath to keep it warm; it is the anger over which a person broods, and which he will not allow to die.

This is the anger of the person who has become fully convinced he has a right to be angry. When we dwell upon how we believe we were wronged, we develop a sense of entitlement. This is the kind of entitlement the prophet Jonah had as he sat on a hillside outside of Nineveh and longed for that city’s destruction. In the end, God asked Jonah the question, “Do you do well to be angry?” He responded with, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” This is orge anger. There is conviction in it. This person will not be easily persuaded that they are wrong. They are too deeply invested in the conclusion to surrender it easily. Like Jonah, when we choose to dwell upon how we were wronged we will find anger to be a trap—a warm and inviting one, perhaps, but a trap nonetheless. That is why Paul warns fellow believers to “put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander…” James offers the same insistence when he says,

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

Most people think of anger as only an emotion, so they strive to control it only at the emotional level. Interestingly, the popular culture describes love in much the same way, as more emotion than volition.  But while anger and love do touch our emotional side, they are not exclusively feelings. The Bible defines responses like anger and love more as choices than emotions.  William Barclay’s definition of the word orge makes this clear. The angry person is brooding, meditating and dwelling upon the things that make him angry. He is choosing to think thoughts that stir up angry responses. Imagine it this way: your thoughts are the fuel for your emotions, and your emotions become the basis for your conviction. As you brood and dwell upon your hurt, you are fueling those emotions. As you fuel the emotions, they seem to burn hotter. It feels like they are happening to you, as if you are a passive recipient in the process, not an active one.  It’s easy to forget—albeit temporarily—that you are the one stoking the fire of your emotions with your thoughts.

The growing fire of our emotions bring about another result. Because our emotions feel so genuine, we are more likely to believe that they are based on truth. In reality, they are only based upon our thoughts. In our arrogance, we presume that our thoughts are based upon truth.  This is why Jonah expressed such conviction that he had a right to be angry, even when he didn’t. He had dwelt upon what he perceived to be wrong for so long that he was convinced it was true. Ironically, he had experienced firsthand the mercy of God, and he affirmed that truth about God’s character. Yet, in his anger, he stubbornly refused to allow the truth about God’s mercy to be granted to the Ninevites. Jonah, the preacher of the greatest revival in the history of mankind, rejected the chance to rejoice in the sparing of a people and insisted upon their destruction. Jonah was unwilling to let his thoughts be brought into line with those of a gracious, merciful God. Had he done so, he would have stopped fueling the fire of his emotions and weakened his mistaken conviction. Sadly, he did not. As long as we are of sound mind, our thought processes are always choices, even if they don’t feel that way.

Because this type of anger is a choice, we can choose to replace it with thoughts and actions that make way for real transformation. Though our culture perceives anger and love to be more about what we feel than what we choose, the Bible tells us that both are primarily choices—love naturally replaces anger. When we believe we’ve been wronged, it’s easy to feel unloved. Our thoughts swirl around our hurt and pain. But what if there was message that was so bold, so strong, so efficacious that it overwhelmed your sense of entitlement? A message that reminded you, without a doubt, you were loved. Such is the gospel message: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Dwelling upon God’s love is a powerful replacement to dwelling upon your angry, indignant thoughts. The life Jesus lived testifies of this. He was abandoned by his closest friends in his hour of need. Betrayed by a close confidant after years of his investment. Rejected by the religious leaders for their political gain. Turned upon by the fickle crowd that five days earlier had heralded his arrival as king. Any one of these challenges would have stirred up in us an unrighteous anger. Yet, notice where Jesus had directed his thoughts. In his final recorded prayer in John 17 we read, “because you have loved me before the foundation of the world.” By dwelling on the Father’s love, Jesus was able to respond graciously to the most violent of rejections. The one who had created and sustained all things did not take upon himself the mantle of entitlement, but rather the form of a servant.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

As he meditated on the Father’s love, he was able to love others well, and avoid the temptation to be sinfully angry. Can you imagine the possibilities if we would consistently follow Christ’s example?

