We all hit them from time to time, usually without a clue they were coming: potholes. The good news is that God has given us lots of wisdom about how to identify and avoid these often-unexpected, but always-devastating holes in the road of life. Join us for our super practical summer series from the book of Proverbs.
We’re kicking off a new summer series, Potholes. Potholes in the road can cause a lot of damage to our vehicles, but potholes in the road of life can destroy our relationships, kill our hopes and dreams, and take us off the mission God made us for. This series is all about finding wisdom from God’s Word to identify and avoid these unexpected and destructive potholes in the road of life. Join us as we start this series with a look at apathy.
Craig: Well, welcome to Mission Hills. So glad you’re with us. I’m really glad to be back. I had a couple weeks off with my family, including my parents for some rest and rejuvenation, which is great, but really glad to be back with you and really excited to be launching new summer series called Potholes. Several years ago I was in college and I was driving an old Nissan Sentra station wagon, I was coming home from college in the spring and I had some stuff on my mind. To be perfectly honest, I’d met this woman and I was pretty sure that God was calling her to be involved in my life full time. And I was, because I was probably thinking about her, I turned off the highway and onto the road that led to my parents’ actually the road that I had driven a thousand times.
So I just really, I was kind of on autopilot thinking about Coletta and, you know, about what the summer was gonna look like. And I was probably going just a little faster than I should have been, but no big deal, you know, my car was loaded down with stuff and everything’s going along fine. I’m driving and all over sudden bam! like the car did this massive jolt and it sort of bounced and then it bounced again and it bounced again. And I looked in the rearview mirror and I saw two things. Number one, I saw a huge pothole. Number two, I saw pieces of my car bouncing along on the road beside the pothole. And that’s the potentially destructive power of pause. How many of us have ever hit a pothole way harder than we anticipated? Yeah, they can be controllable, be destructive. And that’s true when we’re talking about like literal roads, but it’s really true as well when we talk about the road of life. And so there are potholes in the road of life that can do incredible damage and then ones on the actual roads can take off our muffler or maybe do some damage to our suspension. The potholes in the road of life can kill our relationships, they can derail our dreams. And ultimately, they can take us off the mission that God has called us to. And so what we’re gonna do for the next few weeks, is we’re gonna take a look at what God has to say about identifying and avoiding some of the biggest potholes that we can encounter in life.
Now, our guide for that is gonna be the Book of Proverbs. And I love the Book of Proverbs. I spent a lot of time in it over the last few years, especially lately I’ve decided every day I actually read a Proverb and God’s used it really powerfully in my life, and so I’m really excited to be able to share some of the wisdom from the Book of Proverbs. If you’re not familiar with Proverbs, you should be aware that it’s a little different than a lot of the books of the Bible in that it doesn’t have any real stories. There’s no extended teaching sections, and so a little different than what we normally do. Normally, we do what we call expository teaching is where we either go through a whole book verse by verse or a section of a book verse by verse. We’re gonna jump around a little bit more as we’re gonna kind of pull the wisdom out of the Book of Proverbs because what Proverbs is mostly built on is what we might call sound bites. They’re sort of short, pithy wisdom sayings. And so we’re gonna look at these wisdom sayings around certain subjects each week. And our subject for this week is the subject of laziness.
I always love the sound that goes through. It’s interesting. If you’re watching online, there was just this kind of uncomfortable like, ah. Okay, let’s just take a feel for the room, shall we? How many of us, let’s just start easy. How many of us know somebody who is lazy. Don’t look around. Just look right at me, okay? All right. How many of us, we’re the lazy person, right? How many of us would have raised our hand because it’s true, but we’re just like, ah, I just can’t go there again today. Sorry, that was a lame pastor joke right there. Here’s the reality. You know, it’s easier to see laziness in other people than it is in ourselves. For ourselves, we tend to go, why, It’s not that I’m lazy. Yes, there is this thing right here that I know I should do, but I haven’t managed to find the motivation to it or yeah, I know I should do this or that. And we have these pockets, but we don’t really call it laziness, we tend to identify it to something else, but other people look at it like, well yeah, you’re just being lazy, right? So I haven’t done that.
And so even if we don’t struggle with like laziness across the board, I think all of us struggle with these pockets of laziness. And so that’s kinda where can I kind of deal with today. So why don’t you go and grab a Bible, start, making your way to the Book of Proverbs. We’re gonna start in chapter 10 today and what we’re gonna do today is we’re gonna see several truths about laziness. The first of which is just this, it’s that laziness is a potentially destructive force in our lives. Laziness is a potentially destructive force in our lives, not even potentially, laziness is a destructive force in our lives. It always is. It’s a destructive force in our lives. Proverbs 10:4 says this, it says, “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.” And you know, the first things we probably need to do there is is disabuse you of any misunderstanding of wealth that you had. Because when we think about the word wealth, we tend to go, yeah, other people are wealthy. And I won’t ask for a show of hands, but if I asked, how many of us feel that we are wealthy? Only a few very spiritual people will be like, oh yes. Most of us go, no, no, I’m not a wealthy. Now I know somebody is, that guy, that’s wealthy, that family, she is wealthy. Those people. I mean we think Jeff Bezos from Amazon, we think Bill Gates, right? We go those people are wealthy, but biblically, you’re wealthy as soon as you have more than you need. Even if it’s just a little bit, as soon as you have more than you actually need, you are moving into the realm of wealth. And so chances are everybody listening to this is probably in the category of wealthy, okay?
