Unleash Your Good Samaritan Impulses /Spiritual Meditations

The parable of the Good Samaritan (who pays it forward in a big way) not only compares the actions of the self-righteous and the righteous but speaks of human motivations to help or not help. Although we vilify the priest and the Levite, we find ourselves exhibiting the same avoidance behavior (sin of omission) on a regular basis.  How can we recognize and overcome our tendencies to ignore opportunities to show compassion?

Why do People Help?

Evolutionary Model

The evolutionary model maintains that people are naturally inclined to help one another because it contributes to the survival of the species. This is especially true in situations that are considered low or moderate risk, such as helping someone pick up something they have dropped.  

In higher risk situations, however, a phenomenon called kin selection occurs. Kin selection indicates that people are more likely to help only their relatives, because they are intuitively carrying on their genetic line.

Egoistic Model

Whereas the evolutionary model seems to employ a more collective effort for helping behavior, the egoistic model suggests that sometimes people egoistically help others because helping elicits some type of reward. People who are intrinsically motivated, help others because it makes them feel good inside. Their empathy allows them to understand what another person is feeling and their desire to relieve them of their suffering elicits an altruistic behavior.  Think of it this way: when you give a donation to a cause about something you care about, you are not necessarily expecting anything in return.  Because you deeply care about that cause, it makes you feel good to be a part of it.

When intensified to an emergency, bystanders may feel fear, anxiety or sympathy.  Being upset by this emotion the bystander feels a need to relieve it.  The greater the perceived need for help, the greater the bystander’s emotional response and the greater their likelihood of providing assistance.  But not always as you will soon see.

Reciprocity

Reciprocity states that people help because they expect to be helped in return. Additionally, it states that a person who has been helped previously, will feel indebted to help those who helped them.  And often that is true.  But let’s say that you give a donation to your cause, but you know that you are getting a gift card to your favorite restaurant in return.   Although this may seem like a selfish motive it is not necessarily so.  Often it is apparent that the donation is of a far greater value than the reward-it is a thank you rather than a reciprocation, but it’s just enough to make the giver feel like they are also getting.

Furthermore, helping someone and thus receiving something in return, can benefit your family. Although the welfare of your family can be seen as a gesture of self-interest, you may be motivated knowing you are contributing to their health, safety, and happiness. Of course, we can also see an example of the evolutionary perspective here as well: you are helping someone and receiving something in return in order to enhance the survival of your family, which in turn carries on your genes.

Social Responsibility

Social responsibility is a feeling that a person has an obligation to act in such a way that benefits the whole society. With this, a person has a duty to fulfil or maintain the balance in his environment. A person may do this actively, by donating money to government NGO’s or recycling their garbage, or passively, by ensuring that he commits no harm to others.

The passive response brings to the surface a discussion of the “sins of omission” wherein we don’t further damage someone in need, but neither do we do anything to help them.  We ignore them: let’s see why.

Why do People NOT Help?

The Bystander Effect

This concept states that the presence of bystanders inhibits or decreases the likelihood of a person helping another. The more bystanders there are, the less likely that a person will extend help [an experiment on bystander effect]. Several variables explain why this occurs.

Ambiguity

This variable pertains to a person’s perception of how grave the need is. High ambiguity situations would cause a person to have second thoughts about helping – for example, a soft cry vs. a loud scream.

Cohesiveness

This variable affects the likelihood that bystanders will help another based on familiarity with the person in need.  Remember evolutionary kin selection above?

Diffusion of Responsibility

The presence of other bystanders leads one to believe that the others will take responsibility. This may be affected by skills or qualifications, in which one believes that others are more qualified to help, thereby avoiding giving unwarranted assistance.  How many films have you seen in which a crowd gathers on a beach watching a drowning person?  Did you admire the one or two individuals who stepped out to provide the rescue?

Modern Good Samaritan Rescues Boy from Humiliation

I found the following post on social media. It provides a great example of someone who acted compassionately, but also note that it appears that there was only one bystander who might have inhibited the woman’s intuitive response to help.

Amber Schaefer
February 14, 2019
So, I just stopped at Arby’s to treat myself to a mint shake for V-day. While waiting for my order I was watching this silly and playful group of high school boys order lunch for V-day for the girls with them. One young man who was hanging towards the back of the group was being pretty quiet and particularly caught my eye. The last boy placed his order for the young lady and ordered nothing for himself. The girl then ran away with her gaggle of other girls to go get seats. I watched this boy fumble through his empty wallet holding only $2. He then hands over his debit card slowly and of course it declined. I watched his little head look down with the saddest feeling of defeat and boy did it pull at my heart strings (I literally could feel his heart sink into his stomach while his mind frantically raced as how to fix this situation without his friends knowing)…I pray no one ever has to feel that feeling of sheer embarrassment and helplessness because of lack of money…Lord knows I’ve stood right where he was many times in my life…it’s awful.

Just then, his girl comes fluttering back to the counter to check on him…the cashier and I’s eyes locked and it was just this overwhelming feeling in my body that I had to do something. Being a mom makes you look at the whole world differently. So, as though it was second nature, I quickly bent down and pretended to pick up $20 as though he dropped it. I handed it to him and he paid with his mouth wide open. He then tried to hand the change to me as his girl went to fill up her drink cup. I politely declined and told him he still needed to get her dessert. In that moment, a 15 year old boy grabbed my hand and squeezed it so tightly…with tears welling in his eyes he simply stated “Thank you…thank you for your kindness ma’am”

That was an awesome moment. As I went to leave with my shake, the cashier winked and said with a giant smile, “well played!”

I didn’t change the world today…but maybe, just maybe, I helped a boy know that love and kindness can come in many forms. Damn that felt good…especially on Valentine’s Day 💘

This lady had just gloriously avoided a “sin of omission” and gives us an excellent example of empathy and altruism in action.

How Can We Realize Greater Christian Perfection?

Dr Samuel Paul Veissiere provides brilliant insight on how we can do better at avoiding the sins of omission by merely acting on our natural impulses.

He observes that probing the core of what makes us human can seem rather bleak in these times of humanitarian crisis. That we have such a crisis to begin with speaks to the terrifying violence, callousness and ignorance we are all capable of.  But there is also something deeply precious about our unique nature-nurture, and now more than ever, it is time to remember, honor, and summon that part of the human in each of us.

Altruism, cooperation, and caring for the vulnerable is what made our species unique. It is empathy and cooperation, not self-interest and competition, that drove our physiological, cognitive, linguistic, cultural, social, and technological evolution. We wouldn’t be the large-brained, neurally-plastic, intelligent, cumulatively-learning, empathetic beings that we are without the mutual help that characterizes our everyday interactions.

Our evolutionary history is one of collective child-rearing, cooperative hunting and gathering, caring for elders and the sick, and freely sharing information. Raising weak, slow-maturing human infants requires immense amounts of collective effort and the free sharing of knowledge, attention, time, love, joy, and fun. This is a miracle that we have reproduced in each generation. That every one of us can walk, think, talk, and imagine in one or more language(s) and navigate complex social worlds is a testament to this collective miracle. We owe this miracle to everyone alive today, and all that came before us. We could never be our own selves, in other words, without others – without all others in time and space!

In his excellent ethno-history of money and passionate debunking of the rational-actor, homo econominus‘ view of human nature, anthropologist David Graeber points out that for most of human history, the reciprocal expectation that social obligations had to be repaid in kind was simply not the norm.

What’s in it for you, after all, when you stop a stranger to let them know they dropped their wallet, when you freely give them directions, or watch their belongings on a beach or at a café? Absolutely nothing! Nothing beyond the intrinsic, automatic urge to help a fellow human.

Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone but does nothing to help their circumstances. It is without consequence or action. Another way to look at any problem is through the lens of empathy; and to distinguish between what we may term deep and shallow levels of empathy.

Empathy requires the ability to put oneself in someone else’s perspective. Intuiting ‘correct’ behavior from a set of implicit rules  (something at which humans are extraordinarily skilled) requires just such perspective-taking abilities. We behave according to the way we expect others to expect us to behave in any given context. Empathy is a highly complex cognitive operation that we engage in without conscious effort in all but the most trying of everyday actions, from knowing how and where to sit on a bus or waiting room to ignoring the homeless.  Bystander experiments in social psychology have shed ominous light on our collective social minds: as strange as it may seem, someone being harassed in public is more likely to be helped by a stranger if there are fewer people around; if the bystander mode of attention is one of callousness and ignorance, breaking that spell becomes counter-intuitive and very difficult for all involved.

Consider the following scenario. You are sitting in a crowded subway, and notice a pregnant woman standing by the doors. Every part of you is aching to get up and offer your seat (deep empathy), but everyone on the train is looking down at their mobile phone and blocking off the social world around them with their headphones. You find yourself, somehow, too shy to offer help.

You leave the train filled with shame, and soon forget about the incident.  Your basic empathetic abilities in this case are translated into a pro-social urge to enforce local norms-do what everybody else is doing. This is what Dr. Veissiere terms shallow empathy.

The scenario described above is something we have all experienced. We experience it daily. We experienced it with tears and horror when we saw the picture of the dead Syrian child washed ashore on the Turkish beach during the September 2015 refugee crisis. We desperately wanted to help, but soon felt too shy or insignificant. Some of us shared the picture on social media and wept a little more; some of us donated money here or there, but soon, we all moved on to the next Facebook post about cats, cars, or vegan meals, and resumed our ignorant bliss as usual.

What it takes to break out of the hypnotic pull of rule-governed shallow empathy, then, is an approach to virtue ethics that is best exemplified in Confucian and Taoist traditions; one which, as neuroscientist and philosopher Francisco Varela argued can be broken down in cognitive-scientific terms. In the Confucian and Taoist practice of wisdom, the sage does not rely on abstract rules like those of the western sense of obligation, but rather trusts his or her intuition to act virtuously according to the minute particulars of each situation (remember the lady at Arby’s). Who would not ‘violate’ someone’s private property to rescue a child drowning in a residential swimming pool? Surely, the virtuous thing to do in such a situation is to overlook our respect for another’s property in order to save a life.  But how many of us would allow our socially-created conscious to delay us too long before jumping that fence and submerging ourselves, cellphone, wallet and all, to save that drowning child?

As we can see, intuition is no simple matter. The autopilot through which we navigate most of our everyday situations is deeply conditioned by largely implicit social regimes of attention that shape our every movement. This, in a nutshell, is what anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu  described as the “habitus”, or the way in which our most ‘personal’ styles of thinking, moving, and feeling, are constrained by a broader cultural context. It is this “broader cultural context”, (see ‘Why People Do Not Help’ above), which we must become more aware of as each situation presents itself.  To overpower it with our more ethical intuitive response to assist others allows us to avoid sins of omission
Once we are conscious of this problem, the virtuous approach entails an arduous back-and-forth monitoring of our conscious and unconscious intuitions, and the search for that right gut feeling, that feels counter-intuitive most of the time, on which to base our actions.  It supports our desire to offer our seat on a bus to a pregnant woman or comfort a homeless man who was crying on the sidewalk.  It also begins with a critical, ongoing examination of how we see others that continually shapes our relationships. In this process we may discover that our culture has fostered the wrong kinds of standard values.  At this point we are ready to rediscover and learn from other cultures, that have made charity and hospitality a sacred tenet, what it is like to be human.

The tradition of care and hospitality to strangers, to be sure, has been encoded, honored and kept alive in many languages, moral systems, and everyday modes of relations. This is what the African tradition of Ubuntu, “the quality of being human” stands for. In the island Mayotte off the coast of East Africa, people like to say mañka uluñu uluñu uluñu: “what makes a person is other people”.

In the postindustrial capitalist West, our deepest sense of ‘self’ has been shaped by the false notion that individual problems are distinct from social problems. As we forget our history and that of the world, we become content, selfish, and ignorant. We are not entitled to any of the privileges we take for granted.  More than our privileges, we owe our very life to humanity and the planet as a whole. This is a debt that, as David Graeber points out, can never be repaid.  The road ahead, then, entails honoring this Gift through compassion, love and care for others, even – and especially! – when it seems socially counter-intuitive to do so.

Conclusion

Even though he had just heard of the death of his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus wasn’t just sympathetic to the crowd before he fed the 5000. He didn’t just feel sorry for them. He had compassion for them, and that gut reaction spurred him to do what he could to help them. He cured their sick. He met them at their need and did what he could to serve them, to minister to them.  

It’s a heart issue. The sin of omission is allowed by the widespread hardness of societies heart. But everyone has the choice to follow their instinct and step out of the crowd in a stand for virtue ethics. When you listen to the Still Small Voice or act on your natural desire to help, you can welcome refugee families in your homes; show mercy for those trying to escape from violence and deprivation; campaign for healthcare, and immigration law reform in your countries, and so much more.

Then think further and keep questioning your allegiances to such strangely violent and narrow rule-governed divisions such as race, political party, and nation-states.  You can do it.

If you found this article interesting, informative, inspiring or useful please share it.

