"The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7) In our image-based, superficial culture with people only looking at our outward appearance, our physique, our clothes, our cars and houses, our titles, we can so easily fall into the trap of playing to the wrong audience and try to impress people with a good outward appearance rather than please the Lord with an inner life of truth that is reflected in an outward life of authenticity that reveals His character and glorifies Him. I did the former for 38 years and it cost me greatly. I hope and pray, by God’s grace, I have quit playing that game.
This was my confession as part of a written report called “Looking Back” as we unpacked our past before the Lord and with each other in our Quest for Authentic Manhood group. I continued by saying: Half of the battle is seeing our sins (versus the blind spots we all have) and our ability to see them coincides with our intimacy with the Lord and our willingness to be gut-level honest with Him and a few close friends. "This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship (intimacy) with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship (intimacy) with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:5-9) "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." (James 5:16) The way these Scriptures relate to my authenticity as a man is this: If I lie to my wife, for example, about something that I did wrong in our relationship, it will hurt our intimacy (fellowship) and I lose the depth of love and truth she can bring into my life. Likewise, if I try to hide things from God (which is impossible) it hurts my intimacy with Him because Satan works in the dark when I hide my sin. God works in the light when I admit my sin. So I continue hurting myself and others the rest of my life until I intentionally bring my sin to the light with the Lord (confession) and with some close friends, my wife and others. This is the way the Lord works to heal us and set us free. "Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom." (Psalm 51:6) As I thought more about this I expanded these thoughts in a teaching called ‘Knowing Ourselves and Hearing From God’ as follows:
"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." (Proverbs 27:17) "As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don’t need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don’t need you!" (1 Corinthians 12:20-21)
We cannot know ourselves without genuine relationships first with God and then with others. We are created in the image of God to be relational for God is relational as the Triune God, Three Persons in One. In our fallenness we are individualistic, autonomous, independent, but God calls us to be interdependent (not co-dependent, i.e., needing another person in a wrong, unhealthy or sinful way). Even as the physical body is handicapped when one part of the body is injured, so we are handicapped to the degree we are not genuinely related to a group of people in God’s “family” (another highly relational term). In Adam and Eve’s fallenness they were self-deceived and in our flesh as Christians we too are self deceived. Thus we are unaware of our sins. And, unless others, beginning with the Lord by His Word and Spirit and then other people, show us where we are wrong or hurting them and ourselves etc., we will continue to sin and grieve the Lord and hurt ourselves and others for we never sin in a vacuum. "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (Hebrews 4:12-13) As we surrender our lives to God by “being filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), He begins the process of changing us and opening us up to Him to receive His love and truth and opening us up to others to give and receive love and truth. Thus He begins to make us more relational versus independent. Yet the flesh fights against losing its autonomy – my perspective, my opinion, my needs, my time, my rights and we see this battle going on even in a mature Christian like Paul. (See Romans 7:14-8:4) But we also see the way to victory. First of all Paul’s transparent confession of sin (this is a letter the great leader of the church is writing to his disciples/students in the church in Rome) and secondly, his total reliance on the goodness of God (not self) through the indwelling Holy Spirit. So, as we saw earlier, honest confession of sin to God (1 John 1:5-9 – see above) and to others (James 5:16 – see above) is part of the healing process. Thus admitting our sin (versus justifying it) to God and others and receiving God’s forgiveness and His powerful blood to cleanse, purify and change us, is the ongoing, continual process of spiritual growth as we desire to be conformed to the image of the Perfect One – Jesus. The closer we grow to Him, the more we see the imperfections and the promised work of God to change us as (if) we confess our sins. Our work is ongoing confession. God’s work is the on-going cleansing from sin and molding us into the image of Jesus.
Hearing from God
"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1) "Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said." (1 Corinthians 14:29)
"For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure." (Proverbs 11:14)
God speaks to us through His Word and by His Spirit and in other ways too – through other people, trials that get our attention, experiences that confirm a leading from the Lord even through dreams and through angels. But ultimate objectivity is through God’s Word which is perfect truth. God’s will never contradicts His Word and/or His character. So if we do something that violates His Word and character as Christians we are taking His Name (character) in vain for we are His representatives and especially when we say “God told me to do this”. But as the above Scriptures point out, we have to test the spirits, let others carefully weigh our understanding of God’s Word and seek to enhance our ability to rightly hear God’s Word. Again in our autonomy we often fail to seek advice and test what we think we hear God saying. We need to change the phrase – “the Lord told me to do so and so” to – “it seems the Lord may be leading me to do so and so” and then begin asking others to help us discern God’s will in a situation, especially those who are directly affected or who may be inconvenienced or possibly hurt by our decision. Again, God works through relationships and as we dialogue with others about how He may be leading us we take relational principles into consideration such as: keeping our word and commitments and putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes.
"Who keeps his oath (word) even when it hurts," (Psalm 15:4) "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12-13) "If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen." (1 John 4:20) After we dialogue with others we then we need to wait patiently for that deep down sense of peace from God (Colossians 3:15) to move in one direction or another. This process takes both humility and patience, characteristics that we don’t come by naturally (in the flesh and in the world) but supernaturally – the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
"Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." (Hebrews 13:7) A person cannot truly know themselves apart from honest and genuine relationships with God and others and, as this passage says, others can know us best by the “outcome of our way of life”. Has our faith in God revealed the character of God in the way we treat people – our spouse especially and our children as well as our parents, friends, employer, employees and even our enemies (See 1 Timothy 3: 1-5; 1 Peter 3:1-7; 1 John 4:20). If we are not reflecting God’s character in these relationships God wants to use this to teach us more about Him and more about ourselves. It certainly doesn’t mean that we are always the person in the wrong, especially with those who dislike our faith in God or with those who are hurtful and unrepentant, but it should cause us to seek the Lord to see if we have fault in the relationship. "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:18) Thus those who we seek counsel from to help us discern the will of God should know the “outcome of our way of life” in our close relationships for this can reveal potential character flaws and blind spots that may come into play in the decision at hand. A Christ-centered neighborhood church and/or home group is one way we can know a person’s family and social life, or we can build relationships as married couples and families to see each other in action so to speak. So we would be wise and Biblical to seek counsel from mature Christians and from those who know us in the context of our family and social life, our “church life” included.
The Spiritual Development Review is a tool for prayerful self-examination of our relationship with the Lord and others. Although it is a subjective evaluation on how we see ourselves (1 being low and 5 being high in a given area), it can be a tool to see where we need to and desire to grow and change. It can also be done with the help of a close friend, mentor or your spouse. If you use this remember that God convicts us in specific ways, attitudes or actions that are wrong and which, in His power, can be corrected. But He never condemns us, saying for example, “you are a bad husband or uncaring mother”, etc. (Romans 8:1) As I have heard it said, “God loves us just as we are but so much that He won’t leave us there.” His purpose for our lives is nothing less than conformity to the likeness of His Son (Romans 8:29) and as we co-labor with Him (Philippians 2:12-13) and with others in honest and authentic relating we will be changed to His glory.
On the journey and in process,
Len and Kristen
P.S. Men’s Prayer Retreat – Wednesday March 16 at the Ignatius House in Atlanta. A Day Alone With God. Call or e-mail me for details. 770-868-9993; [email protected]