Poverty in other hand is people who have less than they need, right? And what the proverb here is saying is that lazy hands lead to having less than we need. Lazy hands lead to less of what we need. Okay? This isn’t a promise that if you are hardworking, you’ll be the next Bill Gates. That’s great if it happens, if any, if we have more than what we need and we can be generous with it, that’s fantastic. But this isn’t really a promise you’re gonna be the next Bill Gates. It is a promise, however, that when we are lazy, we will have less of what we need, okay? Proverbs 20:4 says almost exactly the same thing. It says “Sluggards do not plow in season. And so at harvest time they look, but they find nothing.” Sluggards, slug-like people like is, because just to be honest. Can you imagine an animal that is less appealing to be compared to than a slug, right? It’s what it’s saying, lazy people are like slugs, right? You know, slow-moving, slimy, snot lumps, right? That’s what we’re dealing with. It’s an incredibly insulting kind of an image.
But what’s interesting to me about this proverb is that it highlights the particularly destructive power of occasional laziness, right? I mean the first one was just, you know, lazy hands lead to poverty. But here it talks specifically about being lazy, not necessarily across the board but at specific moments. When you’re lazy at planting time, you’re gonna not have what you need at harvest time. And that highlights the importance of paying attention to when we’re lazy even occasionally because even occasional laziness has the potential to be really destructive. And it’s not always in terms of just planting or even in terms of money, there are times that we’re called to be active in certain ways, and that sets the stage for God to do something else down the line. And if we don’t do what God’s called us to do at that time, we’re not gonna be able to reap the rewards when we actually have the need of it, right?
And so you can talk about it in terms of planting, obviously planting at spring harvesting in the fall. You can talk about it in terms of financial planning. If we don’t invest, you know, when we’re young, we may not have what we need when we’re older. If we spend all of our money, even though we don’t have to, when we’re young, we won’t have what we need when we get older. We can think about it in terms of our relationships. When we don’t invest in our relationships now, we won’t be able to lean on those relationships when we have a need for them at other points in our lives. When we don’t invest in our education at the right time, we won’t be able to build careers later on.
And so occasional laziness is just as destructive as across the board laziness. And the point again is that laziness is the destructive forces in our lives. And it’s not just destructive for us personally, individually, it’s also destructive for the people involved in our lives. This is Proverbs 10:26. “As vinegar to the teeth.” Vinegar is an acid. It dissolves the enamel of teeth if you spend a lot of time with it in your mouth. And in the ancient world, they had a lot of drinks based on vinegar. If it spent a lot of time in your mouth, it takes the enamel off your teeth, they get soft and ultimately they rot. So it’s destructive. “As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes.” How many of you have ever been camping? Right? And when you pick your spot at the campfire, you try to find the spot where the smoke is not being blown by the wind, right? And inevitably it changes direction. And then you got to change because it’s painful, right? I mean it makes your eyes red and waters, soot gets in and it’s really quite an irritant. He says, “As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes so are sluggards, so are lazy people to those who send them.” In other words, to those who ask them to do things, right? So if your husband or your wife asks you to do something and you don’t do it, you are like smoke to their eyes. You are like vinegar to their teeth. If your boss asked you to do something and you don’t do it, you are like vinegar to their teeth or smoke in their eyes. You know, if your kids or your parents ask you to do something, the point is that it’s damaging to them.
At the very best, best case scenario, it’s an irritant, right? The very best-case scenario, when we don’t do what people ask us to do, we irritate them. Worst case we can actually do damage to them. So laziness is a potentially destructive force, not only in our own lives but in the lives of other people around us. That’s probably why Proverbs 18:9 says this, “One who is slack in his worker, one who was lazy in his work, is brother to one who… What’s that word Church? “Destroys.” The person who is lazy in their work is actually a relative to the destructive person, right? And we don’t usually think of it that way. I think we tend to think of lazy people as people who don’t produce anything, but what God tells us is no, that’s not true. Lazy people do produce something. They produce destruction, they produce destruction, they produce destructive influences in people’s lives.
And I think the reason for that is very simple. It’s because lazy people consume without contributing, right? Lazy people still consume resources, but they don’t contribute resource. They consume without contributing. I mean, think about big-picture stuff. There was a study done in 2016 that found in the United States alone, laziness when it comes to physical exercise, just basic stuff, getting up, walking around, you know, a few minutes a day, that kind of thing. Laziness based on physical laziness, physical exercise accumulates $27.8 billion a year in unnecessary medical expenses in this country. Just, in other words, medical costs that didn’t have to be paid, it wasn’t a disease or anything like that. Things that could have easily been avoided if there had just been basic physical activity, but our laziness cost the country $27.8 billion. That’s a lot of consumption, right? Flip it around. A study last year found that the average American worker…it’s going to get really uncomfortable here, for you Facebook fans and you Twitter followers and you Instagram alcoholics. Average American worker wastes between 30 minutes and three hours a day. A day, which accounts for $450 to $550 billion in lost revenue in the United States alone. That’s a lot of not contributing, right?