The joy of overcoming a bitter spirit

A bitter person is consciously, willfully angry. He refuses to let a hurt go. He insists on making the other person pay. Whereas, the Bible instructs us to set our mind on the Spirit of God, the bitter person refuses to let go of his pain. As he dwells upon how he was wronged, he convinces himself that his anger is justified. Being fully convinced of his interpretation of the facts in his own mind, he secretly continues to accuse his offender. As he does this, the bitterness grows. Soon it effects other areas of his life as well.

On the human front, the biblical strategy for overcoming bitterness is forgiveness.  Forgiveness is making a commitment to release the offender from the punishment you believe they deserve for the hurt they’ve caused. Often the bitter person will insist that the offender doesn’t deserve forgiveness. This places the angry person in the judge’s seat and only further fuels his bitterness. The Bible, however, doesn’t teach that you forgive your offender because they deserve it. Instead, it teaches that you forgive someone because you were yourself forgiven by God when you deserved it least. In the verse immediately following our passage of study we read,

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Once when I was teaching on forgiveness, a woman sought my counsel afterwards. She had a cynical response to my teaching. She insisted that there were some hurts that were so deep that they couldn’t be forgiven. Later that week we met, and she shared her sad story.  Her brother was serving a prison sentence for a crime he’d committed against their family. In her bitterness, she had never visited him during his incarceration, and now he was about to be released.  As I listened to her resentment, it struck me that her brother wasn’t the only one imprisoned.  I told her so, and she wept. After some time, she lifted her head, looked me in the eyes and said, “How do I get out?” I took a deep breath, knowing we were in painful territory. “Have you ever confronted him for his wrongdoing, shared your pain, and told him he should ask your forgiveness?” She shook her head. “Do you know why you haven’t done that?” She shook her head again.  “Perhaps you’re afraid that he might actually ask; then you’d have a choice to make.” The statement hung in the air until her voice interrupted the silence: “Well, I think we’re done here.” I walked her to the door, and thanked her for the courage to share such a painful experience. Two weeks later following a service, I saw her across the sanctuary. She was walking briskly towards me, her dour frown replaced with a broad smile. “I did it,” she said. “I visited my brother in prison, and I released him from the hurt he had caused.” “He’s free,” then thoughtfully she added, “And so am I.”

Five years later I was speaking at another church when I looked into the audience and saw the same woman. She still wore the same smile she had for our last meeting. After the service she thanked me again for encouraging her to restore the relationship with her brother. “He died two years after he was released from prison,” she said. “I’m so thankful I was able to restore my relationship with him after all those years.” As she introduced me to her other brother who was with her, he said, “Thank you for setting my sister free. For years she was trapped in her pain.” As they turned to walk away, it occurred to me:

bitterness is a prison cell of our own making, and forgiveness is the only key that opens the prison door.

Taken from Fighting the Fire: biblical strategies for overcoming anger

The Will of God and Self Pity

When man was created, he was placed in a garden. That garden was perfect in every way, and only one tree was off-limits. Adam and Eve were asked to submit their wills to their Creator by not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All was well until their desires were awakened. Then, for the first time, they felt the tension between their will and God’s will. Maybe they’d never considered their choices before. Maybe, just for a moment, they felt pity for themselves because God had denied them the fruit from the one tree. We may never know, but what we do know is this: God wanted something for them, but they wanted something else for themselves. They chose what they wanted and stepped outside of God’s will for the first time. The consequences for their choice were disastrous.

On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus returned to a garden. He was no stranger to the garden of Gethsemane, having frequented it with his disciples. But this time was different. In the Garden of Eden, the will of man had been tempted, and man had chosen independence over surrender. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the will of man would be tempted again, but this time the desire for God’s will would overpower personal desires. Jesus expressed this in prayer with the words:

Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.

