Some time ago I finished a book on the fear of man, and how it's manifested in different ways in our modern today. I realized that I wasn't any different. My life, when I looked at it, was run through--like streaky bacon!--with many of these types of fears.
The greatest one--because it seemed the most legitimate one--was the fear that my imperfections would ruin my witness for Christ.
Basically how this worked out was: 'If people don't find me a nice person, they'll automatically criticize or think badly of my faith. Similarly, if they find me nice, I'm witnessing for Christ, because they should realize that Christ is why I'm trying to be a nice person.'
I was afraid of myself, of my imperfections. I was afraid people would see my down days and my selfish side and my unreasonable moods, that sometimes my concern for them was for all the wrong reasons. That I was superficial, or insincere, or just plain exhausted and tired--tired of trying to be a 'nice person'.
I was afraid that people would write me off as a hypocrite and immediately think Christianity was some sort of fake, shallow religion of affectation.
It was starting to burden me, this fear--that unless people find you a nice person all the time, you're not witnessing to them about Christ, you're not being a good Christian.
For once in my life I stepped back from this mindset and took a good hard look at it.
Being a Christian does not equal being a nice person.
I've heard this same realization in many testimonies of people, like myself, from Christian homes. It was a big stumbling block to many of them. I thought I had to become a good person to become a Christian, and so for the longest time I thought it was impossible to be saved...I thought being a Christian meant you were practically sinless, like the Christians around me seemed to be...
Similarly, I worried whether people would find me a nice person because I vaguely assumed that being a nice person was witnessing for Christ. That the more people liked me, the more they would see through me how much Christ was worth loving and living for.
This is true in a sense--Christ's love, and our subsequent love for Him, should transform our lives and relationships with selflessness. The people around us should sense a difference and a selfless sincerity in us that will be earthly reflections of the real thing: Christ.
'Being nice', something shallow that anyone could achieve with some self-control and empathy, would probably be better seen as a side-effect than the goal.
Christ calls us to something greater and deeper than just being a nice person.
Christ Himself did not live in continual favor of everyone around Him, though He certainly left impressions of His pure and selfless care all around Him, 'growing in favor with God and man'. Christ did not live His life dictated by whether the people around Him thought He was nice or not. Love was merely the result of the Truth He preached and it did not become an idol.
And then I realized that this was the opposite of what the Gospel was. The Gospel centers on the hard truth that despite all the nice 'redemptive' sides of us, the nice person we can make ourselves seem with a bit of effort, the nice notions that actually we're not that thoroughly bad, we are thoroughly and completely lost in our sin and helpless in our depravity.
Sin was that serious for God's solution to be so significant.
Gone is the pleasant but impossible notion that Christians = nice people.
By definition of the Gospel they believe, Christians of all people should be the most aware of their faults, of their imperfections--because only then can they be most in touch with grace, most alive to Christ and their need of Him.
By definition of the Gospel they believe, Christians of all people should be the most honest about their imperfections because not only do they acknowledge they are so far gone that there is no help for them, they also believe that, miraculously, there's still a happy ending...
It's like someone who knows he has cancer in the last stage. What does he care about trying to hide it, since he's so far gone? Then suppose the doctor tells him that a 100% reliable cure has been found, even for his hopeless case, and that he can confidently expect to be completely cured.
And then only, love.
When we are most humble, most honest about ourselves and others, we are liberated to love them to a degree of selflessness that we couldn't reach otherwise.
Our imperfections should be things we fight. But they should not be things we try to hide.
The way we respond and deal with our imperfections is the greatest witness--way more than a lifetime of shallow niceness.
A Christian who loses his temper, lashing out with furious stinging words or even actions that have nothing of Christ in them. Then, driven by his love for Christ, he finds he is unable to bear continuing in sin, though the struggle that it costs him with his flesh almost kills him.
He comes to ask for forgiveness, in broken, bleeding humility so raw that it humbles you in witnessing it.
This is a better witness than a lifetime of not losing your temper, in which people would simply assume you were born good-natured or had a high level of tolerance.
It is when you prove to be just as human as them that the power of Christ shines clearest through you. Just as light shines best, not through a massive concrete wall, but through a pane of glass--brittle, transparent, and all but nothing in itself. Its very weakness and insignificance makes it the best medium to see and appreciate the beauty of the light penetrating it.
'...For My strength is made perfect in weakness.'
2 Corinthians 12:9
The process of dying to sin and living to righteousness is a painful one.
It is very much a process--a slow, gradual process. You learn lessons. You make decisions.
And most importantly, you change.
I used to think that the decision-making, lesson-learning aspect was all there was to sanctification. After all, there's so much sin, so many bad habits in us...we're constantly discovering them, fighting them. The biggest struggle once God has opened your eyes to a sin in your life, is making the decision to fight it--and stick to that decision.
But I've realized that the battle against sin is not just a more obvious, more dramatic decision but also a quiet, inward transformation.
Sometimes it may not be having done a particular action so much as doing it in a certain way. Sometimes it may not be how we treat someone we don't like, but how we deal with our hearts and learn to sincerely love them--not just whether we can keep our dislike of them a secret no one can guess at from our behavior, but whether we can actually change that dislike into a Christ-like love and concern.
In the beginning it was such a struggle for me to say, keep my tongue in check, when my heart was hot and bitter. I knew the words on my lips were weapons I wanted to hurt the other person with. It was all I could do to keep them back and that was the simple lesson God taught me at that time--to control my tongue and my temper.