And it’s not even just big picture stuff. I mean, let’s get really personal for a second, okay? Can we be vulnerable with each other? Now you’re like, what let’s see where this goes first, right? How many of you have ever bought something that had a rebate, never sent the rebate in? Never got around to it. Come on. Yeah. People online just say, that’s me, right? How many of you have or still have subscriptions or memberships that you haven’t canceled but you’re not actually using? That’s a really big one for me. Actually, it’s not true for me because I knew I was gonna preach this, this week and so I, this week I went there, I was like, Whoa, that’s got…I did not know I was still paying for that. Right. It’s laziness that consumes resources without actually contributing anything, right? That’s why laziness is a destructive force on all of us and by the way, it’s not just true practically. It’s also true spiritually, do you know that? Laziness is destructive spiritually as well because we’re made to work.
Genesis 1:28 when God made the first human beings. Verse 28 says, “God blessed them and he said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number. Fill the earth and subdue it.'” And that subdue word in particular. That’s a hardwork word. In the Hebrew, it means to wrestle somebody in the ground and maintain control over it. That’s what we were made to do. We are made to work hard and I know some of our reactions that is, “What? I thought. God loved us. If God loved us why would he make…?” Because God loves us he made us to work hard because without hard work, there’s no sense of satisfaction, without hard work, there’s no sense of completion. There’s no sense of joy. Hard work is at the root of all of those things. If you’ve ever worked hard at something and succeeded and you’ve experienced the profound sense of satisfaction, you know what I’m talking about? How many of you have been satisfied because you worked hard and succeeded at something? Yeah, it’s a powerful thing and it’s healthy. It’s actually a healing thing for us.
When you flip it around however, the lack of hard work actually becomes really detrimental to us. I was in Zimbabwe several years ago doing some training for pastors in Zimbabwe and I spent a lot of time with the pastors. One of the questions that I asked them was, you know, what are the big problems in the Church in Zimbabwe? And the first one wasn’t all that surprising to me. The first one they said is that we struggle with a lot of false teaching coming into the Church and I got that. The second one really surprised me. They said the second biggest problem for the Church in Zimbabwe is unemployment. Now, at the time Zimbabwe was running at about 93% unemployment. And it wasn’t because of their laziness, it is just they wanted the opportunities, but the fact of the matter is that not working had had a big impact on them. First, I thought when they said that that was a big problem, I thought, well you meant they don’t have any resources to contribute to the Church and the mission of the Church. And they went, no, no, no, no, no. They said the problem is that it’s killing our people. It’s killing their sense of dignity and significance and self-worth. And because that dies, then they get involved in all kinds of other things that just destroy them. It’s a spiral that begins with the sense that I don’t have anything meaningful to do, therefore I am not meaningful. But by the way, this is one of the reasons why I believe that the way that our country, the way our culture thinks about retirement is incredibly unhealthy. Because people often have an idea, I’m gonna get to a certain point in my life and I’m not gonna work anymore, I’m not gonna contribute anymore. And let me tell you something. If you go into retirement with that attitude, rather than going into the retirement with the attitude, now I can focus on different kinds of work. I can contribute in some other meaningful way. If we don’t do that, it will kill you. It will kill your soul.
I’ve seen it over and over again and I saw it in Zimbabwe. We were driving around after the conference and we pulled into this area and I saw there were just hundreds of people sitting around on little chairs leaning up against walls, sitting on curbs, hundreds of them. We drove in and there was a kind of a scary moment, I’ll be perfectly honest, when somebody kind of spotted the van we were in and who was in it and I heard him yell, “Hey look, white people.” I was like, what is about to happen? And we were mobbed. I mean they just, they surrounded, they were yelling. It took me a while to kind of sort through the sound of what they were yelling. But you know what they ended up yelling every single one of them? They were asking if we had jobs. Not a single one of them asked for a handout, not a single one of them. They were desperate for jobs. And I could see it in their eyes this like I need to be involved in something. But here’s the truth, okay? Humans were made to work hard and to honor God with the results of our labor. And when we can’t do that, when we don’t do that, whether it’s because of a lack of opportunity or because of a lack of motivation, it’s painful, it’s damaging, it’s destructive, not just practically, it’s destructive spiritually. Here is the first truth we need to understand. Laziness is a destructive force in our lives, both practically and spiritually, okay?
Here’s the second truth we need to understand. Laziness isn’t really the problem. Laziness is actually a symptom. Do you know that? Laziness is a symptom and we probably should know that because we’ve probably all been accused of being lazy at some point in our lives for something and we’ve gone, no, I’m not lazy, there’s just, there are obstacles, right? There’s a reason why I haven’t done it. I don’t have time, I don’t have the energy. There’s a variety of those kinds of things, right? But laziness is just a symptom. It’s easier to find laziness in other people. When other people call us lazy, we’re like, no, no, no, you don’t understand the obstacles, right?