Relevant Scripture

Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion,  and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?”  And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:30-37)

References

“Caring for Others Is What Made Our Species Unique” by Samuel Paul Veissiere PhD

“Psychology of Helping Others” by Instructor: Joshua Mummert

The Psychology Notes HQ    

Longing to Reciprocate God’s Astonishing Love /Spiritual Meditations

God is love. The supreme surprise of God’s love is that it has nothing to do with you.  God loves you because He decides to.  You don’t influence God’s love. The apostle John didn’t say that God is occasional love or frequent love, but God IS love.  If your actions altered God’s love, it would be human love. 

God Loves Everyone, Always

God’s love is unconditional. Life may be good or we may wallow in despair. Success signals God’s love no more than struggles indicate the lack of it.  When you abide in His love, you make it your home in the good times and the bad times.

“God’s love is all-inclusive and takes under its wing all being, your being and mine, saint and sinner alike.  Until you understand that this is the nature of God, you cannot know Him aright” writes Joel S. Goldsmith.

In his book Practicing the Presence, Mr. Goldsmith writes “the nature of God’s love is forgiveness.  Who loves and holds in condemnation! Who loves and holds a memory of something to be forgiven! In the heart of the lover there is no condemnation, there is compassion.  There is no condemnation from parent to child, no condemnation from lover to beloved.  There is no condemnation wherever there is love.  We do not hold those we love in condemnation.”

This can be seen in the recounting of the last earthly days of Jesus.  At the last supper in Matthew 26:31, Jesus says “tonight all of you will desert me”. All the disciples scoffed at the idea. Yet before the dark became dawn “all his disciples deserted him and ran away“. But when Christ rose from the dead, he never brought it up. Never. Not even one “I told you so.“ The disciples deserted Jesus, but he still loved them.

God Revealed the Extent of His Love to Julian of Norwich

Elaine A Heath gives us insight into the visions of Julian of Norwich as a part of her book The Mystic Way of Evangelism. It was revealed to Julian that not only does God forgive but that He understands that the emotional wounds that we experience in life are the cause of our sin.

Julian, a 14th century anchorite of Norwich, England, spent most of her life in a small cell attached to the church of Saint Julian, from whom she took her name. As an anchorite, her life was devoted to prayer, not for herself but for the world. Julian’s wisdom arose from a lifetime of meditation on a series of 15 visions she experienced on May 8, 1373, while gravely ill.

She saw to her astonishment that God‘s judgment is without wrath, that it will heal the entire cosmos. She saw that God looks at human sinfulness and brokenness “with pity and not with blame.“ Yet how could it be, Julian questioned, in light of sin, the devil, and the traditional teaching of the church, that God‘s judgment would be without wrath? Julian wrestled with God, unable to resolve the tension between what God showed her and what the church taught. Bewildered by the absence of God‘s wrath (as she understood it) in her vision, as well as God’s silence concerning the Damned, Julian wept, begging God to give her some way to reconcile the tension.  Then He gave her a 16th vision which she continued to contemplate.

As the years passed and Julian prayed, she came to understand that her vision told of the fall of humanity, cast not as willful or prideful rebellion, but because of childlike exuberance leading to a mistake. Julian’s God loves with a power that is deeper than sin, that heals all wounds, a love that binds humanity to God forever. Love is God’s meaning. God‘s essence. God’s overwhelming message to her is one of security for the saved. Even though she believes in the genuine possibility of hell for people, Julian’s stance becomes one of great help for all people who are the wounded. No matter how dreadful our conditions, the “sweet eye of pity is never turned away from us, and the operation of mercy does not cease. “

“The maternal grace of God draws and protects the sinful soul from the moment the soul is breathed into the body”, Julian writes. “Within our very physicality exists an operation of the Holy Spirit that mysteriously inclines us to God.”

Paul Explains the Depth of God’s Love

By pulling directly from Romans 8 we see where Paul initiates his love hunt with five life-changing questions for us to consider:

  • Question one: “if God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (verse 31). The presence of God tilts the scales of security forever in our direction so who could hurt us?
  • Question two: “since God did not spare even His own son but gave him up for us all, won’t God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?“ (v. 32). Would God save our soul and then leave us to fend for ourselves? Will He address eternal needs and ignore earthly? Of course not.
  • Question three poses: “who dares accuse us whom God has chosen us for His own? Will God? No! He is the one who has given us right standing with himself “ (v. 33). Once God excepts you, what other opinion matters? Every voice that accuses you, including your own, sounds ineffectual in the tribunal of heaven. God‘s acceptance trumps earthly rejection.
  • Question four continues: “who then will there be to condemn us? Will Jesus Christ? No, for he is the one who died for us and was raised to life for us and sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, interceding for us” (v. 34). Adjacent to God, within a whisper’s distance of your Maker, sits the one who died for you. So, let your accusers or your conscience speak against you. Your divine defense attorney mutes their voices. Why? Because he loves you.
  • Question five asks the primary question of this chapter, even the question of life: “can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? “ (v. 35). This question crests the top step of a great staircase. As we stand with Paul at the top, he bids us to look around for anything that can separate us from God‘s love. Can you name one element of life that signals the end of God’s devotion?

God Loves You, No Matter What

Are you convinced that you have never lived a loveless day? Not one. Those times you deserted the Christ: he loved you. You hid from him: he came looking for you. And those occasions you denied Christ, though you belong to him; were home with him?   God let you feel the shame of conscience and feel the heat of tears. But he never let you go. Your denials cannot diminish his love.

Nor can your doubts. While there is much we cannot know, that we’ll never know, we can be sure of this: doubts don’t separate doubters from God’s love.

Years ago, I confessed to God that, although I understood that He existed and loved me, I felt no love for Him in my heart.  This was during a period when I started searching for a closer relationship with God and had begun daily prayer and meditation.  Not long after, as I became closer to God, He opened the way for my reciprocal love.  He already knew my heart, but the confession of my separation from Him made it possible.

God sees the worst of us and loves us still. Your sins of tomorrow and failures of the future will not surprise him; He sees them now.

Longing to Love God

When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You,
“Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.” (Psalm 27:8)

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) was a mystic, activist, and author who had a great influence on Italian literature and the Catholic Church. Canonized in 1461, she is also a Doctor of the Church.

God spoke to Catherine in a vision saying

“When my goodness saw that you could be drawn in no other way, I sent him [Jesus] to be lifted onto the wood of the cross. And this way he drew everything to himself: for he proved his unspeakable love, and the human heart is always drawn to love. He would not have shown you greater love than by giving his life for you. You can hardly resist being drawn by love, then, unless you foolishly refuse to be drawn.”

Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of a French monastery in 1115 described his observation of how we journey toward God in his manuscript entitled On the Love of God. Perhaps you will see yourself in this continuum.

The first-degree of love : love of self for self’s sake.

In the human realm people love themselves for their own sake. This love of self is held in check by the command to love our neighbor. If we cannot love our neighbor because of our love of self, then we must restrain our lusts and give to our neighbor’s needs. Your love will then be temperate when you take from yourself and give it to your neighbor.

The second-degree of love: love of God for self’s sake

God blesses us with His protection. When we suffer from calamity, we turn to God and ask His help, calling upon Him in times of trouble that are beyond our abilities to remedy. This is how we who only love ourselves first begin to love God. We will begin to love God even if it is for our own sake. We love God because we have learned that we can do all things through him, and without Him we can do nothing.

Or as the apostle Paul asks, “does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity or are persecuted or hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death?“  Earthly affliction does not equate to heavenly rejection.

The third-degree of love: love of God for God’s sake

As trials and tribulations continue to come upon us, every time God brings us through, even if our hearts are made of stone, we will begin to soften because of the grace of the rescuer. Thus we, we begin to love God not merely for our sakes, but for himself.

In order to arrive at this, we must continually go to God with our needs and pray. In those prayers the grace of God is tasted, and by frequent tastings it is proved to us how sweet the Lord is. Thus, it happens that once God’s sweetness has been tasted it draws us to the pure love of God more than our needs compel us to love him. Thus, we begin to say, “we now love God not for our necessity, but we ourselves have tasted and know how sweet the Lord is.“

When we begin to feel this, it will not be hard to fulfill the second commandment: to love our neighbor. For those who really truly love God in this way also love the things of God. Also, it becomes easier to be obedient to all the commands of God. We begin to love God‘s commands and embrace them.

This love is pure because it is disinterested. It is pure because it is not merely in our words that we begin to serve, but in our actions. We love because we are loved. We care for others because Jesus cared for us.

We have obtained this degree when we can say, “give praise to the Lord for He is good, not because He is good to me, but because He is good.“ Thus, we truly love God for God sake and not for our own. It should be noted that in this third degree we will stand still for a very long time.

The fourth degree of love: love of self for God’s sake

Blessed are we who experience the 4th degree of love wherein we love ourselves for God’s sake. Such experiences are rare and come only for a moment. In a manner of speaking, we lose ourselves as though we did not exist, utterly unconscious of ourselves and emptied of ourselves.

If for even a moment we experienced this kind of love, we will then know the pain of having to return to this world and its obligations as we are recalled from the state of contemplation.

This perfect love of God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength will not happen until we are no longer compelled to think about ourselves and attend to the body’s immediate needs. Only then can the soul attend to God completely. This is why, in the present body that we have, it is difficult to maintain. I do not know if we can attain this degree in this life.

Conclusion

God has created in us a need for love and a need to express love.  He created our souls in His image as loving extensions of Himself so that we will seek a loving relationship with Him.  The perfect reciprocal love, for which we strive, is only found in Him.  Do you feel a longing to be one with God?  You can be, through deeply felt prayer and meditationIt takes time, so be patient with yourself.  When we connect with Him we become fountains from which His abundant love can be poured out for others; our spouse, family, friends, strangers, and even our enemies. In the moment we are enfolded in God’s love, His love permeates our being.  His love is the central theme of our being.  His love is our life.

Relevant Scripture

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalms 73: 25-26)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:7-21)

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:17-18)

References

 Come Thirsty by Max Lucado

Revelation of Devine Love by Julian of Norwich

On the Love of God by Bernard of Clairvaux

The Dialogue by Catherine of Siena

The Mystic Way of Evangelism by Elaine A Heath

Does Your Idol Speak Louder than Jesus /Spiritual Meditations

Why is there an intense fascination with celebrity?  29 million people in the United States watched the wedding pageantry of British Prince Harry to Megan Markle, an event which affects none of them personally.  Magazines like People and TV shows like TMZ or Entertainment Tonight provide details into celebrities’ comings and goings far beyond what is of any practical value to anyone.  Professional sports players and politicians are lifted as role models and heaped with praise while parents, teachers, godparents, and friends (whom are far more important to a person’s moral development) are hardly acknowledged. 

When we hear the word idol, we often think of statues and objects reminiscent of those worshiped by pagans in ancient cultures. However, the idols of the 21st century often bear no resemblance to the artifacts used thousands of years ago. Today, many have replaced the “golden calf” with an insatiable drive for money or prestige or “success”. Some pursue the high regard of others as their ultimate goal. Some seek after comfort or a myriad of other passionate, yet empty, pursuits. Sadly, our societies often admire those serving such idols.

We support politicians and self-professed leaders. We media-stalk and try to emulate celebrities.  We buy shirts displaying the names of our sports heroes. We behave as though these are infallible and worthy of our devotion. If only we were as wealthy, talented or beautiful as they are, we would receive more attention which appeals to our sense of vanity. Since those dreams are not likely to become reality, we settle for the next best thing – we consider ourselves a part of their ‘flock’. We mimic their rhetoric and make it our own and the more we repeat it the more we are emotionally bound to it.

They become our idols when they absorb our heart and imagination more than God; when we make then more important than God; when we follow their voice like sheep

Of course, we can make idols of possessions, careers, relationships, hobbies, sports, entertainment, goals, greed, addictions to alcohol/ drugs/ gambling/ pornography, etc., but today I’m just talking about people we admire…maybe admire a little too much.

Who are Our Models?

I’m not a “fan”.  I don’t consider anyone more significant than another, but I believe admiration is appropriate when a person demonstrates characteristics consistent with the Golden Rule or as extoled in the Bible.   In my mind, the “A list” of desirable traits is produced by the fruits of the Spirit.  Think of someone famous today, someone that you support, and then compare them to the following:

Envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:21-23)

How did your celeb measure up?  No, nobody is perfect and thank God for His grace, but how many of these traits does your favorite politician, hero or celebrity exhibit?  What does their history and lifestyle say about them?  If they profess to be a follower of Christ, are the fruits of the Spirit evident in them?  Can they be a positive influence or model if they aren’t manifesting some of them?

In many cases we see both wealth and poverty as deserved: wealth as the reward for their virtuous behavior and poverty as the reward for their vicious behavior.  With this in mind you may confess that you think that “he / she would never have become great if the fruits of the Spirit were important to them.  They were justified in pushing a few people aside to get where they are.” 