He had progressed in his understanding of, and obedience to, his Father’s will. In the midst of intensely difficult circumstances that would cause even the strongest of men or women to pity themselves, Jesus held such feelings at bay by focusing on the will of God and pursuing it with abandon. Jesus submitted to the will of God because he trusted the character of God. Three aspects of God’s character will increase our confidence to seek his will over our own: his wisdom, his love, and his power.

God’s Wisdom

Living with suffering is hard work. It’s easy to lose your focus. Once your focus is disoriented, it becomes difficult to avoid self-pity. Suffering can come in many forms, not all of them physical. Our mind struggles with harsh and critical statements that seem unjustified. Our emotions vacillate between confusion, anger, and grief when circumstances in our life seem to contradict the hand of a loving God. When the apostle Peter heard of the suffering that Jesus would have to endure, he tried to protect Jesus. He said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Jesus’ answer was quick and to the point: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but the things of man.”

Jesus focused on a specific aspect of the character of God—his wisdom. God thinks differently than man thinks. The wisdom of man is short-sighted and pragmatic, but God’s wisdom is eternal and directed purposefully. The ability to focus on the character of God—not the wisdom of man—is a quality that Jesus developed, and he exercised it most fully in the garden of Gethsemane.

God’s Love

As the suffering of the cross drew near, Jesus asked if there might be another way. Mark recounts it this way:

And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’

Abba is a family term. It might best be rendered in the language of our day as “Daddy.” When my kids want the quickest access to my heart, this is how they address me. It’s the term that every dad knows—like they’re saying, “Dad, I know you love me.” Jesus is clinging to the character of his Father’s love. He finds resolve for submitting to his Father’s will by reflecting upon his Father’s love. Believing that God is all-wise means that God knows what is best for us; believing that he is all-loving means that he wants what is best for us. With gut-wrenching suffering on the horizon, Jesus didn’t question his Father’s love.

God’s Power

Immediately following Jesus’ affirmation of his Father’s love, he affirms his Father’s power. He says, “all things are possible for you.” This is not the first time Jesus has used those words. He had acknowledged God’s power on other occasions with the very same phrase. But in the Garden of Gethsemane, his belief is tested at the highest level. Does he really believe that the Father has the power to act if he should choose? Yes, he does. This is expressed in his final words from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” Having breathed his last, he reveals a complete dependence. Jesus believes his all-powerful Father will bring about his resurrection. Jesus embraces the will of God by focusing on the character of God. He does not question his Father’s wisdom, love, or power. This enables him to surrender his will to his Father’s.

One of my seminary professors who made a profound impact on my life was Dr. Fred Barshaw. Prior to becoming a pastor, Fred served as a public school teacher. Gifted in understanding the learning process, he received the esteemed “Teacher of the Year” award for the state of California. Fred’s strength was his application of the Word to real life situations, and I was drawn to the unique ways he found to communicate. During my final year, Fred began his battle with cancer. I graduated and headed into ministry on the other side of the continent. Several years later, I was developing material for a class I was teaching, when I realized my lay out and presentation looked strikingly familiar. I went to my filing cabinet, pulled out my notes from one of Fred’s classes, placed them next to my own, and immediately recognized the similarity. It almost looked like I had plagiarized. Having not intended to do so, I realized I was teaching just like my teacher. I picked up the phone and called Fred, wanting to communicate my deep sense of gratitude for his investment in my life. Cancer had taken its toll. He was short of breath and spoke with a hoarse whisper. Because he was so weak I expressed my appreciation quickly, then asked how I could pray for him. There was a long pause and then the words: “pray that I would be faithful to the end.” A remarkable request considering the amount of pain and suffering he was enduring. I prayed that way. Within a month Fred Barshaw died, faithful to the end.

Our response to suffering can take one of two roads. Either we can seek to do God’s will by dwelling upon his character, or we can focus on the difficulty of our circumstances. If we choose the latter, self-pity won’t be far behind. Fred Barshaw did what Jesus did. To the very end he sought the will of God, and that’s what we should do too.