Let me explain what I mean. Here’s the thing. There are obstacles to every action. There are always obstacles to action. Anything that we’re gonna do, there’s an obstacle to it, right? I mean, even if it’s as simple as, you know, I’m sitting on the couch and I got to get up and do something, I have to overcome this physical force called inertia. Gravity is working against me, right? It’s why there’s a physics law that says an object at rest tends to stay at rest, right? A butt on the couch tends to stay a butt on the couch. It doesn’t magically become a butt in the kitchen or a butt out in the yard, okay? We have to overcome gravity. We have to overcome a lack of energy, there’s all kinds of things, they’re obstacles to action. Sometimes they’re very simple kind of physical things, but sometimes the obstacles action are a much more deeper and they’re more profound and there are sometimes spiritual issues. Sometimes we have to overcome the obstacle of feeling like, you know, I don’t like doing that.
Anybody grew up doing a chore you didn’t like doing? How many of you had kids so you can make them do the chores so you didn’t ever have to do that chore again? Right? Soon as we have to overcome the obstacle, I don’t like this. Sometimes we have to overcome the obstacle of, I don’t see the importance of this. I don’t see why this needs to be done. For me, making the bed, I just don’t get it. Like people don’t get tours of the bedrooms, so nobody’s in there. I think the bed is for sleeping, so I feel like you should make easy access as much as possible. Is not how my wife feels about it. And so I have to throw the opposite goal of like, I just, I don’t see the significance of doing this.
Sometimes, the obstacle we deal with is like, I don’t know how to do this right? Like I know this needs to happen, but I’m not even sure where to start. Spent some time this past week with my mom and she’s realizing my dad’s aging and declining a little bit that she really kind of needs to get a handle on some of their financial stuff to figure out what they can do and it’s just so overwhelming because she doesn’t even know where to start. She doesn’t know how to go about doing the financial stuff. So, you know, I’m gonna come in and help out, but I understand that it’s not that she’s lazy, it’s that she’s got an obstacle that she doesn’t even know how to begin. Sometimes the obstacle is honestly, we’ve been criticized every time we tried to do something or that particular thing that it gets harder and harder to do that thing because all we get is criticism.
Sometimes, we’re afraid, we’re afraid we’re gonna fail, we’re afraid we’re going to get more criticism. But the point is for every action there’s an obstacle. And here’s what that means. It means that action, always, action requires enough motivation to overcome the obstacle, right? That makes sense, church? Action requires enough motivation to overcome the obstacle. And by the way, we have another word for that. We have a word for a lack of motivation or for an insufficient or inadequate motivation. We have a word for not having enough motivation to overcome the obstacles to action. You know what we call that inadequate motivation? We call it apathy.
Apathy from the Greek “apathos,” “a” meaning, no, “pathos” meaning passion or motivation. Here’s the truth. Laziness is a symptom of apathy. It’s a symptom of not having enough motivation to overcome whatever obstacles, big or small, real or imagined are in front of us. Laziness is a symptom of apathy. Proverbs 26 or 24:30 says this, “I went past the field of a sluggard of a lazy person, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense. Thorns had come up everywhere. The ground was covered with weeds. The stone wall was in ruins.” He’s just saying that laziness is a destructive force, but I wanna focus in on that word “sense” for just a second because the translation is interesting here. The Hebrew word that’s being translated there can be sense, but it’s not usually sense and I’m actually a little puzzled why they chose that one here.
The Hebrew word is “leb,” which you don’t care about. You don’t need to know the actual word. I mean try to work that into a conversation today. Sometimes you’re going to look very spiritual and all that, but what you do need to know is the word “leb” has several different possible translations. The most common translation for “leb” is actually heart. It’s really the Hebrew word for heart. In fact, it’s used very frequently. Most commonly in the Hebrew Bible to say things like, “Don’t lose heart.” In other words, don’t lose your motivation to keep moving. Or “Take heart.” You can overcome this, you can do this. In other words, it’s not just an intellectual word, it’s a motivation word. And so on some sense what the writer of Proverbs here says is, ”I went past the field of a lazy person.” Let me explain that a little further. I went past the field of a person who has no heart, who has no motivation. In other words, I went past the field of a person who is apathetic, who is struggling with apathy. For whatever reason, they’re not getting it done. They’re not overcome the obstacles. And then here’s the results. Why does this matter? Because when we deal with laziness head-on, we usually fail.
I mean, how many of you have known a lazy person, you told them stop being lazy and it worked? Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of that. You know somebody went, why don’t you do that? Or why don’t you do that and they haven’t done it and then you’re like, oh, you’re lazy. And they’re like, you’re right, I am, so I won’t be lazy anymore ever again. It just doesn’t work, right? Because here’s the thing. When we deal with the symptoms, the symptoms just keep coming back. So what we need to do is we need to deal with the source. And if laziness as a symptom of this underlying apathy of this inadequate motivation to overcome the obstacles to action, then what we really need to deal with is the apathy. And this is really an important thing. It’s really important when we’re dealing with our own lives. It’s also important as we’re dealing with other people in our lives that maybe we’re frustrated with because we don’t understand why they won’t get that done or that done or that done. So we don’t think in these terms, right? We go, laziness is just, that’s the condition, right? I mean, he didn’t do that, he’s lazy. She didn’t do that, she’s lazy. Well, I didn’t do that. It’s not because I’m lazy. There’s obstacles and I just haven’t gotten the motivation, right?