But what is so great about where they are?  If you answered their money, their power or their talent, you are missing the point of Christ’s teaching or have compromised your beliefs to be part of their flock.  What do they have that is of value to the Kingdom of God?  

Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:26-28)

Are your celebs serving anyone besides themselves? Don’t know? Here are some examples of how they can use their fame.

God, as revealed through Christ, is the only One truly worthy of our devotion, our service, and our love.  Those earthly beings that we put on a pedestal are nothing compared to Him.  Although the Holy Spirit seeks each lost sheep, God rejoices in those who listen to His voice and work within His will.  Each person must decide if they want to be part of God’s Kingdom or a part of the world’s pollution.  One can’t be both.

“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me. (Matt 12:30)

Wisdom as a Prerequisite to Leadership

Wisdom isn’t necessarily required for a rock star or actor, although it wouldn’t hurt, and some have delved into the spiritual. But for a political or military leader, wisdom is prized though, unfortunately, rare.  According to scripture, these are a few ways to determine if someone is wise.

  • They accept correction when they know they were wrong.
  • “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
  • They have godly integrity.
  • They are not easily offended
  • They are not obsessed with being ‘right’. When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom. (Prov 11:2)

Again, in Proverbs, the wisdom book:

“For wisdom is better than jewels;
And all desirable things cannot compare with her.
“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
And I find knowledge and discretion.
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil;
Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverted mouth, I hate. (Prov 8:11-13)

If We Aren’t Part of the Solution, We are Part of the Problem

Maybe I’m being too hard on our idols when it is we who are elevating them to this status.  The first commandment is clear.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me

We know this but don’t always realize it when we are creating our idols.  We are so easily led.  It is no wonder that God so often refers to us as sheep as in Psalm 23.  Regarding the jumble of lies and facts surrounding politicians, we know that we don’t know everything and, therefore, accept what our friends and the media tell us; it’s easier.  We usually have the resources to obtain our own answers, but we don’t take the time to do the research. Instead we acquire new opinions that augment or conform to what began as one idea or experience…a small sample of life and perhaps an insignificant one.  With the accumulation of the like thoughts we select, that initial idea grows into a mantra and manifesto.  Now it is hard to see truth; much easier to rationalize it away; more comforting to jump on the “band wagon” with our tribe; less threatening to our egos to continue in our chosen stance.

The Lord is My Shephard

When Jesus referred to us as sheep, He was talking about our vulnerability and His compassion for us. Jesus loved humanity so much that He pushed Peter to an emotional response, making it a point Peter could never forget.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" "Yes, LORD," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He answered, "Yes, LORD, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "LORD, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)

But why this crazy metaphor of sheep of all animals?  Here are just a few of the characteristics we have in common: 

*Sheep can’t defend themselves. When a sheep is frightened, the only thing it knows to do is run.  People can “fight” as well as “flight” but both reactions are based in fear, something God tells us repeatedly is unnecessary. Politicians are notorious for creating fears and then trying to convince us that only they can resolve them. But God is the only defender we need. “The LORD is my defense; and my God is the rock of my refuge” (Psalm 94:22).

*Sheep aren’t intelligent. Sheep are not known to be smart or cunning animals when it comes to safety; rather, they are susceptible and tend to wander away from the protection of the shepherd.   Compared to the wisdom of God, which is all knowing and all loving, human intelligence is miniscule.  (1 Cor 3:19).  People tend to wander away from God and bestow their affection on their idols.

*Sheep are Directionless.  Not only are sheep wanderers, but they get lost easily. When even one sheep goes astray, the shepherd goes after it and restores it to the flock. As Isaiah 53:6 indicates, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way.”  If a sheep wanders off from the rest of the herd, it will have a hard, if not impossible time, finding its way back. They have no sense of direction. So it is with those outside the Lord, there is simply no sense of spiritual direction in their lives.

*Sheep follow the voice of their own Shepherd (no other shepherd). The Bible says the sheep know the voice of the shepherd. They follow the one whom they know. You may never have a complete understanding of your circumstances with all the answers to the questions of life, but you will understand the love of God and the importance of following the Lord to the green pastures and living water.  Likewise, the shepherd leads the sheep. The sheep know their shepherd, the sound of his voice and follow him. This is also the way that the sheep are separated into separate herds after grazing or sleeping together. The shepherd calls the sheep and they come. They need no markings to distinguish them – all they need is the sound of the shepherd’s voice.

*A Sheep is a Personal, a Prized and a Precious Possession. This sheep belonged to the shepherd, he paid a personal price to own it and won’t stand idly by while it is lost. (Ill. The price Jesus paid for the sheep – Ill. Calvary – 1 Cor. 6:19-20)- This sheep may have been no different from any other ordinary sheep, but it was special to the shepherd. Despite their differences every sheep was precious in his eyes. So it is with the Lord. He loves all His sheep equally.

*Sheep must be led to grass, just as the Holy Spirit leads us to what we need. If left to themselves sheep will graze in the same place until all the grass is gone. A good shepherd leads them to the best places to graze to keep them healthy. He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Conclusion

There are many people out there vying for our attention and hoping we will contribute to their income.  They want our political donations, votes, ticket buys, and endorsement purchases among other things.  Granted, a little entertainment gives us relief from a stressful world, but let’s consider the source of that entertainment before we count ourselves as a member of its flock.  No person should be made an idol or be blindly followed.  We must open our eyes to who they really are. Only God has our best interests at heart and deserves our devotion.

What do you think?  Are the celebrities, heroes and politicians who you endorse worthy of you? You – one of God’s children?  Whose sheep do you choose to be?  I’m hoping you will answer “Jesus’”.

If you find this article interesting, informative, inspiring or useful, please share it.

Relevant Scripture

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Ex 20:4-6)

 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revelings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did ]forewarn you, that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.  Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned;  and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

 Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue;  for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. (John 12:42-43)

Like a roaring lion and a rushing bear
Is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding,
But he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days. (Proverbs 24:15-16)

A fool always loses his temper,
But a wise man holds it back.
If a ruler pays attention to falsehood,
All his ministers become wicked. (Proverbs 29:11-12)

The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. (Eccl 9:17-18)

Your rulers are rebels
And companions of thieves;
Everyone loves a bribe
And chases after rewards.
They do not defend the orphan,
Nor does the widow’s plea come before them. (Isaiah 1:23)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

References

“Five Reasons Why God Calls His People “Sheep””  by Bethany Hayes 

“Why Does God Call Us Sheep? on For His Service

“Why is Idol Worship Such a Powerful Temptation?” on Got Questions

“Why Do We Admire Celebrities?” with Jon Murphy 

flowers sky woman joy

How to Realize Spiritual Joy. Don’t Miss Out/Spiritual Meditations

 

Joy is almost a mystery, isn’t it?  Sometimes we struggle to grasp the biblical view of the elusive “joy” because of the way it is defined and described in Western culture today.

What’s the Difference Between Joy and Happiness?

In particular, we often confuse joy with happiness. Happiness may be momentary, as it is a result of short-term contentment; but joy, being related to the inner self, is long lasting. It is a deep-seated sense of what God has done and what He is doing. Happiness simply pleases a person, while joy brings warmth to the heart, and contentment to the soul. Probably the easiest distinction to understand is that happiness is dependent on outward circumstances, whereas joy is a spiritual quality independent of outward circumstances.

That doesn’t mean that all worldly events are without joy. An appreciation of God’s creations, such as nature and music, can be a source of joy.  The “Kingdom of God” is the manifestation of the astonishing sovereignty and glory of God. Sometimes God displays His glory and power by healing (2 Kings 5:1-14). Sometimes He puts a believer in a position of power (Esther 8:1-2). And sometimes He blesses His children with material possessions (Job 42:10-17). The key is that it is God who blesses, and although we may appreciate the gift, we rejoice that He has chosen to pour out His love, sovereignty, and power on us. We rejoice in the Giver, not just in the gift.

The Sources of Christian Joy

Once you realize that joy is not the same as happiness, it becomes a more difficult feeling to recognize but I hope you will be able to identify it by considering your unique experiences in relationship to the following sources of joy.

Joy is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit

Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruits 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.”
“Fruit” here means “the result of labor.” The laborer is the Holy Spirit.  So, what Galatians 5:22-23 really describes are traits characteristic of a believer who has yielded to the Holy Spirit’s work in his or her life. One of these character traits is joy.

God’s Presence Brings Joy

In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Psalms 16:11).

“There is a joy which isn’t given to the ungodly, that of those who love thee for thine own sake, whose joy thou thyself art; and this is the happy life to rejoice in thee, and of thee. This is it and there is none other.” – Augustine

Joy is Found in a Personal Relationship With God.

The Holy Spirit is God’s spirit, so when you unlock the presence of God or the Holy Spirit you may be feeling joy. This is the source of joy that I identify with the most strongly.  As I write this, I feel my heart, my soul connected with the heart, the Spirit of God. It is an extraordinary contentment or heart happiness.

If you have not already done so, this is something you can experience, in time, by meditating on spiritual truths as described on my blog page entitled “How to Meditate to Reach Higher God Consciousness.  There is an expansion of this idea in my post entitled “A Clear Mind Improves God Awareness”.

The Knowledge that God Answers Prayer is a Source of Joy

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
We can feel assured, that all our needs shall be supplied from the fountain that is inexhaustible—and that “no good thing” will be withheld from us. We can trace every mercy, every blessing, to the hand of God, and know that God has sent them in all the kindness and tenderness of a loving Father.  Which brings us to the point that our answered prayers are those within God’s will.

Alignment with God’s Will Brings Joy

We are never filled with more joy than when we are in the center of God’s will. When God can’t be persuaded to do things our way or we can’t change our situation, we finally give ourselves over to the will of God. Let’s surrender to and commit ourselves to pursuing God’s will. In this there is true joy. Also read Acts 20:24 and James 1:22-25.

God’s Word Brings Joy

God’s Word can be a glorious source of joy for the believer. As you read the Bible you may come across passages that suddenly speak to you in the moment, touching your heart with the recognition that God has just spoken to or answered you.  What joy!

Serving God with Other Believers is Joyful

Philippians 2:2 tells us that “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”  If you have been inspired to work with other Christians to provide service to those in need, you know how the gratitude received and the goals accomplished bring you unbelievable joy and satisfaction.

The Joy of Hope During Difficulties.

Because joy resides in our soul, it may not prevent us from experiencing negative surface emotions. To the Christian, who is living near to the throne of grace, there are sources of joy unknown to all others. He or she can even “rejoice in tribulation,” and “be glad in the Lord,” while experiencing pain, suffering, and distress. Not that we are insensible to trial and affliction, or that we steel ourselves to their endurance; not that we can gaze unmoved on the wreck of all our hopes, or see, without a tear of agony, beloved ones laid in their silent grave.

No! our affections are warmer and more tender; our sympathies deeper and stronger; our sensibilities more acute and lively, than those devoid of joy. We can feel and feel intensely the robbing of earthly joys. But then, we know where we can go for comfort, peace, satisfaction and hope and we remember the words of the Savior, “Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).
Given that the Bible tells us it is perfectly legitimate to experience mourning, sorrow, and grief, these feelings do not separate us from God. For we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4). The key is knowing. If we are to stand up under trials and experience joy, we must have a vision toward hope.  Remembering Jesus’ care for us and our ultimate victory in Him, we can experience joy even in our hidden hardships.

Jesus told His followers:

Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!” — Luke 6:22-23

The writers of the epistles followed Jesus’ lead:

You received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. — 1 Thessalonians 1:6

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials. — James 1:2

One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail. They were beaten; they were imprisoned; and who knew what would happen to them the next day? But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. — Acts 16:25

The kind of joy that gets you singing in jail at midnight with your back bleeding and your life hanging by a thread — that’s joy worth cultivating!

In our culture of instant gratification and constant amusement, it’s hard to understand the suffering the apostles endured for the sake of the gospel. We’ll do anything to avoid trials and tribulations. But often, in an attempt to keep anything uncomfortable from touching us, we miss the very thing God wants to use to lead us to the joy in Him. We can’t avoid difficulties, but amid all our troubles — there is God and His effervescent love.

This doesn’t mean we deny or disguise our feelings. It doesn’t mean we can or should shrug off pain or disappointment or try not to feel sorrow when we have good cause. It means we place our trust in God, and He opens the door to a joy beyond anything we can know on our own: the joy of knowing we are in His hands forever.

Gratitude for Our Salvation Brings Joy

The moment of salvation is inexpressibly joyous. This is our eternal, spiritual delivery from separation from God and our entry into heaven. Jesus came so that we might be saved, and the New Testament testifies that this experience is an occasion for priceless joy; for those converted and for those involved in the process. Many tears of joy have been shed when someone estranged from God, or who has been an enemy of God, has become His adopted son or daughter.

