Have you ever been doing something much better than usual until you started thinking about it—then you fell apart?
I love to play golf! In the past, I have played well enough to shoot in the 80’s though I have never shot in the 70’s. One time I stood at 76 strokes on the 18th tee needing a birdie to “break 80.” The hole was a short par four with a wide-open fairway—it was “birdie hole.” As I readied myself to pound that final drive fully aware of where I stood on my round, I began to feel nervous.
Just like that, I started to recall all the failures of my golfing life. I completely forgot how beautiful the day had been and wouldn’t you know it; I blocked my shot dead right and double-bogeyed the hole for an 82. For you non-golfers—I biffed it! This failure was the equivalent of missing two free throws to lose the championship or fumbling the football at the goal line! I wonder if Peter felt the same when he realized he was walking on water!
Look at Me?
In life, there are times we become painfully aware of ourselves. We come to realize our shortcomings and our failures making them our focus. Many times, as we encounter struggles, we think we are the only ones in the world dealing with difficulties. During these situations, we tend to think of self-preservation. Sometimes, we even justify our evil actions against other people by using our trials as an excuse.
My actions toward my family are good examples of this. There have been times I have become sinfully angry at my wife or kids falsely thinking I was justified because I had a stressful day at work or because my life was just hard in general. I thought that they would understand that my boss had yelled at me or that we had not made our sales goal or whatever else might have been going on.
However, you know what? My family did not understand these things—nor should they have. I was putting undue expectations on them and was not dealing with my own heart. I am called to be a loving husband and father every day no matter the difficulties I face. I am expected to love them even when I do not feel like it or when the roof is caving in or whatever else may befall me.
I’m the Greatest?
We erroneously think that we are the most important person in the world, or at least we act like it. Moreover, we have been taught this from an early age. We get what we want. Our thoughts, our needs, our situations are the most pressing. We tend to forget that everyone else faces difficulties and has needs. Ultimately, this points to the most significant issue we all face—our sinful hearts. We are selfish and rebellious, and we have a deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9) which makes it difficult to discern how we should think. I know this is not a popular notion in our world. Our hearts make up stories full of lies in which we are the hero, and anyone who does not bow to our desires becomes an enemy to be destroyed.
In other words, our deceitful hearts make it impossible to know whether we are right or wrong unless someone helps us see clearly. However, you may protest, “Don’t those who try to help have the same evil heart obscuring their view?” The answer is an emphatic yes! No one can be completely objective. God understands this! Therefore, He gave us the word of God to expose our hearts.
The writer of Hebrews states, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Other people, including your spouse and children, cannot fully know and understand your thoughts even if you try to explain them. We cannot even understand our own hearts! However, God not only knows your thoughts—He can judge them through His word.
I Have a Destructive Nature?
Beloved, our heart problem is destructive and can bring a family, a church, or any other human endeavor to its knees if not adequately addressed. When things are not going as we expect, we tend to think that we are the only ones struggling and we blame others for our misery. We forget the wickedness of our hearts. We fail to recall that we cannot trust ourselves to discern the truth. We fail to see the destructive nature of our self-focus.
Many times, we fully realize our self-focus and agree that our actions are wrong, but we still try to justify ourselves. We look at others and think, “Don’t you realize how much I am suffering? I know this is wrong, but it is okay because I’m hurting.” However, it is not okay, and if we do not change, we will slowly destroy every meaningful relationship. As we struggle, we forget to look to the Scriptures which can judge the thoughts and intentions of our heart.
Christ Is the Answer!
As you may expect, the word of God provides a profound answer to how we are to shed ourselves of this destructive self-focus. Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
The Apostle says to regard others as more important than ourselves. The answer to our problem is that simple, yet no one said it is easy! We are to look out for the interests of others and not for our own interests. Put another way; we are to love the Lord with all our strength and our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus calls these the two greatest commandments, and James calls this the Royal Law or the law of the kingdom. According to our Lord, these two commands sum up the entire law and prophets. In other words, these commands help us understand the heart of God.
Later in Philippians 2, Paul offers his readers the supreme example of humbly following this truth—the Lord Jesus—who though He was God and sinless Man, humbled Himself to the point of death even death on a cross. The One who created the tree from which the cross was hewn, hung from it. He was put there by men created in His image. He could have called down legions of angels to protect Himself, yet He chose to endure the suffering for a higher purpose and from start to finish, He focused on His Father’s will.
Change Your Focus!
So, as you are suffering instead of focusing on the pain, fix your eyes upon Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith and look for ways to help your brothers and sisters who are also in distress. In doing so, your pain and suffering will fade away, your love for Christ will increase, and your relationships with others will become closer and stronger! This is a promise you can count on!