Friday, December 28, 2007

What's right with you

This is the third time I've used the title "What's right with you" for a post here on Grace Roots (See the other two: 6/26/06 and 8/24/07. See also a similar post called Convicted of Righteousness).

In my mind I'm brought back to these thoughts quite often because I know that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world seem to deal more with the question, "What's wrong with me?" than with the truth of "What's right with me." Teachers and preachers - even those with great intentions of helping people live better lives - tend to be focused on what's wrong with the people in their congregations and how to "fix" what's wrong. Just as examples, I can't tell you how many "giving" sermons I've heard in my life. Or how many times I've been told to be a better witness for Christ. Or "how to" do this or "steps to take" to do that. Or the five "R's" of relationships. Can I get any witnesses? ;) I've heard countless methods, steps, principles, laws, rules, plans, etc, all with the intention of having the people of the congregation work on these things so they can become more productive Christians. For a while in my walk with Jesus I thought that was the way it's supposed to be. I knew I wasn't performing perfectly for God and I wanted to improve. I wanted to fix what was wrong about me and become more and more acceptable to God.

Of course I came to find out that that way of living the Christian life is foolishness! It seems right in the eyes of man, but it really does only lead to death. I don't mean physical or spiritual death. I mean death of dreams, death of motivation, death of joy... you get the picture. You eventually find that no matter how hard you try, or what steps you take, or what principles you follow... you still always have a long way to go in order to fix what's wrong with you. Or perhaps you have some "victories," but even after your victories you see that there are twenty million other things that are wrong with you that need fixing. And not only that, but those twenty million other things seem magnified like never before. Once you take a look at God's righteousness, and take steps towards trying to live up to it, whether you fail or whether you think you succeed, your own shortcomings begin to appear so much larger than you originally thought of them.

And so I just want to ask you... Do you find yourself somewhere in the two preceding paragraphs? If so, GET OUT, because the two preceding paragraphs are filled with very bad news!!! In fact, I can honestly tell you that I was becoming slightly depressed while writing them and going back and reading them! I considered removing them and coming from a different angle because I just don't want to take the risk of getting myself or anyone else stuck in the mindset that this life in Christ is about fixing what is wrong with us.

My seven year old girl likes to take her time while getting ready for school in the morning. And that's fine. I've learned to wake her up earlier so that she has all the time she needs. But even so, she very often becomes distracted, and every 10 to 15 minutes I need to prompt her to "stay on task." If I don't, we'll be late for school. I smile when I talk to her and I make it a quick reminder, but yet she feels so bad for "getting behind" that she begins to cry and keeps repeating, "sorry daddy, sorry daddy." It makes me so sad to see her feeling so sad and guilty that she's gotten off track, because I'm not angry with her and I don't come across as angry with her! I've had to tell her over and over again that I'm not angry with her. All that I'm doing is making it so she can enjoy taking her time while not dragging her feet. And so what's happened is that I've discovered new ways to talk with her in the morning, which I'll get to in a minute.

But my example here is basically what I mean about preachers and teachers, even with good intentions, focusing on sin and on what's wrong with people. It's of course not just preachers and teachers. It's parents, authority figures, friends, other church people, etc, etc. When we focus on what's "wrong" with us, it generally yields the opposite of what we intend! We hope it will yield changed lives, fruit, righteous living, etc, but in the long run it yields guilt, despondency, fruitlessness, etc.

And of course in a large section of church society, this focus on sin doesn't come out of good intentions. It comes out of self-righteousness, Pharisaical attitudes and a desire to be in control and to keep the people dependent upon their preaching or their so-called "authority." But no matter the motive, a focus on sin will never yield the fruit that a focus on our righteousness in Christ (that we've freely received as a gift) will yield!

Over the course of this school year so far, I've learned some better ways (I think) to talk with my daughter that don't focus on how far behind she is or how late it's getting, but rather that remind her and encourage her in her current "task." For example, if she's supposed to be getting dressed, but she's instead found a Barbie to play with, I tell her something like, "after you get dressed, I'll get you a fresh cup and you can brush your teeth!" She "remembers" that she was getting dressed and she hops right back to it without even giving a thought as to whether or not daddy was angry with her. And all the time, throughout each and every day when I'm near my kids, I'm talking with them and laughing with them and hugging them and kissing them and telling them how much I love them. That's the most important thing. Even if they were to get "off task" and were late to school every day, I can't imagine for a moment that I would ever stop letting them know how much I love them.

Which leads to my next post, which has to do with God's love for us and the righteousness we have received as a gift, and how He encourages us and motivates us based upon love and righteousness rather than through guilt and condemnation.


  1. Joel, this is great!! It's so easy to focus on what a person is doing wrong but this attitude destroys healthy relationships and robs us of joy.

    Life just seems to flow when we make the decision to focus on what's being done right instead of constantly looking for the wrong. What a wonderful way to live.


  2. Aida, I think that's so true. With my daughter I've found that she responds much more favorably to love and patience, and she doesn't carry around unnecessary guilt when my prompts and motivators to her don't focus on her shortcomings. It's an amazing thing, but somehow I find that I respond to God and to others in the same way. :)

  3. These is really great! Now if I can just remember to do it as I relate to my family each day.


  4. This is such a wonderful truth. It's just so much easier said than done! When confronted with the depth of your sins, it's so hard to simply surrender yourself to God with all your sinfulness.

    This is the hardest thing in the world sometimes. I forget that in my salvation there is no room at all for boasting! When I stand before Jesus at His return, I won't be full of great joy because I know I've been a good boy and He will tell me "Well done, good and faithful servant". I will stand before Him with great joy because it will be because He saved me and made me what I am. That is, above reproach, without spot or blemish.

    What becomes of our boasting? Thank God we don't have any!!! If we did, we would be on our way to hell. But thanks be to God!!!

  5. Aida and Matthew,

    Thanks for your comments. Indeed this is much easier said than done and I don't think it's "automatic" by any means. My girl just turned 7 the other day and yet it's only recently that I've begun to understand this new way to relate to her. I'm sure that as time goes by, I'll learn more and more about how God relates to me and I'll eventually appropriate a lot of it into how I relate to my daughter, son, wife... and other people.

    As with LS's comments, and my own comments, in my "Godtrospective" post, I think this is something we need not stress ourselves out about, but rather simply understand that it takes time to change the focus of our thinking, and it in turn leads to a more natural change in the way we live our lives.

    Still growing,

  6. Joel - this is such good nourishment for our hearts. I can relate to your relationship with your daughter. Even when we're creating a gracious and heart-affirming environment for our kids, their first impulse is towards shame. It is clear evidence that shame is the default position for all of us, and that it requires diligent and persisting dwelling in truth to set us free on a daily basis.

    I also love what Larry Crabb said in his book, "Connecting:" that it's about releasing something [the Spirit releases the goodness he's already deposited within us] rather than fixing something. The old nature and flesh can never be fixed -- only denied -- as we learn to cooperate with God as he releases our new goodness from within.

    Great post, Joel.

  7. Yep indeed, Jim, it takes a lot of time and patience and love to bring out the goodness in others (and ourselves), and put away the shame that seems to hold so many people back from experiencing their true new nature. Encouraging ourselves daily in what's "right" with us sure beats the heck out of beating ourselves over the heads with trying to "fix" what can never be fixed! :)