So we recognize it in ourselves intuitively. We need to recognize it in others as well and whether it’s in others or in ourselves. What we need to deal with is not the symptom. We need to go to the source. We need to deal with this apathy issue. So let’s get really practical here, church. Here’s what I want you to do. Spend just a moment right now and should ask yourself this question. What is something I know I need to do but haven’t managed to actually do? I’d like you to think very practically, right? What is something maybe that you’ve been thinking about for why, like I know I needed to do that, but haven’t managed to do it. Maybe something that you feel like God’s been calling you to do. Maybe it’s something that somebody in your life has been telling you, you need to do and you know you need to do it. Maybe it’s something that you want to do that you know would be good for you and others. Well, whatever it is. What is something that you know you need to do but you haven’t actually managed to do?
I want you to have some of your practical in your minds because what we’re gonna do now is we’re gonna look at two other questions. The second question is this. We’re going to ask, what’s the source of the apathy? What’s the source of that thing that’s keeping me from getting the motivation to overcome whatever obstacles there are, big or small, real or imagined? I’m gonna give you some ways to think about the answer to that question in just a moment. And then the third question we’re gonna ask is, what truth do I need to embrace in order to overcome that apathy? Okay, so we’re gonna go, where does the apathy come from? And then what truth from God’s Word do I need to embrace, hold on to so that I can begin to overcome that lack of motivation to overcome those obstacles to action? Okay, so hopefully you have something in mind here.
I’m gonna give you five things that I think very commonly are the source of the apathies that we face. Source number one is apathy can come from being exhausted. Anybody feel like you’re just so well rested right now? Just an overabundance of energy, can’t believe how much. Anybody feels just a little tiny bit exhausted right now? It’s kind of epidemic in the modern world, right? Apathy can come from being exhausted because we spend all of our energy doing this and this and this and this. I know I need to do this, but by the time we get to that, I don’t have the energy. We run, we run, we run, right? We have never been a people ever in history that had been as busy as we are now. We’re on 24/7. We’re running all the time and we’re exhausted as a people. And I think sometimes the apathy, that inability to overcome those obstacles to action, it comes from just being exhausted. So what truth do we embrace if that’s the issue? Maybe the issue you’re thinking of, you’re like, yeah, that’s the reason I haven’t done it’s because I’m exhausted. Then what truth do you need to embrace? You need to embrace this truth that I need to rediscover the lost art of rest.
Do you know we were made to have rest in our lives? Yes. God made us to work hard and to honor him with the results of the labor, but he also made us to rest. Listen, this is one of the big 10, right? Top 10, 10 Commandments. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God and on it you shall not do any work. We’re made to work hard but we’re also made to rest, and most of us honestly have lost a significant and regular rhythm of rest. I’m speaking to you as the chief sinner among you. For years, I paid no attention to this need for a rhythm of rest. I worked way too many hours and almost every day of the week. Just in the last year or so am I really kind of pushing in to rediscovering what it means to be obedient to this kind command. You understand that, this is a compassionate command. This is a command designed to benefit us. Sometimes we think about the Sabbath and we go, yeah, but isn’t that mostly about worship? Nope. It’s actually not mostly about worship. In fact, check this up. Mark 2:27, Jesus himself said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Sabbaths is for you. It’s for me. And so if you’re struggling to overcome obstacles to action because you’re exhausted, then you need to embrace this truth that we need to rediscover the lost art of rest.
Apathy can also come from being overwhelmed. Maybe for some of you, this is really the reason that you haven’t done that thing that God brought to your mind is because you’re overwhelmed because we have so many voices speaking to us going, well, this is important and that’s important, and this is important, did you hear about this? Oh, you need to care about this, you need to be involved in this. And there’s just so many voices speaking that we just get overwhelmed and we go, I don’t know where to start and I don’t even know what voices I need to listen to because they’re constantly speaking to us, right? We have never lived in an era where we had more voices speaking messages than we have today, right?
I mean our phones are constantly popping off. We’ll pay attention to this voice. The news is constantly popping up. Oh, did you hear about this? Did you know about this? Oh, you should worry about this. You should do something about this. Oh my gosh, this is happening. So many people around. I mean, we have all these voices speaking in. So sometimes apathy comes just from being overwhelmed. So what do we do? Maybe that thing that you’re thinking about, you’re like, yeah, I’m just overwhelmed. I can’t figure out how to start. Here’s the truth we need to embrace. I need to learn to limit the voices that I’m listening to and there’s too many voices speaking in our lives. We need to learn to limit the number of voices that we’re listening to.
Several years ago I made a deliberate decision and it’s a little controversial for a pastor. In fact, I’ll probably get some emails challenging me on this one. I stopped listening to the news. I stopped watching the news. Oh, did not expect that. I usually actually get criticism about that because a pastor needs to be aware of everything that’s going on. I was like, that’s not healthy for my soul. And so I decided, you know what? I think God’s gonna tell me what I really need to know. God’s gonna bring into my path information that I really need to pay attention to. Because the problem with the news, it was just, there’s just so much and like and all, we should do this and I want the church to get involved in this or we should do. I should. Maybe I could, and then we can… Ah, we’re overwhelmed and maybe that’s you, right? Listen to the voice of God.