In Luke 15, Jesus told three stories of precious things that were lost and then found, and each was an occasion for joy: the shepherd who left ninety-nine sheep to search for and find one lost lamb; the woman who lost a valuable coin and found it; and the prodigal son, who was lost but found his way home.
In each story Jesus spoke of the rejoicing that surrounds the saving of one soul, and He described the joy that results:
I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. — Luke 15:7
After the Ethiopian eunuch was saved, he went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:39). Luke recorded the conversion of the Gentiles “caused great joy to all the brethren” (Acts 15:3). The Philippian jailer and his family were filled with joy when they became believers in God (Acts 16:34). Never doubt that salvation, the most profound of new beginnings, is also infused with joy beyond description.

The Joy of Helping Another to Heaven

Soul winning is one of the greatest sources of joy a believer will ever experience both now and in the life to come.  Imagine the Apostle Paul in heaven. A great multitude walks by and the Lord says to him, “These are here because you cared, sacrificed and remained faithful to your call (Acts 20:24). Wow, what joy!

The Joy of Knowing Christ and His Love for Us.

The Christian rejoices because he has found Christ, “the Friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  Jesus lived, and suffered, and died that “all that great debt” we owed to law and justice, was washed away.

The Christian rejoices in the thought, that Christ not only “appears in the presence of God for us,” but also that He is ever present with His Church and people on earth. “I am with you always, even unto the end of the ages.” “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.” And He prepares us for the enjoyment of His heavenly kingdom.

How to Attain More Joy in Your Life

That brings us back to this matter of how we can be joyful as a matter of discipline or of the will. How is it possible to remain joyful all the time? Paul gives us the key: “Rejoice in the Lord always”. We all can certainly enjoy and appreciate God’s creation but the key to Christian’s joy is its source, which is the Lord. If Christ is in me and I am in Him, that relationship is not a sometimes experience. All our attempts to find joy will be futile if we do not abide in Jesus, because we cannot make ourselves joyful by our own power. But as we live in Christ, His perfect joy will dwell in us and make our experience of joy ever more consistent and full (John 15:10–11).

Even if Christians cannot rejoice in the circumstances, if we find ourselves passing through pain, sorrow, or grief, we still can rejoice in God. We rejoice in the Lord, and since He never leaves us or forsakes us, we can rejoice always.

You who have not discovered your personal relationship with God, have been overwhelmed with sorrow and grief at some time. But when you give your heart to God, He will turn your sorrow into joy. And nothing will be able to steal that joy from you.

When we voice our concerns to God and allow ourselves to be reminded of His goodness, we release our burdens. Jesus said,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
But it doesn’t stop there. Paul goes on to say,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8).
After we have given our requests to God, we keep a proper perspective. We think on things that are pure, full of splendor, excellent, right, and praiseworthy. We do not dwell on our heartache but on the goodness of God and the beauty He infuses into our lives. This is important to remember when circumstances are less than joyful. James 1:2 says,
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.
In trials, joy is not found in the immediate situation but in the promise that God’s Kingdom will be revealed through the situation. 1 Peter 1:7-9 says that current trials bring an assurance of faith, making the future joy even greater when Jesus returns. Similarly, James 1:3-4 says that trials will strengthen our character. We can rejoice in that trials point to a future gift.

Conclusion

True joy can be found in Jesus (John 15:11). If you look for God’s work and gifts in your life, you will always have joy. Even in hardship, your joy remains, because it depends on God and His promises, which do not change.  If you get caught up in temporary hardships and worldly desires, your joy will be fleeting and weak.

Joy comes when you make peace with who you are, where you are and why you are. The joy of the believer is not bestowed by any man and, therefore, cannot be taken away.  When you need nothing more than truth and the love of a good God to bring you peace, then you have settled into the abiding joy that is not rocked by anything.

Love of God is an essential ingredient of joy, I think, something not necessarily true of happiness.

Relevant Scripture

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. (Romans 15:13)

Break forth into joy, sing together, For the Lord has comforted His people. (Isaiah 52:9)

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  We write this to make our joy complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

May those who delight in my vindication
shout for joy and gladness;
may they always say, “The LORD be exalted,
who delights in the well-being of his servant.”
My tongue will proclaim your righteousness,
your praises all day long.  (Psalm 35:27–28)

I encourage you to save this post to be reread on unhappy days, thereby realigning your perspective and reminding you of all you have to be joyful about.

If you found this article useful, interesting, inspiring or informative, please share it using the social media buttons.

References

“Difference Between Joy & Happiness” on DifferenceBetween.net

“Christian Joy” Grace Gems

“Sources of Joy” by Dr Gary Linton

“The Source of Joy” on Ligonier Ministries

“Joy vs. Happiness” by Sandra L. Brown M.A.
Jesus' glowing hand reching out

Saved From Destruction: A Testimony|Spiritual Meditations

By the age of 12, I was smoking a pack a day of cigarettes, using drugs & alcohol, was very racist and had my first tattoo (the Nazi “SS”) on my forearm. I had been arrested for drunkenness in public and spent a month in juvenile hall. Also, during that year I drank so much whiskey one day I was home puking in the toilet and lost consciousness. My head fell into the bowl and I would have drowned in my vomit if my little brother had not found me and pulled me out.

I was rushed to the hospital by ambulance with alcohol poisoning and my heart stopped a couple times and I had to be resuscitated. I can still see the EMT over me fading in and out and saying, “Don’t leave me Bobby . . . don’t leave me Bobby!”

I had a father who was physically abusive when he was not in prison. He tried to kill my mother in front of my brother and I. You know, all the standard stuff. As time went by things continued to get worse.

By 17 I had “WHITE POWER” tattooed across my shoulders and a big swastika on my back and I was running around with the Hell’s Angels and using meth every single day. That went on for 25 years with all the crime and things that go with it. As I look back there are several times that I thought I got “lucky” and should have died from overdoses, near motorcycle wrecks at 120 mph+, and violence including armed robbery. Now, I know my Savior wrapped His loving hands around me to spare my life.

How I Was Saved

I have a daughter who went into the Teen Challenge recovery program with a pill addiction. I was so happy for her because I did not want her to live a life in bondage, as I had all those years, and wanted to support her in every way possible. The girls in the program have a choir and go to a different church each Sunday and sing and give testimonies to raise money. I was at every single one. I had an extremely hard heart because my dad would have beaten me if I cried, even as a little boy, so I was not the crying type. But every week I would hear those girls sing and tell their stories and I would sit and sob (while trying to not draw attention).

My daughter wanted me to go into the program, but I would not. At one point she was going to leave the program (she was there voluntarily by the way) and I told her if she stayed and I was not clean by the time she graduated, I would go in. She stayed in and on October 21, 2012, I showed up for a choir outing at a local church. I had an incredible panic come over me like I had to get out of there, but I knew my daughter was counting on me to be there, so I stayed.

God delivered me that night. I knew something happened but wasn’t sure what. I felt different somehow. I used meth for a few more days and then one day just threw it away. I went through hell physically and it was a rough road, but He took away any desire to use meth. My girlfriend got saved also.

My Recovery From Addiction

I slept the majority of the time for nearly 5 months because my body had to adjust to coming off of 25 years of daily use. My now-wife Coleen would stop by on her way to work and wake me up to feed me. On her way home she would wake me up to feed me again and she would go home. The only other times I would get up was to shower occasionally and go to church and watch a little TV.

Because it might help somebody who has stumbled, I want to tell you that after I had been sober for 9 months (although I was awake more, I was hardly able to function), I started using again. I didn’t start because I had a desire to use, but rather because I was so frustrated after 9 months of being helpless and unable to function. I picked up right where I left off and thought “well, that’s it. God delivered me, changed my life, and I failed Him. He will never want me back”. That was a lie from Satan. A year and a half later, God delivered me again and I have been serving Him ever since (5 years clean this month). It is really amazing that it happened like that because, when I do jail and homeless ministry, I witness to people who have fallen and who also think God does not want them back now and have no hope. I AM ABLE TO DEBUNK THAT LIE OF THE ENEMY WITH MY STORY. God has been so good to me.

My Ministry

God changed my heart overnight too. When I was able to get up and around, I started going to the parks to witness to the homeless and pass out food gift cards my church supplied. I have a huge love for the people that are still in the bondage and it is only by the grace of God I didn’t end up homeless too.

I have a heart for people going down that road (especially kids). I have been there and can identify with them. (I went to a bunch of counselors as a kid as part of probation and would never talk to them because they were from a different world than mine.) I would love to find a way to take what the enemy intended for my destruction and use it for the glory of my Savior. These kids have no idea that they are robbing themselves of their future here on earth as well as what God wants for them in eternity. As the saying goes, “Jails, institutions, and death are the three destinations of abuse.”

Coleen and I were married shortly after we got saved as we didn’t want to live in a sinful relationship any longer. We began to pray for unsaved family members and as of today 9 family members have gotten saved and are faithful church members! All of those people were saved, and I was miraculously delivered because my daughter was in a Christ-based recovery program and they were all praying. Only God could do that.

About a month ago I felt the urge to go sit by the side of a very busy road here in town and hold up a big sign that said, “Drive Thru Prayer”. I finally did it. I sat there praying “Lord please send me somebody who is hurting”. After two hours, I was ready to leave when a truck pulled up in the vacant lot next to where I was. A man got out and was kind of wandering around and glancing at me. He finally came up and made small talk. He ended up asking for prayer. It turns out he had been saved and delivered from meth also. He had just recently gone back to using and lost his job and was having problems at home because of it. I was able to share that I had also stumbled and been set free again years ago. I put my arm around him as we sat on the curb and prayed. I believe God sent me there for that one man.

Sorry to go on so long. I just love to tell anybody who will listen what Jesus, the eternal Lover of my soul, has done for me! We are to tell everybody and never be ashamed. “For whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He shall come in His glory, and in His Fathers, and of the holy angels.” Luke 9:26

Robert

[If you feel that God wouldn’t want somebody like you, you will find more encouragement and Biblical support in this companion post.]

If you found Robert’s testimony interesting, informative, inspiring or useful, please use the social media buttons below.  Thanks.

Relevant Scripture

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, (2 Cor 5:17-18)

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:7)

The Lord favors those who fear Him,
Those who wait for His lovingkindness. (Psalm 147:11)

 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. (John 14:23)

Photo Attribution

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man in surgical mask from shoulders up

Why Does God Allow Suffering? / Spiritual Meditations

In our confusion this question is frequently formed in our minds, if not on our lips, in these crippling times.  Religious commentator, Father Jonathan Morris offers the following brief, but complete, answer in his book The Way of Serenity.

Praying deeply for serenity to except the things I cannot change is nearly impossible if at some level I am still blaming God for not changing these things for me. The temptation to just trust, blame, or resent God’s ways is wholly human. If I were God, I would do things differently. I think I would eliminate hunger, and floods, and earthquakes. I would have thought twice before creating some people who have made so many others suffer. Certainly, mosquitoes would disappear without anybody really missing them. I would change a few things about myself too, airbrushing out a few needless moral and physical blemishes.

Most of us have a good idea about how the world could be made into a better place. So why doesn’t God do it? How to improve things seems so very clear to us. Doesn’t He get it? Doesn’t he care as much as we do about little children who suffer? About poor people who go to bed hungry at night? About people with no jobs?

I have to believe that He does care. In fact, I believe that He cares much, much more than I do. At the same time, He cares so much about us that He is willing to allow our free will to have real consequences. We live in a fallen world because our first parents rejected God and His order for creation in the garden of Eden. They wanted it their way, and God respected their wish. We want it our way, and God respects that too.

Imagine, on the contrary, if every time we try to do evil, God were to intervene and protect us and others from all harm. Would we be glorified robots?

Free will exercised without consequences is fiction.

God was willing to risk the presence of all the evil in this world for the chance of entering into a relationship of love with us. For God, every act of human love is that precious.

God‘s love for us goes even further. Although we have sinned and chosen to do things our way, God makes a promise to us that out of every instance of suffering and sin in this world, He will bring out of it a good even greater than the good that has been lost and that we now mourn. We see the fulfillment of this promise most perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ, who gave up his life so that we might live with him forever in eternity, and where every tear will be wiped away.

For this reason, we can have confidence that God knows what He is doing. If He doesn’t do things my way, I am the one with poor, shortsighted vision, not Him. Someday we will all find out how everything had a purpose and came together in a wonderful symphony of God‘s goodness. Some people would call this a pie-in-the-sky optimism, or a Pollyanna-ish, fairytale faith. I don’t think that’s what it is. My confidence that God knows what He is doing, is not only from the history of Gods dealings with His people, as we read in the Bible, but also from my own experience with God‘s goodness in my life.

When we don’t understand why things are going the way they are, there is good reason to give God the benefit of the doubt.

There are many mysteries in life, and there is perhaps none as troubling as the mystery of evil. In his last published book before his death, Memory and Identity, Pope John Paul II devoted the first six chapters to what he called the Mysterium iniquitatis – The Mystery of Evil. It [evil] has been a stumbling block for philosophers and common people alike since the beginning of time. It is so hard to understand how a God who is all good and all powerful allows bad things to happen in the world. Some of it can be explained as simply Gods respect for human freedom (since much suffering results from people’s bad choices), but much of it cannot be explained this way. What about earthquakes and floods? Little children with horrible birth defects? Terrible diseases and calamities?

