29 October 2007

Why Do I Depend on What People Think?

The one true God created me for life with Himself forever, for the sake of His own divine love. So has He also given Himself for me, and redeemed me for Himself with His own lifeblood, so that I may be His and live with Him in His Kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness. He has given me His Name and poured out His Holy Spirit generously upon me. He is my strength and my song, because He has become my salvation. He is my righteousness and holiness. Neither sin, nor death, nor the power of the devil can harm me any longer, for the Lord my God will never leave me nor forsake me. As God Himself is for me, I may a host defy!

I know all of this. I confess it to be true. I teach it and preach it to other with sincere and absolute conviction. To whatever extent I know my own heart and mind, I do believe all of this, and I trust it; thanks be to God, and Christ be praised, that He has called me by His Gospel, enlightened me with the gifts of His Spirit, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.

So why is it that I care so much about what anyone else thinks of me? Why am I flattered and delighted by the praises of people? And why am I so devestated by anything less?

Why does it hurt so much to be criticized or ridiculed? Why does it hurt that much worse to be dismissed or ignored altogether? What is this hunger in me for the attention and approval of people, when the love and salvation of the true and only God are given to me freely by His grace? I know better than to seek the praises of men, and yet precisely that still seems to be what my heart it bent upon. And I am more easily troubled by the displeasure or disinterest of men than by the holy and righteous Law of God. I do not fear, love and trust in Him above all things, as I should, but I fear, love and trust in the attitudes and actions of men.

I know that the problem is rooted in my sinfulness, and that the only remedy is the forgiveness of my sins. What never ceases to amaze me, though, is how knowing the truth of the matter does not enable me to correct my thinking or feeling. All the logic in the world, and even good theological knowledge, does not prevent me from craving human accolades or from getting my feelings hurt when people disregard me. There are days when I thoroughly bemoan this travesty of my sinful heart.

It should not bother me that I'm not part of the in crowd; that I am not taken seriously; that I am overlooked or deliberately passed over by the "powers that be" in this world. It should not bother me, even though it does. My true standing before God, which is all that finally matters, has already been determined and established for me in Christ Jesus, and there simply is no higher honor than that. It is probably for the best that I don't possess the honors of this world, since I am far too easily inclined to idolatry over them. Already my covetous desire for such recognition is idolatrous. Thus, I am called to repentance and reminded how much I need the Gospel every day. There is no other help nor hope, nor any other life worth living, than that which is freely given by the grace of God in Christ Jesus. I believe; help Thou my unbelief!


RPW said...

I don't think that at the root of it is sinfulness God wants us to love Him, and He is hurt and angered when we don't. That is true from Adam and Eve to Moses, to Jesus, to now. We are created in His image.

The sinfulness is when we are willing to compromise God's Word for the sake of being loved. The sinfulness isn't in the fact that the the two - loving and obeying God and being loved by others comes into conflict (that part is the sinful world, yes).

God is love and He created us to love and be loved by Him and by each other. The pain comes when those two are in conflict, and the sinfulness is when we put others' love over God's love.

The desires to be loved, appreciated, and recognized for the gifts, abilities, and roles that God has given us is natural. You see it in God, you see it in Paul, you see it in Moses....really, its all over the Bible. However, that doesn't mean that the people didn't get mad at them for the things they did and said in God's name. Even to the point of death.

I think it would be very bizarre if you didn't care what the people you love and admire think. That would be inhuman and not in the image of God. I pray that God gives you the strength to act according to His will.

It is a very hard place to be in when those two things are in conflict. Heartbreaking. The Bible shows that, too. God be with you.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you for your helpful comments and clarifications. You are quite right, of course, that the Lord has made us in His image to be loved by Him and others, and to love both God and others as we are loved. I would not wish to say that a desire for such love is sinful; for that is not the case.

I should also clarify that I'm not being ill-treated or tormented for my preaching and teaching of the Word of God. The Lord has blessed me with a pious and loving congregation, who are patient with me and supportive of my work.