Psalm 46:10 he says, “Be still.” It’s hard to do when you’re listening to all those voices. “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” So who should we be listening to? Who should be listening to his voice? And so we need to stop listening to so many voices and we need to start listening to the voice that’s more important. So I stopped listening to the news and I started spending a whole lot more time reading God’s word and praying and a whole lot more time asking God to speak to me and to bring across my path any information that day that I needed. I didn’t need CNN to be in charge of that. I needed the Holy Spirit to do it. And it’s been really powerful in my life. I’ve begun to go, okay, when there are not so many voices speaking, I can tell which voices need to be listened to and acted on and apathy begins to dissipate. Sometimes apathy comes from feeling powerless.
Soon as apathy comes because we feel like I don’t think I can make a difference here, I don’t think I can possibly accomplish that. That’s such a big issue. Whether it’s in my family, my neighborhood, at work, in the world, that’s such a big thing, it’s such a big problem. I don’t think I can make any difference. I don’t think I can produce the results that need to be produced and that becomes a lack of motivation that we can’t overcome those obstacles to action. So maybe that’s you. Maybe as you think about this thing you know you’d needed to do, but you haven’t actually done, maybe you realize right now, yeah, it’s because I just don’t feel powerful enough to pull it off. What truth do I embrace? And the answer is this, I need to remember that I can actually do everything God actually calls me to do. And I want you to pay attention to that. I can do, I absolutely can do. I can succeed at the things God actually calls me to do.
Philippians 4:13. Familiar verse to a lot of you, maybe it’s the first time you’re hearing it, you need to understand it’s a powerful verse. It says this, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Now, by the way, that “all things” doesn’t mean all things. In this sense. It doesn’t mean like if you decide I’m gonna be president of the United States, no guarantees. It doesn’t mean if you decide I’m gonna be the next Jeff Bezos, invent the next Amazon, no guarantees. What it means is I can do all the things that God calls me to do, all the things that God puts in my path and calls me to be faithful with.
And by the way, speaking of faithfulness, the other thing that needs to happen here is we need to recognize what it is that God actually counts as success. Because here’s another one. See, apathy can come from feeling discouraged. It can come from feeling discouraged. It can come from feeling like I’ve tried and I haven’t made a difference. I did this and I didn’t see the results I wanted, or I can’t live up to their expectations. I can’t accomplish all these things. And so we feel discouraged. Maybe we naturally feel that way. Maybe you’re hardwired as a glass is half full kind of person, or maybe you’re wired as a glass is half empty kinda person. Maybe you’re naturally more of a pessimist or honestly, maybe the discouragement’s been piled on to you by parents or teachers or a spouse or by somebody that’s just constantly criticizing, constantly saying you never live up, constantly saying you just not good enough. And so we’re discouraged and it’s hard to move forward.
Here’s what we need to understand. This is what we needed to embrace. We need to remember that God measures success by faithfulness, not by results. This is so important, friends. God measure success by faithfulness. Now here’s the thing. You’re never gonna have a result that impresses God. Like you’re never gonna do something that he goes, wow, I never thought they would pull off those results. Never gonna happen. God is impressed by faithfulness, that we do whatever it is that he puts before us to do and we are faithful in that. I can do all things that God actually calls me to do. And he measures success by faithfulness not by results. So we need to stop looking at the results that we’ve held ourselves to or that others have held us to. And in that way, we begin to defeat the discouragement that generates this apathy that keeps us moving forward.
And then finally, just this, apathy can come from being afraid, can come from fear. Fear that we won’t succeed, that we won’t make the results, that we’re looking for. Fear that we’ll be criticized, fear that we’ll be misunderstood. Fear. And maybe as you think about that thing that you know you need to do, but you just haven’t managed to do it yet, maybe fear is the source of the apathy that’s keeping you from overcoming those obstacles to action. So what truth do we embrace at that point? Just this, I need to remember that the spirit that empowers me is not a spirit of fear. Fear is a voice that the world whispers with. It’s not the voice of the Holy Spirit that is in you as a follower of Jesus Christ. The Spirit who empowers you is not a spirit of fear. Listen to Paul’s words to the Church at Rome, chapter 8 of Romans. He says this, he says, “The Spirit that you received, when you put your faith in Jesus, the Spirit that you received does not make you slaves so that you live in fear again. No. Rather the Spirit that you received brought about your adoption to sonship.” You’re a beloved child. You’re not trying to live up to standards that nobody can and constantly falling short and disappointing your God. No, no. You’ve been adopted as a son and by this Spirit, by him, we cry ‘Abba, Father.'” A Father who loves us deeply for who we are, not for what we do, but a God who calls us to do so that we can be on mission with him. We can make a difference in the world, we can drive back darkness and he gives us these things to do and we need to overcome the apathy that keeps us from overcoming the obstacles to action. Laziness is not really the problem. Laziness is a symptom of apathy, of a lack of passion, of a lack of motivation. And every one of those sources of apathy has a truth that when we embrace it will allow us to overcome it.