Taken from Dead-End Desire: biblical strategies for overcoming self-pity

The Love of God and Self Pity

When we feel we aren’t loved, particularly by those closest to us, we are susceptible to self-pity. Perhaps others may have treated you harshly, spoken unkindly, or judged you unfairly. It’s easy to feel unloved in these situations. When it comes to defining love, our culture clearly puts the emphasis on what we feel. Statements like: I feel like I’m falling in love, and I don’t feel like I love you anymore reflect this error. Our inclination to interpret love by how we feel affects both how we think about others and how we think they think about us. This is one of the reasons that, in spite of all the biblical evidence that God loves us, some still choose to believe that he does not. They do not feel that he loves them.

When feelings become your foundation, you are in a catch-22; you don’t like the way you feel, but you have chosen to let your feelings lead the way. Something will need to change if you are to break this endless cycle. The cycle is broken once you give love a biblical definition, not simply an emotional one. The Bible sees love as more of an action than an emotion. Consider Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

The Greeks had five separate words to describe our one English word for love, so we should expect some ambiguity when we try to describe the word with our limited vocabulary. Of the five possible words, the one the New Testament writers most often chose was the Greek word agape. This word communicates a love of choice, commitment, and promise as opposed to an emotionally charged decision. The Bible teaches that we are to love one another in spite of how we feel. God doesn’t ask us to do what he himself has not done. The apostle Paul reminded the first-century Romans that while they were still God’s enemies, he showed his love to them through the death of his Son. True love will make similar sacrifices, regardless of how one feels. Because self-pity is driven by our feelings, a feelings-based love will be unable to defeat it. To overcome self-pity, you will need to focus on a commitment-based love.

This is precisely what the Father provided for Jesus in the darkest hour of his life. Jesus struggled emotionally in that final week of his life, but there is no record that he doubted his Father’s love.  Rather, he seems to have interpreted everything through his unshakable confidence in his Father’s commitment. Six words reflect his security: as the Father has loved me. The historical context of those words should not be overlooked. Nearly a third of John’s gospel is devoted to the final hours of Jesus’ life before he is crucified. Humanity’s hatred and cruelty is directed at Jesus in those moments. His disciples are selfish; he is betrayed by a close friend; his trial is a travesty of justice; he is mocked, beaten, and spit upon. One might expect self-pity to run rampant given those circumstances. If we were in Jesus’ place, we might choose six different words: why is this happening to me or this is how you treat me? Not so with Jesus. In the middle of it all he states: as the Father has loved me. Jesus remembers the Father’s commitment to love him and his unchanging character that backs it up. Self-pity can’t bring its discontentment to the heart that is secure in the Father’s love.

Jesus’ six words of security are followed by five words of sacrifice:

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.

When we dwell upon the way that God loves us, we find inspiration to love others in spite of their treatment of us. Later in the conversation Jesus would qualify it further: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” By looking to God’s love, we take our eyes off our self long enough to give our attention to others. In fact, this was Jesus’ final charge to his disciples just hours before he was nailed to the cross: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus had a commitment-based love just like his Father, and he encouraged his followers do the same.

Have you ever wondered how Jonah’s story might have ended differently if he had focused on God’s love and not followed his feelings of self-pity? Perhaps there would have been a 5th chapter – one that spoke of Jonah rejoicing in his enemies’ repentance and giving praise for God’s gracious dealings with mankind. How might your life be different if you began to focus on the love of God? What if each time you began to feel sorry for yourself you reflected upon the love of God instead? When self-pity settles in, only a strong dose of God’s love will drive it out.

Taken from Dead-End Desire: biblical strategies for overcoming self-pity

 

The Glory of God and Self Pity

In self-pity we take our eyes off of God and focus them on ourselves—our circumstances, our difficulties, our weaknesses. It shouldn’t surprise us, therefore, that we aren’t making decisions with the glory of God in view. The final week of Jesus’ life is instructive. Ultimately it would be his commitment to the glory of God that guided his thoughts away from the trap of self-pity.

