In the Silence of the Mind: November 8, 2013
Thinking/Over/Thinking – Part 4 – Consider Others
“Who determines what normal is? We need to determine it by the Word of God. We need to know what our Creator [thinks]. The One who made us knows what’s best. Not MTV, you know—not the media of today. We need to pick up our Bibles and find out for ourselves how we’re meant to be living.”
—Phil Joel, former bass player for The Newsboys
Over the course of the last month, we’ve been examining how what we think about ourselves can effect our relationship with God and work to mock who He created us to be. However, this is not the end of the matter. We can’t stop at our own mirror and call it good. We must also consider the way we think about others.
After we learn to think positively about ourselves, we must learn to repeat this process for others. Many people would argue with me that it is more important for us to consider others before we consider ourselves. And to a point I would agree. The Bible makes it very clear that we should “in humility consider others better than ourselves” (Philippians 4:3, paraphrased). However, we must consider some more information.
As Christians we are to follow the Golden Rule, which says to treat others as we treat ourselves. And this is an amazingly true statement; However, as Dr. Cliff Sanders, Chair of Biblical Studies at Mid-America Christian University, says, “If some people treated others as they treat themselves we would have to lock them up.” Before we could discuss together how we should treat others, I needed to explore the matter of how you should treat yourself for the simple reason that most people do not treat themselves well. Simply put, you needed to put your own oxygen mask on so you could speak life over others.
Like a man and his bride these two are intimately connected. The attitudes of your inner world toward yourself will spill over into your attitudes toward other people. I’ve noticed that on the days when I am most confident in who I am are the days that I more often than not give other people the benefit of the doubt. The days that my own inner world has a positive mind set and I have a better residual self image are the days that I find more and more that people are great to be around. I haven’t found many cases when this doesn’t hold true. On the flip side of that, it’s on the days that I’m more negative and self conscious that I also tend to find more and more faults and irritating characteristics in others. My mindset carries over and affects the people that I come in contact.
Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself” (NIV). This verse is often interpreted to mean that you should lower your own self worth in order to lift other people up. I think that is ridiculous. What justice have you done someone by lowering yourself to pond scum and then considering them just a step above that? Instead we should have a pride-less confidence about ourselves in who we are in Christ alone and then consider that everyone else is created by God and deserves even more honor!
Humility is not thinking less of yourself but is rather thinking of yourself less. This verse is talking about how we, as Christians, should be thinking about how we can serve others. Let me explain. A policeman can’t be of service to anyone if he gives up his badge just because it makes him seem a little more valuable than others. It’s only because he has this badge at all that he can be of help to a person who is in need. We need to consider ourselves to be a threat to the devil and to be fearfully and wonderfully made, but we need to take the focus off of ourselves and put it on how we can help and grow other people.
After all, what would Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings movies be if he had only built himself up? He would have been a highly skilled and deadly pain in the butt. But because he helped to build up “people” like Frodo, Legolas, Sam, and Gimli, from an unselfish heart, he was blessed to have them by his side as intimate allies when the battle lines were drawn. Aragorn didn’t undermine his own skill to make them seem like they were better. Instead, he showed that he was a master at what he did and he then taught them from his knowledge. But he still considered the others to be better than himself. This is shown at its apex near the end of the films. If you have not seen The Return of the King, please skip ahead about three paragraphs.
Aragorn has helped the side of good see victory. Partly because of his brave and cunningly fearless leadership, the enemy of the free people of Middle-Earth is defeated. This is not to undermine what Sam and Frodo did at all, so stay with me. The enemy is defeated and the victory is won. Aragorn now faces the people that remain from the bloody and seemingly hopeless battle and is crowned their king. The prophesies about his life finally come true and he is given the blessing to marry his Elven princess. In becoming king, Aragorn becomes the single most powerful person in the entirety of Middle-Earth, but what he does next is an act that speaks more about him than any crown ever could.