There can be only one satisfying explanation for all this. Somehow God must be able to turn evil on its head and bring good out of it. Somehow God must be able to take even the most horrible of tragedies and bring them to a happy ending. In John Paul’s book, what begins as a philosophical study of evil incarnate in history, merges into a broader theological reflection on the roots of evil itself and the victory of redemption. In the mind of this pope, evil has never been total or absolute. It is always, he says, circumscribed by good. “If redemption marks the divine limit placed upon evil,“ he writes, “it is for this reason only: because thereby evil is radically overcome by good, hate by love, death by resurrection.“ Saint Augustine had a great way of expressing this too: “for God judged it better to bring good out of evil then not to permit any evil to exist.“

I often think that this is the great revelation of Good Friday. This yearly commemoration marks the greatest evil in human history: the day we put God to death. It signifies humanity’s rejection of love, purity, innocence, and goodness when we strung up God and nailed Him to a wooden cross. And yet, from the pinnacle of human evil God wrought the greatest good: our redemption. As Joseph Ratzinger once wrote, “In the abyss of human failure is revealed the still more inexhaustible abyss of divine love.” God took evil and exploded it from within, turning it’s venom to nectar and it’s sting into a healing balm.

If God is able to bring forth this immense good from the evil of Good Friday, He can surely turn all the lesser evils of our lives into surprise packages of unexpected grace.

Prayer

Jesus, I don’t know why certain things have happened to me or why people who I love have to suffer so much, but today I reaffirm my faith that you do know why. Lord, I promise to move forward with the assurance that you will bring forth a greater good out of every instance of evil and suffering in my life and in this world. I love you, Jesus.

Sometimes I am despaired of human beings who reject God in the face of suffering.  Rejecting God doesn’t change the situation that is causing the suffering, it only removes the greatest source of hope, help, comfort, and strength we have.

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Relevant Scripture

 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!”  So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying,  ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.  So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Gen 50:15-21)

sketch of Jesus and Samaritan woman at well

Are We Smart Enough to Judge Others?/Spiritual Meditations

Many of us live in a society drowning in shallow judgments based on a people’s appearance, vocabulary, dialect, education, fashion, sexual preference, ethnic group, where they live, where they’re from, are they interracially married and other characteristics that are meaningless to God. We even judge ourselves based on how well we think we measure up to such standards. Often those standards are hoisted upon us during our developmental years by parents, teachers and peers, and now our mind accepts them.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Of course, we know there are more important issues in life; loving others, humility, gratitude, patience, generosity and all the guidance we find in the ten commandments and the sermon on the mount among other texts. How do we prevent ourselves from criticizing those who have a speck in their eye?

In order to swim out of the riptide of biases, we need to focus on that which is meaningful to God; a person’s heart, their soul, their Inner Being. But are we so wise and discerning that we can see that deeply into a person? Do we know and understand all the pieces of their life that have come together to make them who they are? Their behavior may not be what God would wish for them, but is it up to us, with our limited knowledge, to correct them? Let’s explore.

Generally, Don’t Judge Others

It is easy to quote the Bible verses that support our position on any issue, but if we look at all the verses regarding judging others, we find that the list is more heavily weighted against it.

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God…. Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. (Rom 14:10-13)

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. (John 12:46-48)

For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” (Heb 10:30)

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:37-38)

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. (Rom 14:1-13)

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. (Rom 12:16)

Judgment pollutes our heart as we often intend malice, while slandering another person (Mark 7:20-23). It also makes us vulnerable to hatred as we plant seeds of unforgiveness and condemnation that take root in our hearts and minds (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Judge With Understanding

In John 7:7 Jesus told his disciples that the world hates him “because I testify about it that its works are evil.” He also repeatedly criticized the Pharisees. So, he couldn’t have meant that we’re all supposed to just throw up our hands and say, “Hey, to each his own. Who am I to judge?”

We are blessed to have words of guidance and direction from Jesus. Unfortunately, we do not have his inspired understanding of a person as he demonstrated in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. After speaking with Jesus, she announced to her neighbors “see a man who told me all the things that I have done”

When Jesus told us the harsh truth about our sin, he brought us close. He made us his friends, even as sinners.

The ultimate goal of confronting a person, with the way they are separating themselves from God, is to bring repentance. We are called to judge sin—always with the goal of repentance and reconciliation.

The following two verses support judgment, but in a spirit of teaching.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2:24-26)

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. (Gal 6:1-6)

John 7:24 says “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” which speaks to the necessity of being wise enough and discerning enough to know what ‘right judgment’ is. Who can make this claim?

Proverbs 31:9 comes right out and says it “Open your mouth, judge righteously” but then goes on to qualify what we should be judging “defend the rights of the poor and needy. “

The Apostle Paul, however, came up against gross immorality in one of his fledgling churches. Not only did he point out the offending individual, but he identified the characteristics of persons that the church should shun. Although there certainly was/is merit in eliminating bad influences within the church, influences that could hinder spiritual growth in others, it is difficult to apply first century descriptions to twenty-first century society. If one covets the car of his rich neighbor or idolizes a celebrity should they be shunned? What we consider to be immoral today is also significantly different than 2000 years ago; just compare the typical attire of a first-century middle eastern woman with the norm of today. Yes, we should use these verses as guidelines, but we must be very careful in how we apply them, keeping in mind that Christians already have a reputation for being ‘judgmental’. Here’s what Paul said:

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you…. that someone has his father’s wife…. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present….Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?  Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened….But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:1-11)

When are You Being Judgmental?

  • When you are more enraged at someone else’s sin than you are embarrassed by your own.
  • When you gossip. What makes gossip so dangerous is that you are judging someone without giving them the chance to change. At least if you judged someone to their face, they could do something about it.
  • When you refuse to forgive – To refuse to forgive someone is to be almost entirely ignorant of the enormity of what God has forgiven you.
  • When you think the other person is hopeless and assume they won’t change and won’t listen to your fully considered guidance. You’re consigning them to their sin without ever giving them the chance to receive grace.
  • When you “cut off” those who disagree with you. This is the essence of judging.

Being Judgmental Says Something About You

We usually judge others in the areas where we feel the weakest. We expose our own insecurities when we criticize someone else.

Although it is an admirable goal, I don’t think that it’s possible to live a life where we never judge anyone, ever. So, I’d like to offer a practice that may help.

Stay out of judgment and be in curiosity.

Judgment shuts us down and keeps us from understanding the full situation. If we’re being honest, most judgments about people are based on incomplete information.

Curiosity, on the other hand, keeps us open to the possibility that there is something about the situation that we don’t fully understand.

Conclusion

John tells us in I John 4:20 “If a man says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar. for if he doesn’t love his brother, who he can see, how can he love God , who he can’t see”.

We must realize the balance between grace and truth. Don’t judge others by withholding the truth. But don’t judge them by speaking the truth without grace. Instead, give them the grace and truth of the gospel. Truth without grace is judgmental fundamentalism; grace without truth is liberal sentimentality. The gospel combines both.  But if there is any question in your mind as to whether you should criticize someone, don’t.

References

Shola at “The Positivity Solution”

“Judging Others” by All About God

“7 Signs that You are Judging Others” by J.D. Greear

 

 

2 small boys, one has caused the 2nd to cry, ball solic background

Are You Creating Your Own Guilt? / Spiritual Meditations

I’m still regretting a couple of things I said / did while in high school. I’m sure you can think of a couple as well. It is surprising how often we have feelings of guilt. Some say that the moments of guilt add up to about 5 hours a week. With our constant striving for perfection, whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslin, Buddhist, or Hindu, it is no wonder we don’t always live up to our own standards and moral codes. The guilt can be beneficial or unhealthy depending on the situation.

Just to be clear on what’s being discussed here, let me point out the difference between guilt and shame. They are frequently used interchangeably, but there is a difference.

How are Guilt and Shame Different?

Shame involves feelings about yourself, generally reflecting early psychological damage that impedes positive personality growth. It could be your feelings about who you are or who you aren’t, projected by society, which can become ingrained into your own self-evaluation, whether they are legitimate or not.

Guilt is a common feeling of emotional distress that tells us when our actions or inactions have caused, might cause or we imagine will cause harm to another person—physical, emotional, or otherwise. Because guilt hinges on empathy for others, the capacity to feel guilt could be seen as emotional progress.

When is Guilt a Good Thing?

Healthy feelings of guilt motivate you to live according to your authentic values, which, in turn, can improve your relationships with others, since you are more likely to treat them with respect and do your fair share. Guilt protects our relationships.

In small doses, guilt can benefit us. But when it runs free, it can cause havoc.

When is Guilt Harmful?

Unnecessary or excessive feelings of guilt, even mild guilt, can be a psychological burden that interferes with your emotions and quality of life.

If you feel guilty too easily your guilt alarm goes off when it shouldn’t. As a result, you end up feeling guilty about impacting others adversely, when you haven’t. This is no minor issue; by over-interpreting people’s disapproval when it’s not there, you’re exposing yourself to constant and unnecessary stress and impacting your own quality of life.

On the more serious end of the spectrum, excessive or inappropriate guilt can be a symptom of clinical depression, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Unwarranted guilt has also been associated with a history of childhood trauma with critical, neglecting, or abusive parents. These feelings of guilt can instill a sense of unworthiness and can result in self-punishment.

Unresolved guilt is like having a snooze alarm in your head that won’t shut off. Your attention is constantly monopolized by bursts of guilty feelings which compete for your attention to work, school, and life in general. Guilt usually wins. Studies have found that concentration, productivity, creativity, and efficiency are all significantly lower when you’re feeling actively guilty.

What are Some Causes of Guilt?

Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D. suggests that guilt may occur when “a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a universal moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation.” This would include stealing, lying or cheating and much more.

Yet much of the unhappiness we experience is due to our own irrational thoughts about situations. We know that our memory of past events is highly unreliable. It’s possible for you to have done nothing wrong at all but misremember and think that you did, particularly when there are highly charged feelings involved.

One typical mental source of guilt is the magical belief that you can jinx people by thinking about them in a negative or hurtful way. Perhaps you’ve wished that a romantic rival would experience some evil twist of fate. Should that evil twist of fate happen, you may, at some level, believe that it was due to your own vengeful wish.  At some level you “know” that you’re being illogical, but it’s hard to rid yourself completely of this belief.

Then there are the accidental social blunders. Perhaps you didn’t realize how much you hurt your friend’s feelings with what you thought was a humorous remark. You wonder how many other people you have offended unintentionally. Beware; it is possible to unwittingly make matters worse by distancing yourself from the person who is the focus of your guilt.

People with eating disorders often feel excessive guilt about eating, putting on weight, or not exercising enough. This guilt often co-exists with a distorted, negative body image.

Women, in particular, are prone to feeling guilty, according to research. A 2009 study by Etxebarria, published in the Spanish Journal of Psychology, surveyed women and men from three age groups (156 teenagers, 96 young adults, and 108 older adults) about which situations most often caused them to feel guilt. The researchers found that habitual guilt was higher for women than men in all three age groups, with the biggest gap in the 40 to 50 year-old range. This age corresponds to the “sandwich generation” years, in which many people juggle taking care of teenagers as well as aging parents.

Especially during those stressful years, you may feel you haven’t done enough to help someone. You’ve given hours of your free time to them, but now you have other obligations or are getting burnt out. You feel guilty because you are pursuing your own life when they are suffering, dysfunctional, or need a lot of emotional care. Adding to the overall emotional drain of the situation, your guilt overlaid on the fatigue, ultimately makes you a less effective helper.

Another study found that women report more guilt than men, overall, when they take work calls or answer work emails in the evening. Finally, research shows that millennial women—and millennials in general—feel guilty about taking vacations.

A more deeply disturbing experience is that of survivor guilt which is addressed by professionals who work with combat veterans who outlive their fellow troops. Survivor guilt also occurs when people who lose families, friends, or neighbors in disasters while remaining untouched, or at least alive, themselves.

Additionally, this kind of guilt characterizes those who make a better life for themselves than do their family or friends. First-generation college students, for example, may feel guilty that they are getting opportunities that their parents or siblings did not. To “protect” their family members, they might engage in self-destructive behaviors that ensure they won’t make it in school.  Logic would dictate that the family truly wants the student to succeed (and thus bring honor to the family), but this logic is lost on the student.

How do I Deal With My Guilt?

Before you start accusing yourself of wrongdoing, make sure that the wrongdoing took place. If you’re distorting your recollection of events to make yourself seem more at fault than you are, it’s time for a reality check. “We assume that others place far more importance on our thoughts and actions than they actually do”, Dr. Whitbourne adds

In the case of excessive guilt, it is important to realize that everyone errs and that occasionally behaving in a hurtful way doesn’t make someone a bad person; it just makes them human.