When You’re Frightened, Live for His Glory.

In the final week of his life, Jesus spoke with great transparency of his soul’s emotional condition. On Tuesday of the Passion Week, one of his disciples brought to him a group of non-believers. The teaching moment prompted Jesus to speak about his death. In so doing, he opened up a window onto his soul. Jesus spoke of a grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies that it might bring forth much fruit. The conversation reminded him of his own impending death. He responded with the phrase, “Now is my soul troubled.” There is a sense of violence to the word “troubled” that eludes our English language. The Greek root word tarasso is used elsewhere in the Bible to reveal one’s condition at the loss of a loved one.

As a pastor, I have been, on more than one occasion, the bearer of the news that a loved one has died. I have heard uncontrollable wailing. I have seen sheer terror in the eyes of a young boy at the news of his father’s death. I have seen the body shake uncontrollably as emotions reject restraint. When a parent loses a child, sometimes the soul refuses to be comforted. I have heard of people that responded to this kind of news with vomiting or by losing consciousness. This is the very word that Jesus chose to describe how his soul felt with only a few days between himself and the cross. The fear moved him to prayer—even though a crowd had gathered—and that prayer reveals his focus. He says, “Now is my soul troubled (tarasso). And what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

With overwhelming fear rising in his soul, Jesus riveted his attention on the glory of God. It was his greatest desire even if it would mean his death.

When You’re Disappointed, Live for His Glory.

Occasionally in my ministry I’ve known the disappointment of someone who walked away from what I’d taught them. Perhaps in your life you’ve experienced a similar event. Consider the disappointment that Jesus faced in the final week of his life. On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus gathered the disciples for a final evening of fellowship and instruction. Luke recorded that Jesus actually looked forward to their final hours together. Over dinner, a debate broke out among the disciples over who was to be the greatest. They were in the mood to bicker, but in no mood to serve.

Imagine the situation from Jesus’ perspective: three years of selfless ministry, his sacrificial death less than twenty-four hours away, and still they’re arguing. That’s enough to push anyone into the self-pity chasm. But look at his response: “Jesus . . . rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

Remarkable. Where we would see an opportunity for self-pity, Jesus saw an opportunity for service. Jesus did this without fanfare or attention; he took no credit for his actions when the last foot was washed. He was as much a servant as he was a host. There was no sense of entitlement; he chose a spirit of humility instead. With that humility came the desire to pursue his Father’s glory and not his own. The apostle Paul captured it this way,”Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

When we don’t feel the need to get the glory, we are more prone to serve. And when we give the glory to God, we are most like Jesus.

Taken from Dead End Desire: biblical strategies for overcoming self-pity

Self-Pity has an Aversion to Grace

Jonah winced under the noonday heat…As if to accentuate the silence of heaven, the only movement in the noon sky was a vulture rising effortlessly higher. Jonah shook his head in disgust and slumped down against a rock. His chin hit his chest, and he dozed. When he awoke, he noticed the beginnings of small plant behind him. A few days later the ground was covered in shadow, the vine’s branches reached over the rock. Finally! Jonah said to himself. Some shade for the faithful prophet. He turned his gaze back towards heaven and picked up the one-way conversation. That’s what I’m talking about, God. Giving people what they deserve. When I did wrong, you put me in the belly of a whale. But when I did what you asked, you paid with shade. He permitted himself a smile. Not the wages I was hoping for, but it’s a start. The shade temporarily cooled his internal resentment.

The next morning he awakened to beads of perspiration gathering on his forehead. He turned to look at the plant that had provided comfort the day before. Its leaves were shriveled, its branches sagging. What happened to you? Jonah spoke to the plant. His eyes caught a movement at the base of the vine. A worm quickly retreated into the hole it had made. Are you kidding me! Jonah was talking to the sky again. What kind of games are you playing God? I want my plant back, and I want it back now. You owe me.