In the midst of the on lookers of the crowd stand a group of four heroic hobbits. There stands Samwise the brave, Frodo the deliverer, Merry the servant of Rohan, and Pippin, warrior of Gondor. Without these four seemingly insignificant hobbits, the land of Middle-Earth would have fallen to an endless nightmare of darkness and despair, yet they themselves stand several feet below the heads of the crowd. Aragorn strides up to the tired gang, and as he does the hobbits begin to bow to the new king.
This is where Aragorn becomes a model of what Christian humility is supposed to look like. He does not make a bold speech about how insignificant he is and how nothing could have happened without the hobbits, but instead he simply tells them; “You bow to no one,” and with that he goes down to his knees to them. This is a bold picture of what we are to do. We’re not called, as so many people seem to think, to lower ourselves and raise up others. We are called to know who we are with maturity and humility and then consider others better than ourselves.
That being said let’s look at how we think about people on a day to day level. Have you ever noticed that a thought about someone, even yourself, can often take on a life of its own? It starts with a seemingly small thought. Something like, “Gee, Paul is really goofy.” But then every time you see Paul after that you immediately think, “That dude is a freak.” I call this thought process the loser death cycle, because what starts as a simple thought about someone often becomes how you characterize them.
Susan may only make one harsh comment to you, but suddenly anytime you think of Susan you correlate her with “a harsh person.” If this is allowed to continue then you risk the chance that you will begin to associate even her name with a descriptive term like “witch” (or worse). Then from there, the next time you see Susan you immediately have negative thoughts about her.
The reason I call it the loser death cycle is because of the mechanics of how it works and, most specifically, the fact that it most often applies to the thoughts about the self. You make one simple mistake and in your mind you think, “What a loser I am.” Then the next time you make the mistake you decide that you did it again because you are a loser. Eventually you just decide that even without that mistake you’re a loser. Then, you refuse to even try because “you know” you’ll simply fail. This leads to spiritual decay and eventually spiritual death. This concept is spread throughout every thing you do. One simple mistake that you feel like a loser for, can make you feel like you will be a loser at every thing you do. This is a vicious cycle. Hence the term, loser death cycle.
This concept also applies to other people. If Susan makes a rude comment to you, you may decide that that action was “witchy.” Then, the more you think about the event, the focus shifts from the comment being witchy to “Susan is a witch.” Then you begin to treat Susan as if she were always a mean spirited person, even if it was only based on one single comment that was made. Maybe Susan was just having a bad day. Maybe her grandfather died, but we often overlook the reason why someone did something, we just know that they did it.
Because of this principle we must be careful of what we allow ourselves to think in regards to other people. One simple thought about how a person has a funny shaped nose can be quickly changed in our minds to “look how ugly that person is.” When we think a person is ugly, whether they are or not, we will treat them as if they were ugly. But we are not called to treat people as if they are “witchy” or “ugly” we’re called to treat them better than we treat ourselves. We’re called to treat each and every person we come across as a dearly loved child of the most Holy and intimate Father.
I find myself brought down by my thoughts toward others at times Too frequently, in fact. I’m learning, just as you are, how to treat people with respect in my thoughts. And it’s hard to do. Why? Because just like you and I “people” are imperfect beings that are bound to screw up or to offend someone else. Certain people just get on our nerves. Some people we’ll have a harder time showing God’s love to in our thoughts. But, that doesn’t mean that we’re off the hook by any means. Jesus tells us that we are to love our neighbor, which is every person who is not “me”, just like we love ourselves.
Back to part 1 of this series for a moment. I mentioned that I attended Gateway Conference in October and that Joel Osteen was one of the “attractions” being presented. I’ll admit, I have had some negative thoughts about Joel and his ministry that I need to repent (publicly) of. I’ve often characterized his message as “soft-soap,” and not felt strongly about his responses to some public interviews. However, I let that attitude fester and become sinful. I’ve even written snide or off-handed remarks about him.