But if truly at fault, some people may attempt to stave off guilt by rationalizing or minimizing the harmful effect that their actions had on others. More helpful, however, is an acknowledgment of the offense, accompanied by an apology if appropriate.

In the case of survivor’s guilt, or a person who tends to blame themselves for circumstances that are beyond their control, help often involves the person letting go of a false sense of responsibility for what happened, refraining from negative self-talk, and developing greater self-compassion. If you change your thoughts, you can change your emotions

When guilt surfaces because you are doing better than those around you, remind yourself of how proud, glad, and invested those who care for you are. As hard as it might be, your own failure will not make others who love you feel better about themselves. You need to gain your inspiration from the knowledge that your efforts are a tribute to them. And don’t get down on yourself if you can’t reach your loftiest goals (or the ones they have or had for you) but at least know that you’re giving yourself the shot at success that they would want you to have.

If you are prone to feeling the unhealthy kind of guilt—in which you are always beating yourself up for not doing enough—use the tips and tools below, develop by Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D., to set yourself free. It takes a lot of practice and deliberate re-thinking to change an entrenched pattern of guilt, so be patient.

    1. Look for the evidence.

If you feel guilty because you’re “not doing enough” for your kids, partner, or family, list all the things that you regularly do for them. Then, keep the list in your purse or wallet to pull out when guilt rears its head.

    1. Be direct and get more information.

Ask the people you think you’re neglecting whether they feel neglected. Consider whether they have a tendency to expect too much and not take enough responsibility for themselves (e.g., teenagers who expect you to pick up after them). Then, think about how an outside observer would view the situation. If you conclude that you really aren’t doing enough, then come up with some solutions or compromises that balance everybody’s needs.

    1. Appreciate yourself and all that you do.

Write a “self-gratitude” diary at the end of every day, noting at least three things you did that day that furthered your goals or helped someone you care about. At the end of the week, read what you’ve written. Guilt and perfectionism have a negative bias. They make you pay attention to what you’re not doing right. By writing down what you did, you can overcome this bias and force yourself to focus on your accomplishments.

    1. Think how you would see things if the roles were reversed.

Would you think your friend or partner wasn’t doing enough, given all they had going on? We often find it easy to be compassionate and understanding with others but are too harsh on ourselves. By deliberately taking the other person’s perspective, you’ll likely see your situation in a more objective light

    1. Curb the “black and white” thinking.

Are you thinking about the situation in all-or-nothing terms? Do you think that if you’re not the perfect partner (or daughter, or parent) you must be the worst one on the planet? Try to find the gray amid all that black and white. Consider other ways of seeing the situation. Try to judge your efforts in context, rather than always expecting perfection.

    1. Look for the emotions underneath the guilt.

Might the guilt be masking other feelings like anger, intimidation, or resentment? If you’re in a relationship with a very needy person or a narcissist, you or your partner may convince you that you’re being selfish by setting limits and saying no. Over time, your guilt and inner conflict may be masking resentment.

    1. Decide how much you’re willing and able to do.

If you honestly feel that you haven’t done enough for your partner or family member, then make an authentic commitment to take specific caring or helpful actions going forward. If you can’t do all the housework in the evening, decide which pieces you can commit to doing. Then, communicate this willingness to your partner in a proactive way.

    1. Realize it’s okay to take care of your own needs.

Some of us were the family peacemakers who took care of others all the time. Perhaps you had an alcoholic parent who was incapable of properly taking care of you. As an adult, you may still silence your own needs or feel they are less valid than those of your partner, child, or friend. But you don’t have to let this reaction to past trauma shape your relationships in the present.

Guilt is a useless emotion—useless because we don’t need to feel bad about ourselves to take corrective actions. Guilt is useless for three basic reasons:

  1. You can’t change the past, no matter how long or how often you practice feeling guilty.
  2. Rehashing guilt-arousing thoughts in your mind keeps you locked in the past, rather than focused on the present.
  3. Feeling guilty does not help you correct troubling behavior because you expend your mental energies putting yourself down rather than learning to change your behavior.

In cases where guilt is driven by a mental health issue, it is important to seek professional help. Sometimes treating the underlying concern can alleviate strong feelings of guilt or shame.

The Spiritual Person Attempts a Greater Goal

Each person is at a different place in their spiritual journey and this can be seen in how seriously they attempt to fulfill the teachings of Jesus or their spiritual mentor.

The Ten Commandments alone are a challenge. How often do we hear someone exclaim “Oh my God”, or work on Sunday or wish we had a house as nice as so-and-so?

Additionally Jesus asked much more of us; to be humble, generous and merciful, to love our enemies and not resist insult, to not worry ourselves or judge others, and much more – traits we should strive for and the basis for the thinking that we are all sinners. But only Christ and spiritual icons can surpass this threshold.

So these values increase the number of things to possibly feel guilty about. Fortunately, with the help of the Holy Spirit (and possibly some of the helpful hints above) we can reduce our offenses and be forgiven for those for which we feel regret or remorse.

What Did Jesus Say About Guilt?

 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.  Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. (Mat 5:23-25)

Here Jesus shifts from the external meaning of the law against murder (6th commandments) to the inner attitude of the heart. Hatred and insult toward another are as serious violations of God’s will as the act of murder. It is God’s intention that people become reconciled. To support this, he introduces a parable indicating the wisdom of ingratiating oneself with one’s accuser while they are on their way to court. This could also be a metaphor suggesting how much more a follower should be reconciled with others before their time of judgement.

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them.  The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”  They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.  But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again, He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.  Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:1-11)

In this passage the Pharisees are attempting to trap Jesus into putting himself in conflict with either the Romans (who said only they could carry out a death sentence) or the Jews (because the law of Moses required stoning in this situation). Jesus’ answer avoids the trap by turning the question into a moral challenge to those who are willing to play politics with this woman’s sin and misery.

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, not to condemn them but to offer God’s forgiveness and acceptance. The story certainly does not mean that Jesus condoned sin. His clemency and compassion indicated his concern for the motives of the woman’s accusers.

Conclusion

We can imagine ourselves in the role of the woman and in the role of the Pharisees. As the woman we have received forgiveness but are told to “sin no more”. As the Pharisees we are reminded that we are no more perfect than the woman and should treat others as we would wish to be treated.

References:

Guy Winch in Psychology Today

Adapted from The Stress-Proof Brain: Master Your Emotional Response to Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity by Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D.

“The Definitive Guide to Guilt” Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Psychology Today

Understanding the New Testament by F.F. Bruce

silhouette of people on globe

What is Your Purpose in Life? / Spiritual Meditations

One of the sure signs of our continued growth as followers of Christ is that we feel our hearts being broken by the things that break the heart of God. Growing into the likeness of Christ means being drawn more deeply into the compassion of God so that we hear the cries of injustice in our world, see the broken people along the way, and seek with a divine urgency a way to make a difference in places of suffering, injustice, and pain.

As you follow your passion and search for your place to serve, you will also discover that awakening to God‘s call is not a one-time experience but an ongoing process by which the Spirit of God continues to open our eyes in new ways of serving as we grow in our discipleship, as we face major transitions in our lives, and as we become more fully awake to the constantly changing needs of the world around us.

This process is a step along the spiritual journey that John Wesley called “Christian perfection“. It’s the lifelong process by which the Spirit of God shapes our lives into the likeness of Christ. It leads us more deeply into the love of God and guides us to new opportunities to love others the way we have been loved by God.

Service Inspired Joy

Shame our wanton selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul. Harry Emerson Fosdick

There are frustrated people who, by world standards, have more than they could ever need but live with a nagging dissatisfaction in their souls. The things they’ve acquired and the success they’ve achieved have not made the difference they were hoping for. They are haunted by a desire for something more valuable and more lasting than anything money can buy. They still feel gnawing desire for their life to make a more significant difference in the world.

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. Albert Schweitzer

The people Schweitzer speaks of have found an unambiguous joy by discovering that their lives can make a difference. They are faithful disciples who have followed their passion, found their way to serve, and are making a real, tangible, transformative difference in the lives of others. They’ve seen small signs of the impact their witness is having on unjust systems and institutions. Seeing their lives, hearing their laughter, sharing their hopes, and listening to their stories confirms the truth in Schweitzer’s words and the difference it makes for a person to find his or her custom designed place to serve.

If you haven’t found yours, watch the faithful servants of Christ who are like mustard seeds, which, Jesus said, are the smallest of all seeds but which can grow into a flourishing bush. You will often find these “seeds’ in unexpected places where they have found their way to make a kingdom-shaped difference. Ask yourself if, perhaps, your spiritual gifts and desire to serve align with theirs.

God’s Servants are Everywhere

You will find God’s people in likely places doing the kinds of things you might expect: teaching children in Sunday school, serving in leadership to their congregation, singing in their church choirs and playing instruments in the worship band, facilitating small groups for spiritual growth, leading mission teams, visiting in hospitals and nursing homes, arranging flowers on the altar or counting the Sunday offering.

You will also find these difference-making people in unlikely places doing things that you might not expect. You will meet them in homeless shelters and in migrant farm worker camps. You will find them delivering meals on wheels in economically underprivileged neighborhoods; registering voters in neglected communities; tutoring children in low achieving public schools; organizing groups for economic justice and creating bridges for communication between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. You can stand with them in prayer vigils for non-violence and see them risk imprisonment because they refuse to participate in war. You can walk with them between the crowded tin shacks in the sprawling townships of South Africa. Their courageous witness for racial reconciliation is humbling. Wherever they are there is a persistent passion and an incorrigible joy.

Stay Connected

Desmond Tutu once said, “we are only the lightbulbs and our job is just to remain screwed in”. It could have been the archbishops paraphrase of Jesus’s words, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life”. (John 8:12)

But It’s frighteningly easy to fall asleep and miss out on the way God wants to use our lives to make a difference in the world. It happens when we are not fully awake to the voice of God‘s Spirit within us or the needs of the world around us.

God’s call usually comes to people who practice the spiritual discipline that enables them to hear and respond to God’s Spirit. They are consistent in their practice of worship. They soak themselves in the words of scripture. They develop patterns of prayer that keep them awake and responsive to the new things God is doing and through which they discern the guidance of the Spirit. They live in community with other faithful disciples.

The spiritual discipline of prayer that is grounded in scripture and nurtured in worship is the starting point for our discovery of a life that really makes a difference. It is the sustaining center of a relationship with God that continues to fuel our passion and leads us to our place to serve. It is the renewing source of our vision for the future.

 3 Steps to Successful Prayer

The World Needs You

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the worlds deep hunger meet. Frederick Buechner

The practical implication of a Biblical understanding of discipleship is that the Christian life is not primarily defined by sitting in the pew on Sunday morning but by the way we live and serve outside the church walls during the week. We live out of our discipleship in the world rather than inside the church. Our experience and worship are like the team gathering in the locker room before going onto the field where the real game will be played. What we do inside the church is intended to equip us to be the servants of God‘s love, grace, justice, and peace on the outside. Paul said that we are reconciled to God in Christ so that we can become the agents of God’s reconciliation of the world. (II Corinthians 5:19)

God can take the activity you love to do and use it to make a Christlike difference in somebody else’s life.

There are people who provide guitars and teach music to underprivileged kids: who like to bake for the homeless street ministry: who extended their love of scripture to prison mates: who like to shop and do so for homebound elderly.

We are sent from worship to become the people through whom God answers our prayer for God‘s kingdom to come and God‘s will to be done in our world. When we see the injustice and suffering of the world and ask, “God, why don’t you do something about this? “ we will probably hear God asking us the same question. God is already out there, and we are challenged to join him in the kingdom work of healing, peace, and redemption.

Listening for the Still Small Voice

Most of us need to stop what we are doing in order to hear God’s voice. The pressure of time and over-commitment is often a barrier to service. We, the church can begin by providing opportunities for faithful disciples to stop, take a deep breath, and be still in the presence of God. It’s the only way to be ready to hear the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The first work of the spirit in helping us find our calling is to open our eyes so that we begin to see the world around us through the eyes of Jesus. Searching for and finding our places to serve involves looking with spirit awakened eyes at the needs of the world and at the gifts, talents, and opportunities we’ve been given. If you have not discovered your spiritual gift, this link will help you to find it and provides a Spiritual Gifts Survey.

Determine your Spiritual Gifts here.

What Does Hinder You?

One of the unique challenges of our day is that it is frighteningly easy to live in a media defined bubble. Many of us get all our information about the world through the lens of a particular social, economic, and political perspective. We spend most of our time in racial and socioeconomic enclaves in which most of the people around us look, think, and act the way we do. We gravitate towards news sources that constantly reconfirm our preconceived assumptions. It’s not that we are insensitive, mean, or bad people but that we are blinded by our own reflection in the mirror-like glass bowl in which we live.

But disciples who hear God’s call to make a difference in this world intentionally look at the world in a new and different way. They see the world through the lens of the infinite compassion and love of God. They look at people who are struggling and in pain as their “own people”. With Christ like eyes open to the world around us, we look then for the place where our strengths, talents, and availability connect with that need.