As if in direct response to Jonah’s anger, an eastern wind stirred the desert sand, quickly whipping it into a frenzy. Jonah shielded his eyes, unwilling to turn back to the west as the sand beat against his face. Like a child forced to lift his chin and look into his parent’s eyes, the desert sand turned Jonah’s head. The blowing sand allowed only one place to fill his field of vision: Nineveh. He stared at the city whose destruction he desired. The east wind with its swirling sand insisted his gaze remain upon God’s gracious redemption of a city once condemned. Jonah glowered, unwilling to let his anger subside. God’s grace poured out on the people he despised.

The rushing wind subsided, and the sound of voices singing rose from the valley below. It was a song of grace coming from the city that understood the meaning of the word. Jonah knew the song, but he refused to join in. Still, he couldn’t keep the lyrics from running through this head: The Lord is good, his mercy endures forever, his faithfulness to all generations. 

Jonah introduces us to the most dangerous element of self-pity: its aversion to grace. The Bible uses the word often. The Greek word for grace (charis) occurs over 155 times in the New Testament. Its Hebrew equivalent (hen) occurs 70 times in the Old Testament. Both Testaments carry the same warning: you will not see your need for grace unless you come in humility.

On the surface, self-pity and humility appear to be similar, so it’s easy to miss self-pity’s rejection of grace. For instance, the individual struggling with self-pity and the one practicing humility both lack confidence for a given task, but only the humble of spirit will actually seek help. The one encumbered with self-pity will choose to feel sorry for himself rather than humbly asking for guidance.

Because humility is unconcerned with receiving glory, it will naturally seek a source of strength outside of itself.  Self-pity, on the other hand, is overly concerned with the approval of others. Rather than reveal its sense of inadequacy, it will simply not try. Our fear of failure often stems from a fear of what others will think of us if we fail. Self-pity is a deceptive comforter, encouraging us not to pursue our true potential instead of simply admitting we need help. This explains why most men that surrender to self-pity will rarely ask for help regardless of the type of struggle they are facing. It isn’t humility that insists on going it alone, it’s pride. While self-pity can be mistaken for humility, it is actually motivated by the prideful protection of one’s self-interest. It is the natural response of a prideful spirit, not a humble one. This is also why self-pity has an aversion to grace: you cannot see your need for grace unless you come in humility. This is even clearer when you consider Jonah’s response to God’s actions.

For the longest time I couldn’t understand Jonah. God saved his life when he was thrown overboard, gave him a second chance, and even provided for his comfort. It seemed absurd that he was willing to receive grace for himself but unwilling to extend it to others. Then one day it occurred to me that Jonah didn’t see these events in his life as expressions of grace, but rather, because of his pride, things he deserved from God. Part of the reason Jonah found joy in the plant was because he believed he deserved its shade. He didn’t see it as a gift from God, which would explain his anger when the plant died. It was his right, he reasoned, and it had been unfairly taken from him.

Contrast Jonah’s response to his loss of comfort with that of Job, who not only lost his comfort but his family and wealth, too. When Job was tried, he replied: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job understood the grace of God, and saw himself as an undeserving recipient. Jonah would never have said that; he believed you got what you deserved. Thus, he was angry when Nineveh was not destroyed. He believed the Ninevites should have gotten what they deserved, but God, in his grace, stayed his judgment because the city humbly repented.

Self-pity says: I am angry. I deserve to have my desires met.

Jonah’s unrestrained desires appear throughout the story. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh, so he boarded a ship going the opposite direction. He was asleep in the hold when he should have been helping save the ship. The destruction of Nineveh was his ultimate desire, which is why he was exceedingly angry when God withheld judgment. But Jonah’s problem was greater than a few unrestrained desires. He actually believed that the things he desired were things that he deserved. Self-pity says I believe that something I desire and deserve is being unfairly kept from me. We struggle with self-pity for the same reason that Jonah did. We have unmet desires, and we believe we deserve to have them realized. Your unmet desires might include things like love from your spouse, respect from your teenagers, or gratitude from a fellow worker. These are not necessarily bad desires, but when you begin to believe you deserve them, pride is leading you down self-pity’s road. When those desires go unmet, just like Jonah, you will become angry. This is why self-pity has an aversion to grace. It doesn’t want a gift. It pouts, believing it has not yet received what it has earned. Perhaps you’re sensing the freedom of this truth. I encourage you to embrace it. Stop waiting for what you think you deserve. Learn to be thankful for what God, in his grace, has given.