So my hope is this very practical in your life in those areas where you’re struggling. My hope is also that you can take this and you can be on mission with Jesus because you’re surrounded by people. I promise you there are people in your life who are struggling with apathy. And my hope is that you can take some of this practical truth today and you can use it to make a difference in their lives. So here’s the question I want you to go out of here thinking about. Who in my life is struggling with apathy and how can I help? My hope is this makes a difference in your life. My hope is also that you can make a difference in somebody else’s life. Let this truth spill into you and also spill out of you into the world.
Would you pray with me? God, thank you so much for the gift of your truth and the gift of hard work and the gift of the opportunity to do things that make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others. We thank you for that. Lord, we confess to you the sin of like laziness, and we confess to you that the root cause of the sin of apathy, that we’ve allowed voices to speak that we shouldn’t be listening to. We’ve allowed obstacles to be built that we should not be obstructed by. And so we have places in all of our lives that we have failed to act because we haven’t summoned the motivation by embracing truth to overcome those. And so, Lord, we confess that to you, we ask for your forgiveness and we ask for the ability through your Holy Spirit to embrace the truth that allows us to overcome that apathy.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, would you begin praying for the people around you, people listening online who don’t have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. And if that’s you, wherever you are, I just wanna speak to you for just a moment. I want you to understand that even though you may not have a relationship with God, God wants a relationship with you. And God is not apathetic about that relationship. He’s not apathetic about you. You need to understand that we actually as individuals, we all throw up obstacles to God’s love because of what we call sin. We do wrong. We’re selfish, we’re jealous, we’re self-centered, we’re trying to be little g gods and do it on our own and all of that sin creates a barrier between us and God. The Bible says the wages or the consequence of sin is death. We’ve thrown up the obstacles. But God is so not apathetic about you. Here’s how not apathetic he is. He sent his own Son who lived a perfect life. He died on the cross. He paid the price for every wrong thing we’ve ever done. He paid the price to remove the obstacles we paid up. That’s how not apathetic God is about you. Three days later, he raised Jesus from the dead to prove as a fact of history that he had defeated death, defeated the power of sin, and then he can offer you new life and forgiveness.
God is not apathetic about you. And if you are listening to this and you don’t have a relationship with God through faith in what Jesus did, and you’re ready to say yes to that, if you’re ready to have that relationship, will you just slip your hand up right now. That’s awesome. If you’re watching online, just click the button right below me. Wherever you are, you just had this conversation with God. Say, God, I’ve done wrong. I’ve sinned. I’ve thrown up the obstacles. I’m sorry. I thank you for not being apathetic about me. Jesus, thank you for coming. Thank you for dying on the cross from me. I believe that you rose from the dead, and I understand right now that you’re offering me forgiveness, adoption into the family of God, a Spirit of power and not of fear and not of apathy. I’m ready to say yes, Jesus. I’m putting my trust in you right here, right now. Jesus, come into my life, be my Lord, my Savior. I’m yours for now and forever. Amen.
We’ve had a number of people make that decision this weekend and right now, can we just welcome them into the family of God? So awesome.
Book of Proverbs
We all struggle with anger to some degree. Whether you express anger in an obviously unhealthy way or just find yourself thinking about things through a lens of anger, anger is a potentially destructive pothole in our lives, so we need to know what God has to say about dealing with anger. Join us in Proverbs for a practical look at dealing with anger.
Craig: Well, hey. Welcome to Mission Hills for week number two of our Potholes Series. If you’re just joining us, let me catch up real quick. What we’re doing is we’re gonna search for wisdom from the Book of Proverbs in the Bible to learn how to sort of identify and avoid those potentially destructive potholes that we can encounter in the road of life. Last week, we took a look at the pothole of laziness and its real source, apathy. Today, we’re gonna tackle the pothole of anger. And I realize just knowing that we’re gonna talk about anger makes you feel one of two things right now. Some of you are a little uncomfortable because you know you have a problem with anger. We won’t do a hand pole at this point. But you know who you are. We struggle with anger a little bit. That’s certainly me. I know I have a little bit of a struggle there.
And some of you are feeling excited because you know somebody who has a problem with anger, it’s not you, you’re off the hook. You’re just like, “God, this is just resources I can use in somebody else’s life today. That’s awesome.” But here’s the honest truth is I’m not sure that I’ve ever met anybody who doesn’t have at least a little bit of a struggle with anger, it’s a pretty common thing. And maybe you’re not necessarily destroying things in anger, but you get angry about the wrong things, you make decisions, I mean we all struggle with it a little bit.
And so Danny just had to take a little bit of a poll, let’s see how we kind of all pan out in terms of things that make us angry versus other people. Can we pop that poll up here? Let’s see what got. All right. So number one, telling kids the same thing over and over. Actually, there was a prediction yesterday from the worship team that that was gonna be the one because they’re like it’s the end of summer, so people are like ready for the kids go. Okay, so talking. Next one below that, my personal favorite, sitting in traffic and other drivers. That is a tremendous test of my own sanctification. Relationships. Next one after that, and then frustrations at work and only 11.9% and 12.1% of you are upset that Tom Brady just won’t retire. I’m actually really glad as a pastor that you’re not losing a lot of sleep over that particular one. I know it’s bothersome but glad you got it in perspective with these other things. Yeah, we all have things that make us angry.