Strength in Numbers

The good news is that we are not called to do this alone. Being “born again “means that we are born into the family of God with brothers and sisters in Christ, who share the same vision, burn with the same passion, and live by the same hope. Paul said that our unique talents, passions, and personalities are gifts of God’s grace that are drawn together in the body of Christ to accomplish Gods purpose in this world (I Cor 12:1- 12).

Moses father-in-law, Jethro, said to him “Moses, why are you doing all this by yourself? You will end up totally wearing yourself out. You can’t do it alone.“

The apostles needed to learn the same lesson. The early Christian movement was growing so quickly that the apostles couldn’t handle it. The result was that widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. So, the disciples appointed a team composed of Steven and six others to be responsible for the feeding ministry. As a result, “God‘s word continues to grow and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased significantly“. (Acts 6:7)

When we set out to make a difference, we will soon discover that we cannot do it alone. We need to do it with a team of people who share the same passion and are finding their way to serve together. You can join a team or organize a team.

Focus on the Goal

When a group is centered on a clear, compelling, and commonly held mission, faithful disciples can handle diversity of conviction about practices that are on the circumference of their life together. The mission that unites them is stronger than the differences that would divide them.

John Wesley describe this pattern of life when he said, “though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without doubt, we may. Here all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding the small differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works“.

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

Being a servant means that we are not in charge here. We enter the lives of others as servants who know that our lives are under the undisputed authority and control of our Lord.

Making a difference in the lives of people who experience oppression, suffering, or injustice begins when we choose to enter their experience, listen to their story, and join them in their pain. In the same way God’s son became one of us to share our human life, we are drawn closer to Jesus by drawing closer to people in pain.

Get In On The Action

Stephen Kobe taught us to “begin with the end in mind“. He sounded like an old testament prophet when he defined imagination as “the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes“. He challenges us to “begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of the desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.“

God is inviting us to get in on the action. Eugene Peterson declares, “we are not spectators to a grand cosmic show. We are in the show. But we are not running it. “The coming of God‘s kingdom is only and always God’s work, but we can live now in ways that are consistent with the way thing will be then. By the power of the Holy Spirit, even small, apparently insignificant things can make an eternal difference.

We don’t necessarily need to be looking off in some distant horizon to find our calling. God only calls a few heroic souls to go to distant places. Most of God’s work in this world gets done in ordinary places by ordinary people like us who see our world through the extraordinary perspective of God‘s Kingdom  revealed in Jesus Christ. The task to which God calls us is often the task most closely at hand. At the same time, we remain open to the possibility that God may enlarge our vision and call us to make a difference in ways and means that stretch beyond our immediate boundaries. God has a surprising way of expanding our small efforts to touch the world in ways that go beyond anything we expect.

It’s what Jesus meant when he described the Kingdom of God saying that it is “like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough“ Matthew 13:33 This is us. We are the yeast. We are the mustard seed.

Your Service is the Beginning of the Kingdom on Earth

Disciples who serve the most passionately in the present are people who have a firm grasp of God’s future. The way they serve “now” is defined by the way they envision the world will be “then“.

We care about the environment NOW because THEN the renewed creation will be the place where God will be at home with God’s people. (Rev 21:3)

We work for peace NOW because we know that THEN swords will be turned into plowshares and spears into pruninghooks and people will not learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)

We work to overcome racism and ethnic conflict NOW because we know that THEN heaven will be filled with people from every race, tongue and nation. (Rev 7:9)

We invite others to become disciples of Jesus Christ NOW because we know that THEN every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Phil 2:10-11)

We care for one another in Christian community NOW because we know that THEN God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. (Rev 21:4)

We feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, and seek economic justice for the poor NOW because Jesus said that’s the way every nation will be judged THEN. (Mat 25:31-46)

Conclusion

To find your joy in God’s service, ask yourself these questions and explore your response.

What is my vision of the end towards which my discipleship is leading me?

Where have I seen tangible signs of God’s Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven?

Considering the list above, where can I make a difference NOW that is in anticipation of the way things will be THEN?

Reference

Make a Difference: Following Your Passion and Finding Your Place to Serve by James A. Harnish

 

 

wrapped packages and flowers

Unwrap Your Spiritual Gifts / Spiritual Meditations

Every Christian has received at least one spiritual gift through God’s grace, given to them for the edification of the local, regional or global church family and perfectly suited to their situation in life. The central thrust of your ministry depends on the spiritual gifts you have received. You will discover a significant part of your purpose for being on this planet and realize that God has made you competent to produce something that will last for eternity. You will have a sense of fulfillment and joy in the service of others as you become an available instrument through which the Holy Spirit can work. But many of us don’t know what our gifts are.

Maybe you are a young person and you haven’t discovered your gifts or haven’t explored or developed them yet. Spiritual gifts can be abused and neglected, but if they are received as a new believer, it would appear that they cannot be lost as illustrated in the Corinthian church where some believers were highly gifted but spiritually immature. Sometimes it takes years for just the right circumstances to come together before you are aware of what God encourages you to do. And ‘voila’, your gift is there waiting for you to use it. If you have multiple gifts you may start your Christian journey using one dominate gift and in later years a different one may take over. Isn’t it exciting to watch God’s activity in your life?!

How Many Spiritual Gift are There?

There is some discussion as to the exact nature and number of gifts of the Holy Spirit. Don’t get hung up with concern about why one list mentions 9 gifts and another lists 20. That’s not the point. We are all different and God uses those differences for the benefit of His people. There are more possible gifts than those we know of…let’s not think we can limit God in His choices for us. And why put ourselves into categories…. we are unique and a combination of gifts can produce interesting results.

Also, the translations of the Greek can add to our confusion. For instance, one text may say ‘compassion’ is a gift and in another the same gift may be called ‘mercy’.

What Does Scripture Say About Spiritual Gifts?

To get yourself started in this exploration, please watch this video which gives you an introduction to spiritual gifts, than pick up back here to discover your gifts.

Video Introduction to Spiritual Gifts

Besides the scriptures mentioned in the video, the main New Testament verses regarding spiritual gifts are these:

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions ? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7-13)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:3-8)

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:8-11)

Steps to Determine Your Spiritual Gifts

Asking. Begin to ask God to show you your gifts (Phil. 4:6-7; Jas. 1:5). God wants you to discover and implement the gifts He has given you, and this is a request you can make with confidence and expectation.

Awareness. Expose yourself to other Christians who clearly know and use their spiritual gifts. Ask them about their gifts and how they discovered them.

Aspiration. God is committed to your joy, not your misery. Then you will take “delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). As you pray and learn about the various gifts, ask yourself what you would most want to do. For it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). Your feelings should not be the only test, but they may indicate the direction for you to take. For example, Paul told Timothy, if someone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a good work (1 Tim. 3:1).

Activity. Just as we discover our natural talents by trying our hand at numerous things, in the same way we can discover our spiritual gifts by experimenting with several of the available gifts. If we don’t try, we will never know. This requires availability and a willingness to learn our weaknesses as well as strengths.

Ability. Activity eventually points to ability. Don’t be premature in your personal evaluation, because ability increases with practice. Be sensitive to areas of improvement. Look for opportunities within the community of believers of which you are a part, and seek the evaluation of mature Christians who are familiar with your activities. Because of the danger of self-deception, spiritual gifts are best recognized by other members of the church family.

Affirmation. The final affirmation of a spiritual gift is the blessing that should result from its exercise. As you use your gift or gift-combination in the power of the Spirit, God will confirm and establish you in your ministry, and there will continue to be positive feedback from those to whom you minister. It has been said that desire may indicate it, ability will confirm it, and blessing will accompany it.

In addition to contemplating the steps above, you can take a survey to obtain additional direction.

There are many Spiritual Gift Surveys available. This one was chosen from a list of the best and it is also FREE. It should take 10-12 minutes. I suggest that you print the results page because when I copied it, it put all zeros in the totals per gift.

Spiritual Gifts Survey

Now that you have some idea of what your gift(s) may be, I’ll give you some more information about each.

What are the Spiritual Gifts

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF ADMINISTRATION

This spiritual gift, like helps, appears only one time in the New Testament, and it is used outside of Scripture for a helmsman who steers a ship to its destination. This suggests that the spiritual gift of administration is the ability to steer a church or Christian organization toward the fulfillment of its goals by managing its affairs and implementing necessary plans. The gift of administration allows a person to organize people and resources for greater efficiency, effectiveness, and success. Administrators have the natural ability to apply resources where they will do the greatest good. They are good with details and are deeply aware of how all the parts of a group or organization work together. A person may have the gift of leadership without the gift of administration. (1 Cor. 12:28)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF APOSTLESHIP

The gift of apostleship compels people to reach out to new and unfamiliar groups and individuals to invite them into relationship with God and community. Apostles share the story of faith in other lands, cultures, and traditions, as well as welcoming the stranger in their own land. Apostles extend the hand of friendship to those of other generations, nations, and languages. Many apostles desire to be missionaries. (1 Cor. 12:28,29; Eph. 4:11)

In the New Testament, the apostles were not limited to the Twelve, but included Paul, Barnabas, Andronicus, Junias, and others as well (Acts 14:14; Rom. 16:7; 1 Cor. 15:5,7; 1 Thess. 2:6). If the requirement for the office of apostle includes having seen the resurrected Jesus (Acts 1:21, 1 Cor. 9:1), this office ceased to exist by the second century. However, many believe that the gift of apostleship continues to be given.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF COMPASSION

The gift of compassion moves people to action on behalf of those in need and those who are often overlooked. Compassion is not a simple caring about others, but such a radical caring that we have no choice but to make sacrifices for others. Those with the gift of compassion rarely ask, “Should I help,” but instead focus on how to help. Compassion makes us fundamentally aware of the Christ in others and springs from our desire to care for all of God’s creatures and creation. (Rom. 12:8). Your exhortation is Ephesians 4:32.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF DISCERNMENT

Discernment is a gift of deep intuition and insight. Discerning people can separate truth from fiction, in some cases, spiritual versus carnal motives. and know at a visceral level when people are being honest. Deeply sensitive and “tuned in,” those with the gift of discernment are open to feelings, new ideas, and intuition as valid and credible information. Discernment is not irrational, but trans-rational—beyond empirical—knowledge. (1 Cor. 12:10, 1 John 4:6). Your exhortation is 1 John 4:1

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF EVANGELISM

The gift of evangelism is the gift of faith-sharing and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to those we meet. Evangelism is primarily a one-to-one or small group experience, grounded in building relationships with others and inviting them to make a decision for Christ. Gifted evangelists do not force their faith on others, but offer relationship with God as a gift, and are ready to tell the story of God and Christ in their own lives. (Eph. 4:11) Your exhortation is Acts 1:8.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF EXHORTATION

The gift of exhortation is manifest in people who offer encouragement, wise counsel, unflagging support, and empowerment. Those who exhort stay focused on helping people maximize their own potential and live from their own gifts and skills. Exhorters help people feel good about themselves, build confidence, and not grow discouraged. Often, those with the gift of exhortation make others feel good just by being present. (Rom. 12:8). Your exhortation is Hebrews 3:13; 10:25.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF FAITH

The gift of faith is more than belief in Jesus Christ, but an abiding foundation of confidence that God works all things together for good, and that the people of God can rise above any obstacle. Faith is the bedrock upon which we build lives, congregations, and communities. People with the gift of faith hold fast to the deep conviction that no matter what we see with our eyes, we can trust the promises and plan of God. (1 Cor. 12:9). Your exhortation is 2 Corinthians 5:7.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF GIVING

The gift of giving is the deep commitment to provide whatever resources are needed to support God’s will and plan.  In addition to radical generosity, those who possess the gift of giving have the uncanny ability to discover and channel new sources of money, time, and energy to needs. Money management skills, grant writing abilities, and the easy knack of asking for donations and cultivating donors are among common skills of gifted givers. Christians with this spiritual gift need not be wealthy. (Rom. 12:8). Your exhortation is 2 Corinthians 9:7.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF HEALING

The gift of healing is about the ability to channel God’s grace and healing love to those who suffer physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. The possessor of this gift is not the source of power, but a vessel who can only heal those diseases the Lord chooses to heal. Healers pray for those who suffer, visit those who are ill, and are usually moved to extend a hand of comfort and touch to those who are afflicted. Healers give their time and energy to offering aid and comfort to others. Inner healing, or healing of memories is sometimes associated as another manifestation of this gift. (1 Cor. 12:9, 28, 30)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF HELPING

Helping is a gift of support and behind-the-scenes effort that make groups, families, and congregations more effective. Not everyone is gifted to lead, but many are gifted to follow and handle the tasks that are so essential, but less glamorous. Helpers love to serve others, support others, and assist others in the important work of ministry and mission. Tireless in their willingness to serve, helpers are less interested in receiving thanks and recognition than in doing good, valuable work.