Humility says: I am grateful. I didn’t receive what I justly deserved.

This is most clearly communicated in the gospel message. We deserved death for sinful offenses before a holy God. But God, in his grace, gave his own Son to die in our place that we might receive the free gift of eternal life. We cannot earn it, and we do not deserve it. It can only be received as a gift of grace. Pride will reject this offer of help, but humility will accept it. Humility says, I believe that something I deserved, but didn’t desire, was graciously kept from me. In contrast to Jonah’s self-pity, note the apostle Paul’s humility. He believed that what he deserved was the judgment of God for his past actions; nonetheless, God graciously forgave him. His humility allowed him to transparently acknowledge his past failures, regardless of the social status of the listener. Before King Agrippa he states,

I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

In his letter to the Corinthians he states the same:

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Grace is the word Paul chose to describe the fact that God kept from him the judgment that he rightly deserved. Whereas Jonah in his pride believed he deserved the things he desired, Paul in his humility expressed gratitude that he did not receive what he rightly deserved. Humility prepares us to receive grace; self-pity cannot. Perhaps this is why Jonah’s story ends so abruptly. It is intended to remind the reader that, unless we humble ourselves, there is no hope of change. Self-pity will hold you captive.

Taken from Dead-End Desires: biblical strategies for overcoming self-pity

 

The importance of self control to overcome procrastination

Exercise self-control. While analyzing, prioritizing and biblicizing are all necessary steps, exercising self-control with your daily decisions will be essential to overcome procrastination. This is the purpose of the phrase in the Ephesians 5:17 passage—“do not be foolish.” The fool in the Bible describes the one who should have known better, but did not. Despite being entrusted with the necessary knowledge to change, he stubbornly refused to live differently. He repeatedly did the same thing the same way, but for some reason expected a different result. This is a perfect description of the chronic procrastinator. In the past, he or she may have run out of time to give his or her best effort to the task or relationship, and though they should learn from such history, they sadly repeat the same error and run out of time again. The memory word to help the procrastinator make these necessary changes is the word exercise. In order to break his foolish habits, he will need to exercise three elements of self-control.

While self-control may conjure up a self-help kind of mentality, it is actually given by the Holy Spirit, being a part of the fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires

The Old Testament book of Proverbs adds these warnings: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls,” and “A wise man keeps himself under control.” Self-control is the mark of the wise, not the foolish. Once the procrastinator has worked through all the steps of discovery mentioned earlier, he will still need to do the hard work of exercising self-control regarding legitimately pursued pleasures. If he doesn’t learn to control what he enjoys, he will tend to put off his important priorities and fall back into the habit of procrastination.

Exercise self-control by doing the hardest task first.

Years ago I discovered that, if the first task I chose to do was the one I didn’t want to do, I usually had time left over to do the things that I enjoyed. But, if I started with the things that I enjoyed, I never seemed to have the time to do the difficult tasks that I was avoiding. The procrastinator will often choose to do the things he enjoys first and put off the more difficult task for another day. The struggling student plays video games before he studies for tomorrow’s test. The stressed out dad races home from work to fit in nine holes at the golf course instead of spending time with his demanding 3-year old son. We tend to do the task we enjoy the most first, and—because we enjoy it—we find that we haven’t left sufficient time for the task least preferred. Self-control is needed to take on the hardest task first. I have friends who told their teenage kids, “Always eat the frog first.” Spirit-empowered self-control is needed to consistently develop that pattern. A simple way to do this is to make a list of your unfinished tasks, and then, after you have prioritized them, take the one you are least fond of, and move it to the head of the list. Once you have completed the least pleasant task, move on to the others. You will find greater fulfillment in the pleasures you genuinely enjoy when you know that the difficult challenges are behind you, not waiting for you on tomorrow’s calendar.