But, at Gateway Conference, I got to see another side of Joel. In an unprepared interview with Pastor Robert Morris, Joel never shied away from his faults. He admitted that he’s been caught off guard by some questions the secular media has thrown at him and not answered as well as he could have. He admitted that he is unashamedly “positive” and that that forms his life message to people. In effect, I got to see his heart. Pastor Robert also reminded the crowd that Billy Graham was attacked with all of the same arrows in his day. He went so far as to label Joel the Billy Graham of our day, and his recent appearance on Jimmy Fallon (how many other preachers are touring that circuit) seemed to back it up. All things said, it changed my heart towards the man. This is a man who is on the same team as me… and yet, all I wanted to do for a while was attack him and his ministry. You know where those type of thoughts come from, right?
I’m not saying to excuse terrible theology (I’m still working on repenting from my tirades against a few other recently mainstream guys over that), but I am saying that it is one thing to talk about a person without knowing their heart and quite another to meet them and see their heart bleeding for lost people – perhaps even more than your own does. Of course, it was a satyrical comment from the awesomely snarky Perry Noble that cut me the deepest. To paraphrase, Perry stated that he “laughed when pastors make fun of Joel Osteen when Joel regularly has more people attending the bathrooms in his church than they have in their entire congregation.” Theology matters. It is important that we get it right, but sometimes we forget about people. God loves people… that is sound theology. So, my attitude has changed. I went from knocking over a straw-man characterization of Joel, to hearing his heart, respecting him as a man of God, and wanting to fight with him against the enemy, rather than fight against him with the enemy.
Just as He always does, Jesus also modeled this principle for us when He was walking around on this earth. Before He was captured and crucified, Christ held a dinner with His closest friends and partners. And on that night Jesus did something that was so scandalous, so amazing, that 2000 years later we are still talking about it with awe.
Jesus knelt down to wash the disciple’s feet. Let me say that another way… The God of the universe, Creator of all that is and ever was, the only One to exist before time itself, the very power by which each and every one of us draws our breath of life, knelt down and washed his friend’s stinky, smelly feet. This is astounding. Back in the day these guys didn’t have Air Jordan’s with the platinum laces. They walked around with thin sandals or with no shoes at all. They also didn’t drive down well maintained highways. They walked on the same roads that the beasts of burden worked and relieved themselves on.
Do you see the magnitude of this yet? Jesus, the prophesied King of Kings and Lord of all, got down in the dirt and used a piece of His clothing to wipe manure and filth off of the stinky, sweaty feet of a bunch of low-life fishermen. Jesus didn’t think that He was anything less than the God of the universe and yet He considered others before He considered Himself (doesn’t that blow you away? Spend 20 minutes thinking that thought over and over and wonder at the implications and challenge for us), so much so that He got on His knees and wiped their feet.
This is the model that we are to follow in our lives for each and every person. Even though I may find one person frighteningly more annoying than anyone else that I have met, I am called to love them in my actions and in my mind more than I love myself. That’s a hard task. But there are great results from this. I have found that if I will allow myself to step outside of myself for a moment’s time, people are really not all that bad. In fact, most of the time, I don’t dislike the person that I have these hateful feelings towards at all. In reality I only dislike the monster that I’ve created in my own imagination.
Knowing this, if I begin to treat everyone as if I liked them, I often begin to like them in reality as well. That’s why I urge us all to be cautious about the sudden judgments of “loser”, “geek”, “idiot”, “jerk”, or any number of other slams that we tend to think about people in the lightning flash of a second. Especially those in the media or in politics. We can’t ignore where they attack the moral foundations of our formerly great society, but if we create monsters in their image, we’ve begun acting like sinful monsters ourselves. Allowing yourself to think negatively about people often leads to this loser death cycle that really just persecutes this imaginary monster that you have constructed in your head, but spills out to the way you treat yourself and others around you.
Remember, “This is how they will know that you are My disciples, that you love one another” (John 13:35) The way in which you think of others ends up being the way that you treat them, and the way that you treat others will affect whether or not they ever even want to consider following Christ, let alone join the battle. We must fight the post-modern mindset that says that whatever I do only affects me. We must learn to see how our actions effect other people and then lead them along the trail of purity to the feet of a humble carpenter who is the King of all. We must teach them with how we live our lives, how to join the revolution.
So, that’s it for this series. Check back next week, where we’ll start a new series over… something, I’m sure. Likely back on a more music-oriented topic, I’m sure.