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 measure of faith God has given you.
Each morning, as I look in the mirror, I see more things that I don’t want to see. I see more wrinkles on my face and less hair on my head. I see bags under my eyes and a sagging neck. (My kids tease me that I have developed a waddle.) I also see spots on my skin that were not there before. The image that I have in my mind of me and the image I see in the mirror do not match.
Last week, I attended a conference with a number of other pastors. As I listened to the presentations, I felt like a young, rooky pastor. Then I realized that I was as old, if not older, then most of the pastors there, and had as much, if not more, experience. My perception of myself did not match the reality.
All of us have a distorted view of ourselves. In many ways, we see ourselves as better than we are. From a physical point of view, we usually think we are in better shape than is true. This comes to light when we engage in some physical activity and then wonder why our muscles ache so much. From a spiritual point of view, we often think we are doing better than we are. This too comes to light when our faith is put to the test.
Paradoxically, we also see ourselves as worse than we are. I often fall into that trap; downplaying my strengths. I compare myself to others and feel less than adequate. I am timid to fully engage in activities that I am more than competent in, because I am afraid I will not measure up. The fear of failure can be a powerful de-motivator.
The Apostle Paul challenges us to routinely look in the mirror, God’s mirror, to get an accurate image of ourselves. When Paul tells us to think of ourselves with sober judgment, he is instructing us to take an honest look at both our strengths and our weaknesses. We can summarize what we will discover in two ways.
From a human point of view, we are far weaker than we think we are. Because of sin in our lives, we are truly handicapped. Satan wants us to take pride in our own abilities and to depend upon our own strength, but he is setting us up for a fall. Jesus highlighted this malady in at least two of the churches mentioned in Revelation 3; the church at Sardis and the church at Laodicea. To Sardis He writes: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (Revelation 3:1) And to Laodicea He writes: You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17)The antidote to this overinflated view of ourselves is found in 1 Peter 5:5-6. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
The other side of the equation tells us that, in Christ, we are far stronger than we think we are. Timothy struggled with a lack of confidence in his ability to serve Christ and the Church. Paul reminded him that, when God calls us, He empowers us. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7) When we rest in the power of Christ, we are more than competent to face the challenges of life. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:37, No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. The key for us is to tap into Christ’s strength. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. Ephesians 6:10-11
I went to see my doctor yesterday, for a regular check-up. After we reviewed my blood pressure and my lab results, we talked about the half marathon that I had just run. He asked me if I would ever run a full marathon. I told him that I would not, because my knees would not handle it. He leaned forward and said, “Do you know what that is? That is wisdom.” Knowing our strengths and our limits is wisdom, whether that is physically or spiritually. It is good for us to look in the mirror on a regular basis. It helps us to keep an accurate view of who we really are.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does.