Exercise self-control by doing what you do in moderation.

In his book Respectable Sins, author Jerry Bridges describes self-control as follows:

[Self-control is] control of one’s desires, cravings, impulses, emotions and passions. It is saying no when we should say no. It is moderation in legitimate desires and activities, and absolute restraint in areas that are clearly sinful [emphasis added].

Time is a limited resource. The wise person understands this truth and practices moderation with those things he legitimately enjoys. The fool does not see the need for moderation. He will binge on the movies he enjoys and push back those unfinished tasks and troubling relationships until tomorrow. The fool believes that time is his own to do with as he pleases. He recoils at the thought of  accountability. This is why the Bible teaches that the fool has said in his heart, “there is no God.” Sadly, the procrastinator makes the mistake of thinking of himself as sovereign. Until this is corrected, he will never see the need to exercise the activities he enjoys in moderation, and he will push back his responsibilities for another day. To break this habit, you must “learn to say no when you should say no.” You must remember that God alone is sovereign. You are a steward of time he has entrusted to you, not the owner. By the Spirit’s power, exercise your pleasures in moderation so that you can make the best use of your time to fulfill your God-given responsibilities.

Exercise self-control to persevere when you are discouraged.

Mason Cooley was an American aphorist known for his brief, witty statements. He is reported to have said, “The time I kill is killing me.” One of my favorite statements attributed to him was:

Procrastination makes easy things hard and hard things harder.

When we procrastinate, it feels as if things just got easier, because we don’t have to do the work right now. But in truth we just made a decision that will make tomorrow more difficult than it  would have been. When tomorrow arrives, you not only have that day’s work, but yesterday’s as well. As you push two days of unfinished work into the future, the mountain grows and becomes more difficult to scale. It’s easy to see how discouragement can creep in.

When Hurricane Sandy slammed into the New Jersey Coast, our church participated in the cleanup effort. We partnered with Samaritan’s Purse in helping people restore homes to their previous condition. Atlantic City, New Jersey is built on a barrier island just off the mainland. The storm surge pushed four to six feet of water across the breadth of the island, damaging everything beneath the high-water mark. Marge was an elderly woman on the west side of the island. Our supervisor, having visited the location, warned us that Marge was a hoarder; care would need to be taken to not offend her in the clean up. Marge lived on the second floor of her home because you could not walk through the first floor. Every room was filled with her effects: years’ worth of newspapers, clothes, bedding, stuffed animals, and various other possessions sat soaked in Sandy’s aftermath. A crew of 25 volunteers worked the entire day, pulling those waterlogged belongings to the curb. I can still remember how hard it was for Marge to make a decision about what to do with her things, even though they were damaged beyond repair. Early on, the decisions were laborious, but her spirits lifted as the day progressed. She seemed younger, more talkative. She smiled as we pulled twenty years of hoarding to the curb for disposal. The local news station interviewed her, and she expressed gratitude to her “new-found friends” who had “done for her what she could not do for herself.” Her relief was palpable. Decades of indecision had paralyzed her ability to make a decision.

When the procrastinator keeps pushing back decisions that need to be made, his life becomes overwhelming—like the first floor of Marge’s apartment. It’s easy to grow discouraged when our failure to make decisions renders our lives a soggy living space overflowing with trash. This is where self-control needs to step in. Don’t succumb to your desires, cravings and impulses, no matter how insistent they are about being obeyed. Self-control walks by faith, not by feeling. By taking small steps, it perseveres in the face of discouragement. So don’t succumb to that overwhelming feeling. Just get started. Take your first step today.

Taken from Taking Back Time: biblical strategies for overcoming procrastination