However, I can't let myself become complacent now this has become less of a struggle than it used to be. I am better at controlling my temper now; I've learnt 'not to trust my tongue when my heart is bitter.'
But sadly, that only means I've learnt to keep my anger in check.
It's still there.
I've just learnt to hide it better, to minimize damages so to speak. I may not have hurt the other person with my reply like I wanted to, but it's still festering inside of me--hurting ME.
Realizing this showed me that I've been confronting my sin much the way the Pharisees did--all the visible parts of it. In reality all I was doing was melting the tip of the iceberg--sawing the fin off the shark.
When I pray about my sin, I need to pray about my heart before I pray about my actions. After all, the actions are reflections of my heart.
I need to pray that God will change the desires of my heart, from myself to Him.
From what pleases me to what pleases Him.
I need to pray that God will change the way I see others. From people to be judged, used, feel good about, imitate--to fellow sinners made lovable by Christ's love for them and me.
I need to pray that God will give me greater hatred of sin and greater love for Him, rather than merely better self-control.
I need to pray that God will transform my heart, because everything starts from there...
On February 7, 2012, I turned eighteen and was traumatized--not because something happened, but for the rather more interesting reason that nothing happened.
I had developed an assumption that maturity was something that happened when you turned a certain age. It was easy to think that it would be a 'light switch moment'; that you would automatically be mature and 'grown-up' at that age, and continue to be increasingly so as you got older and reached the even more impressive ages of nineteen, twenty, twenty-one (and after that, inevitable and irrevocable adulthood/ultimate maturity.)
Believe me, it was nothing like that. I basically woke up one morning and realized I was eighteen, on the first step of old mature adulthood, and feeling absolutely nothing like it. In fact, I felt absolutely the same as I had yesterday as a seventeen year old. How was that possible??
What does it mean to be mature?
We all have our definition of maturity--our own that we develop, or popular culture's which we unthinkingly adopt.
Being a certain age?
Being allowed to stay out late, make our own decisions, spend money without people questioning us, go skydiving if we want to?
Being 'treated as an individual'?
Being respected by others?
I have been thinking over this and I've concluded that--it's not.
That may seem obvious when it's put forth so simply. But the truth is, it's been unconsciously ingrained into us that these are definitions of 'being grown up'/mature.
That maturity is when people start to treat you as an adult, and you are allowed to do thing you weren't allowed to before.
In fact, all these are merely responses to maturity--not maturity itself.
Let me propose instead a definition of maturity which might seem obvious to some of you and traumatically radical to others: maturity is not a change in how others treat you, but a change in how you treat others.
As humans we are all sinners, just as old man cacti by definition have fluff (I was going to say, as cacti by definition have spikes; but I checked, and apparently some--don't. Having just bought a little old man cactus I suppose that analogy would work as well. The one I have looks exactly like Einstein.)
One particular sin that every single one of us, without exception, struggles terrifically with is selfishness. It has never been hard to be selfish or self-centered, and now it's easier than ever before. The culture and lifestyle we live in today is more individualistic than ever before. I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly has a good many bad effects to counter balance its few good ones. Self-love anthems and slogans are everywhere, in movies and songs, on tweets and T-shirts.
Even our relationships. For example, our relationships with our parents have been reduced to the sadly skewed aspect of OUR education, OUR career, OUR future.
And as children, this is actually very natural. Without social manners to constrain us, or hard experience which tells us otherwise, we really do believe, and live as if, the world revolves around ourselves. Children are simply not mature enough to see beyond their own needs for long. It never occurs to them to do otherwise. It is the parents' duty to gently train the child to stop living in such a narrow, self-centered life, to start taking an interest in others and caring for others. Share your sweets. Say please and thank you. Take care of your brother. Talk to grandparents on the phone. Say hello to the adult visitors. Pick up your toys after you finish playing. Help Mommy carry in dirty laundry.
These are--quite literally--baby steps to seeing people as individuals--not merely how they relate to us.
We stop seeing and treating them like accessories to our lives--we need or enjoy them, so we pay them attention; if not, we shut them out as efficiently and quickly as possible.That's how we treat people like inanimate accessories. I've met people who showed me how a phone or gadget would feel like if it had feelings. I've been made to feel like a Nokia phone that's looked down on for not being an iPhone. Or a faulty Nokia that isn't worth their time to acknowledge it's even there. Or even treated like an iPhone--but a phone nevertheless. Phones don't have feelings. Phones also don't exist, are not important outside of catering to our needs. I'm not grumbling or judging these people--well, I try not to; because I know that I've been guilty of this myself.
This is not a viable way of living, simply because this is not how life is meant to be. God did not intend us to go through life choosing and using only the convenient and pleasant people to be with, ignoring and dumping all the others. This is obvious when we turn the case around and try to picture ourselves as one of these 'human accessories' to the people in our lives.
It's horrid, isn't it? You wince at the thought of your best friend using you as something to boost their ego, a security measure, or worse still, an article of convenience. We hate being 'used' by people. We want them to respect and appreciate us for who we are. (Half the angsty teenage friendship/romance/individuality rants go in endless circles around this theme!)
If we can feel this so strongly, why can't we actually live this out in how we, in turn, treat others?
I wonder too, myself.
Perhaps, maturity is when we realize that everyone we meet is an individual like ourselves that desires to be respected and appreciated for who they are. (again, this is so obvious that it sounds stupid, but who says humans aren't stupid? Too many obvious truths are not obviously lived out.)
Perhaps maturity is when we stop being obsessed with how others treat us and instead start examining how we treat them.
Perhaps maturity is not a change in how others treat you but a change in how you treat others.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are