1 Cor 12:28 is the only usage of this word in the New Testament, and it appears to be distinct from the gift of service. Some suggest that while the gift of service is more group-oriented, the gift of helps is more person-oriented.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF INTERPRETATION OF TONGUES

Those who are gifted to interpret tongues help build bridges across cultural, generational, and language divides. People who possess this gift have an innate ability to learn new languages and cultural practices and can help others understand them as well. Foreign speaking people are attracted to those with this gift and feel intuitively that they will be better understood and received by interpreters. Interpretation breaks down barriers. (1 Cor. 14:13, 1 Cor. 14:26-28, 1 Cor. 12:10, 30, 1 Cor. 14:5, 13, 26)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF KNOWLEDGE

The gift of knowledge allows people to automatically convert facts, data, and information into useful and important knowledge for the benefit of others. People possessing this gift can learn in a variety of ways, retain what they learn, and understand how learning can be applied in meaningful and productive ways. Some also associate supernatural perception with this gift. Those gifted with knowledge have a voracious and insatiable desire to learn more, and they seek multiple avenues for deepening their understanding of God’s world, God’s will, and God’s people. (1 Cor. 12:8). Your exhortation is 2 Peter 3:18.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF LEADERSHIP

The gift of leadership is a visionary, and forward-looking gift that enables people to stay focused on where God might be leading us as individuals, congregations, and communities at any given time. Leaders look more to where we are going rather than where we currently are, or where we have been. Leaders motivate others to work together in ways that help them achieve more together than any could on their own. Leaders provide examples of how we should order our lives to honor and glorify God. (Rom. 12:8)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF MIRACLES

There is some difference of opinion regarding the gift of miracles. Some think that it is the ability to serve as an instrument though whom God accomplishes acts that manifest supernatural power.

Other believe the gift of miracles is not about performing miracles, but about living in the miraculous reality of God’s creation. That those gifted with miracles never doubt the power and presence of God in creation and can help others see and believe in God’s power. Living in the spirit of the miraculous, people see God in nature, in relationships, in kind acts, and in the power of love. (1 Cor. 12:10, 28, 29)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF PROPHECY

The gift of prophecy is the ability to speak God’s word to others, or more appropriately to be open for God to speak God’s word through us. Prophets do not predict the future but offer insight and perspective on current conditions and how things might turn out if changes aren’t made. Prophets are incisive, clear, and often controversial, communicators. Prophets see things that others often don’t, and they have the courage to “tell it like it ought to be.” Some maintain that prophecy is still operative in this sense today, while others say that the nearest current equivalent is Spirit-empowered preaching. (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28, Eph. 4:11)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF SERVANTHOOD

Servanthood is the gift of doing for others, sometimes to the exclusion of meeting personal needs.  Servants look for ways to do for others both within and beyond the congregation and community. Servants do not choose to serve but serve from a sense of identity and call. Gifted servants never feel put-upon or taken advantage of but see each opportunity to do for others to be true to self. The Greek word for this gift is the same as that for ministry or deacon, but the gift should not be confused with the office. (Rom. 12:7). Your exhortation is Galatians 5:13.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF SHEPHERDING

The gift of shepherding is the gift of mentoring and providing spiritual guidance to others to help them develop in the discipleship and faith formation. Shepherds take an active and individualized interest in the life of faith of others. Shepherds share from their own faith journey to make the way easier for others. Shepherds are good at asking provocative questions, recommending appropriate resources and experiences, and helping people find their own way to the next level of their development.

The Greek word “poimen” means pastor. In Paul’s spiritual gifts listing in Ephesians 4:11, this term is translated “pastor.” Although the word “poimen” is translated pastor only one time in Scripture it is used sixteen additional times. The remaining sixteen are all translated “shepherd.” Therefore, we are discussing the GIFT of shepherding, not the POSITION of pastor. Though a good pastor must have the gift of shepherding, everyone who has the gift of shepherding is not called to be pastor. The gift can be used in many positions in a church.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF TEACHING

The gift of teaching allows people to transform data and information into life changing knowledge. Teachers do not have to stand in front of a class to teach. Often gifted teachers communicate best in informal, one-on-one settings. Teachers have the uncanny knack of helping people learn effortlessly. People internalize and retain the knowledge and learning they receive from gifted teachers. Good teachers transform more than they inform. (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 4:11). Your exhortation is Matthew 28:19

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF TONGUES

The gift of tongues is a communication gift that allows people to speak foreign or spiritual languages they had not formally studied. People with this gift “pick up” the ability to communicate across barriers of language, culture, age, or physical limitation (some people with the gift of tongues work with the deaf or blind).  The identification of the gift of tongues as a “secret” prayer language is often misunderstood. This gift is given for the upbuilding of the body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12:10, 28, 30; 1 Cor. 14:1-40; 1 Cor. 14:13; 1 Cor. 14:26-28)

Because of the controversial nature of this gift, here are several observations:

  1. Paul qualified the public use of this gift, stating that in a meeting of the church, two or at the most three could speak in a tongue, it must be done in turn, and a person with the gift of interpretation must be present so that the body would be edified (1 Cor. 14:26-28).
  2. There are several differences between the manifestation of tongues at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13) and its use in Corinth (1 Cor. 14), and these differences suggest that the two are not identical.
  3. In his list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul spoke of kinds of tongues. This, coupled with the statements in 1 Corinthians 14:2, 4, 14-15, 28, has led many to distinguish a private use of tongues, often called a prayer language (1 Cor. 14:14-15), from the public use of tongues which must be interpreted. Paul wrote that if there is no interpreter, the possessor of this gift should be silent in the church. Let him speak to himself and to God (1 Cor. 14:28).
  4. This gift is easily counterfeited and often abused. It can be a source of spiritual pride, excessive preoccupation, and divisiveness.
  5. Contrary to some teaching, tongues are not the only sign of the filling of the Spirit, and not all believers are to manifest this gift (1 Cor. 12:17-19,30).

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF WISDOM

The gift of wisdom allows people to understand deeper meaning and apply knowledge, beliefs, and experience to everyday situations. Wise gifted individuals make connections and help other make them as well — to understand the implications of our beliefs and actions. Those gifted with wisdom often understand root causes of disagreements, conflict, and barriers to growth and development. People with wisdom help others understand and clarify options to make good decisions. (1 Cor. 12:8). Your exhortation is James 1:5

None of the lists in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 is complete, and it is evident that there are other spiritual gifts apart from those listed above. C. Peter Wagner in Your Spiritual Gifts suggests these additions:

Voluntary poverty (the ability to renounce material comfort and adopt a lifestyle of relative poverty; 1 Cor. 13:3);

Martyrdom (the ability to display an attitude of joy while suffering or even dying for the faith; 1 Cor. 13:3);

Hospitality (the ability to welcome and provide for those in need of food and lodging; Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:9);

Intercession (the ability to pray for a long period of time on a regular basis for the ministries and needs of others).

Other spiritual gifts (e.g., music, craftsmanship) are also given to members of the body of Christ for mutual edification.

These are Not Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts are not the same as the fruit of the Spirit. Spiritual fruit is produced from within; spiritual gifts are bestowed by the Holy Spirit. Fruit relates to Christlike character; gifts relate to Christian service. The fruit of the Spirit, especially love, should be the context for the use of the gifts of the Spirit. Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that spiritual gifts without spiritual fruit are worthless. Fruit is eternal, but gifts are temporal (1 Cor. 13:8); the former is a true measure of spirituality, but the latter is not.

Spiritual gifts are not the same as natural talents. Unlike the natural abilities which everyone has from birth, spiritual gifts belong exclusively to believers in Christ. In some cases, the gifts of the Spirit coincide with natural endowments, but they transcend these natural abilities by adding a supernatural quality. Both are given by God (Jas. 1:17) and should be developed and used according to their purpose for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

All Christians are called to a ministry, but not all are called to an office. Ministry is determined by divinely given gifts and opportunities (Eph. 3:7). Offices (e.g., elder, deacon, evangelist, and teacher) are humanly recognized and appointed spheres of ministry within the body.

Have the Gifts of the Spirit Ceased?

You are probably familiar with the following verses, but do you remember what is says about the gifts of the Spirit?

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)

So now that you’ve possibly just started exploring your spiritual gifts, I give you pause. But fear not.

In the video below, Raymond Goodlett discusses whether the Gifts of the Spirit have ceased to be present or necessary in the modern age. Did all or some of the gifts cease to be given since the time of Jesus? You will need to skip an ad before getting to the good stuff.

Video Discussion of Whether the Gifts of the Spirit Still Exist.

Diversity and Unity in the Body of Christ

When the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, a new entity was created. This entity consists of all those who have received the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus and become sons and daughters of God. The most frequently used metaphor for this new creation is the body of Christ.

The three major New Testament lists of the gifts are all introduced by a description of the unity and diversity in the body of Christ. Paul’s metaphor for the church could not be more appropriate, because both the universal church (all believers) and the local church (geographically localized groups of believers) are unities which are built out of diverse elements. All believers have been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Christ is the head, the ruler of the body (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; Col. 1:18), and believers are the individual members or components.

In this analogy, each Christian has been given a special function to perform and the ability to fulfill it in a way that will benefit the other members. There is quantitative and qualitative growth when believers discover and actively use their spiritual gifts. Each part of the body depends on the rest for its well-being, and there are no useless organs. This is why edification through teaching and fellowship is so necessary in the local church. Just as no organ can function independently of the others, so no Christian can enjoy spiritual vitality in a relational vacuum. The Spirit has distributed spiritual gifts to every member of the body, and no single member possesses all the gifts. Thus, growth does not take place apart from mutual ministry and dependence.

Developing Your Spiritual Gift(s)

Having discovered your gift or combination of gifts, you are accountable to yourself, others, and God to develop and cultivate that which the Spirit has implanted within you. In The Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts, William McRae suggests that the gifts of the Spirit are developed in three ways:

By exercise. Like natural talents, spiritual gifts are developed by practice, not just by desire. Without regular exercise, they will suffer from atrophy. Continue to pursue opportunities and persevere in the use of your gift(s).

By evaluation. Be open to the evaluation and counsel of other believers. Periodically ask godly people to evaluate your ministry in terms of strengths, weaknesses, and ways to improve.

By education. More educational and developmental materials are available today than ever before. Take advantage of the best books, classes, tapes, and seminars that can help you improve your God-given abilities.

Danger of Abuse

The mobilization of spiritual gifts is critical to the qualitative and quantitative growth of the body of Christ. For this reason, we must be careful to avoid the many pitfalls associated with this crucial subject. Here are some guidelines:

Spiritual gifts are not merely for personal use. They are designed for the edification of others. Others should benefit primarily; the barer of the gift should benefit secondarily.

Spiritual gifts cannot be useful through your power alone. If they are not used to channel the power of the Spirit and through the love of Christ, they are of no value (1 Cor. 13:1-3).

The discovery and use of spiritual gifts is not a game or an option. Your gifts will determine your ministry, and your ministry can have eternal consequences. God has called us to be committed and faithful to Him, and this is reflected in part by our stewardship of the abilities and opportunities He has given to us.

Spiritual gifts should not be a cause of pride. Since they are distributed according to the grace of God, they ought to be regarded as divinely entrusted responsibilities, not status symbols, achievements, or trophies. Christian character and maturity are measured by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), not spiritual gifts.

Spiritual gifts should not be sought as ends in themselves. In some circles, there is a tendency to exalt the gifts above the Giver.

Avoid extreme positions on the gifts that are not warranted by Scripture, like the teaching that we should not seek to discover spiritual gifts, or the teaching that a Spirit-filled Christian can have all the gifts.

Avoid the temptation of projecting your gifts onto others. Our thinking is naturally colored by the gifts we have been given, and if we are not careful, we will take the prescription that works for us and turn it into the norm for everyone. This can lead to a judgmental perspective on our part and a sense of guilt on the part of others who are not gifted in the same way.

Conclusion

Here are four principles that should govern our use of spiritual gifts:

Remember that the Holy Spirit is the true dynamic behind the gifts. They must be exercised in dependence upon His power.

Spiritual gifts function best in the sphere of love (the way that is beyond comparison; 1 Cor. 12:31). Paul placed his great description of love (1 Cor. 13) right in the middle of the most extensive biblical passage on spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14). It is no accident that the two other major lists of spiritual gifts (Rom. 12 and Eph. 4) also include exhortations to love (see Rom. 12:9-10; Eph. 4:15-16).

In your ministry, concentrate your energy in productive areas. It is wise to maximize time in gift-related activities and minimize time in activities for which you are not suited.

On the other hand, Scripture commands all believers to perform certain ministries regardless of individual gifts. Christian roles like intercession, faith, service, helps, mercy, and giving are the responsibility of all Christians, not just those who are specifically gifted in these areas. For example, some have the spiritual gift of evangelism, but all believers have a role of evangelism that corresponds to the opportunities they have been given. Be careful to avoid the spiritual cop-out mentality that says, That’s not my gift!

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References:

Kenneth Boa in his article “The Gits of the Spirit

Exploring Your Spiritual Gifts” by The Methodist Church