No, what torments me and frustrates me is my own lack of contentment and satisfaction with what the Lord has given me to be and to do and to have by His grace. I don't mean my family, who are more dear to me than anything else (although I sadly find that it is precisely with my family that I fail most often to do what I ought to do and want to do -- wretched man that I am; thanks be to God that He saves me from the sin and death that rage within me). I don't mean my possessions, either; though I do sometimes get restless and impatient for more. The truth is that I have more than I need to survive, and with food and clothing I ought to be content.

No, what troubles me is the extent to which I long for recognition and appreciation, and the extent to which I am cast down by disagreement or criticism. Worse than criticism is to be ignored or dismissed out of hand. I'm not saying this to complain about anyone else. I'm simply weary of the fact that I do not find my comfort and contentment in Christ and His Gospel, not as I should, but instead I crave the attention and appraisal of other people.

The truth is that I am richly blessed with many dear friends, who are far better than anything I deserve. And yet, I'm always wishing that others would pay attention to me, listen to me, praise what I have to say, and put me up on a pedestal. That is not simply to desire the love for which the Lord has created me, but a prideful idolatry of my own self.

And along with that self-centered pride, it hurts me then to realize how often I end up withholding from others the very attention that I so long for myself. I despise and detest this sinful ego in me. I hate being reminded of it, but I am thankful to be brought to repentance. It is, as I said, a stark reminder of the fact that I live by the Gospel, and by no other way or means than that.

So, I thank you, not only for your thoughtful comments and clarifications, but also for your prayers on my behalf, and especially for your encouraging word of the Gospel to me.

Unknown said...

Dear Pastor,

You aren't allowed to divulge anything said to you in confession, but I have no such vow towards the words with which my Pastor has counseled me, and I do remember some of them. I listen to those words and cling to them, because they are soothing and healing and since moods and emotions often need some time for the healing, I have to remember and contemplate. And occasionally come back to hear the words again.

One thing my pastor said a few days ago was that those near and dear to you - even the nearest and dearest - will disappoint you at times. They will fail you at times. Only God's love is unfailing, constant, and perfect. You love those people, but cling to what - Who - is important. Christ will never fail you.

Yet even though I suffer
The world's unpleasantness,
And though the days grow rougher
And bring me great distress,
That day of bliss divine,
Which knows no end or measure,
And Christ, who is my pleasure,
Forever shall be mine.

It's not Gerhardt, but still, this says it. And the thing is, that the day of bliss divine is already here. Christ unites you to Him. It doesn't get any better than that.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you, Sandra, for your very lovely words of comfort in Christ.

Even if the hymn you have quoted isn't by Gerhardt, it is indeed a beautiful hymn and one of my favorites. I do rejoice in the life that is mine in Christ Jesus. And precisely so, especially because I know this to be what is most real and true for me, it is most aggravating to me that my heart and head, my thoughts and feelings so often steer me elsewhere. It is both sinful and ridiculous to be so troubled and unsettled by the fickle attentions of people. It is all the more reprehensible to stew about such things when, in addition to the love of God in Christ (which surpasses all else), I am also, by His grace, surrounded by people who love and care for me, in spite of my moods.

It is simply the case that I am always, more and more, in need of the Gospel: not just as information or a reminder of what I already "know" to be true, but the forgiveness of my sins, which alone strengthens my faith and hope and life in Christ. My old Adam does not like to be reminded of that need, because that exposes my self-idolatry for what it is. Yet, God exposes the nakedness of my sin in order to clothe me with Christ and His righteousness by grace through His Gospel.

KARMEN said...

Mind is our biggest enemy...Simple as that

sarahlaughed said...

Oooh. Pastor, you've stuck your finger right in the open wound on this one. Why do I care so much more about what people think than what Christ says to me? Or, a better question, how can I become content with what I have been given, namely Christ's gifts? I realize that I don't have the power to 'make myself content', try as I might. But the wrenching bitterness of being ignored or passed over is real as well as the shame which comes from realization that this longing for human praise is decrying the blessings I have as God's child.
I know that it is not within my power to do anything about this. All I can say is "Lord have Mercy".