And, unfortunately, I think in a weekend here where we recognize that our country’s experienced, not just one, but two new mass shootings, I think we have to recognize that we live in a culture that has a problem with anger, right? And then the solution to that, I mean, so there is a multifaceted solution, unfortunately, but one of the things we know for sure is that we’re not gonna solve anything by making it worse ourselves. And so as the people of God it’s really important that we get a handle on what God says about how to deal with anger. So why don’t you go ahead and grab a Bible and start making your way to the Book of Proverbs. We’re gonna start in Proverbs 29 today, and while you’re going there, let me just say this, I think it’s important that we understand that anger is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, anger is simply an emotion that God has given us. It’s an emotion that we share with God. God himself does get angry about things. Anger is not inherently sinful or bad or wrong.
The reality is honestly that anger can be good. This isn’t as hard for us to imagine. But here’s the deal. Anger can help us overcome apathy. Do you know that? We talked about apathy last week, and we realized that apathy is really it’s inadequate motivation to overcome the obstacles to action. So we see something right that needs to happen. We see someplace that the darkness needs to be pushed back, we see some wrong that needs to be righted. And we have these obstacles to action. Well, anger can actually be the energizing force that forces us over those obstacles to do good, to do right. And so anger can be a positive thing, that the problem is that anger becomes destructive when it stops moving us to fix problems, and it starts moving us to create them, right?
That’s when anger becomes a problem. And so what we’re gonna do today is four things number one, we’re going to understand why anger is such a potentially destructive pothole in our lives. We’re gonna understand what exactly is it about anger that makes it so potentially destructive? Second thing we’re gonna do is we’re gonna define exactly what anger is because a lot of times we don’t really have any understanding of what it is. And here’s the deal. If you can’t define it, you can’t monitor it. And if you can’t monitor it, you can’t manage it. Right?
So being able to manage anger ultimately starts with summarizing what exactly it is. And so we’re gonna define what exactly anger is. The third thing we’re gonna do is we’re gonna reject some bad ways of dealing with anger, some bad, false, unbiblical ways that we probably all have bought into on a little bit. On some level, maybe we were taught them explicitly or we just sort of picked them up growing up, but they’re not really helpful, and they’re not healthy. And so we’re gonna reject those. And then the last thing we’re gonna do is we’re gonna adopt some right biblical strategies for dealing with anger. So that’s kind of the goal for today, we’re gonna start with an understanding of why anger is such a potentially destructive product. And we’re gonna start in Proverbs 29:22. It says this, “An angry person stirs up conflict. And a hot-tempered person commits many sins.”
Two different pieces there, it says an angry person stirs up conflict. And what that means is anger can cause us to create and to escalate conflict. Anger can cause us to create conflict or to escalate some existing conflict way beyond the bounds of what is meaningful or right or reasonable at that particular point. So it can cause us to create conflict. And here’s the thing, when we’re upset about something, we can create a conflict out of nothing. Can I get an amen on that one?
Craig: Anybody ever had the experience you’re like you’re mad at somebody at work or you’re mad at something that happened at work or at school and you come home and you pick a fight with your brother, or your sister, or your mom, or your dad, or your husband, or your wife, or your kids? And they didn’t really do much of anything, but you were already mad, right? And so you created a conflict because you know maybe you’ve had that same experience, you’ve been on the receiving end of it, right? That you know, somebody came home and suddenly they just blew up over absolutely nothing. And turns out it’s because they were angry about something else. Yeah, when we’re angry about something, we can create a conflict out of nothing.
We can also escalate conflicts, right? We can take something that’s really small and we can make a big deal out of it. “I’m the king of this. I’m so good at this you guys. Like I’m the king of making mountains out of molehills when I’m angry. It’s just I have an…it’s a natural gift. It really just is.” And here’s why that is though. It’s because anger amplifies irritation, right? Anger amplify, you know you get irritated, but it’s a small thing. But anger amplifies that irritation till it becomes a much, much bigger deal. I remember probably the worst fight that I’ve ever had with my wife. The biggest conflict I think that I’ve ever had. It happened several years ago, we were back east, we were on a speaking tour. And we had the kids in the car. So it happened in front of my kids, which makes it all that worse. And then here’s what started it, we’re driving and this is in the early days of Apple Maps. When they didn’t give you turn by turn directions. They just kind of plotted the whole course and you had to sort of zoom in on the map. And so Coletta is navigating because there’s no Siri to tell me what to do.
And so we’re driving along and she goes, “Hey, okay, there’s a turn coming up, coming up, coming up.” That was it. I was like, “Well, why are you telling me now?” She’s like “Well, that road wasn’t on the map, it literally isn’t here, the map doesn’t have it.” And I was like “Well, I think you’re probably not zoomed in enough, you got to zoom in because if you don’t zoom in enough sometimes it doesn’t show all the roads.” And she’s like “Oh, okay, I’m sorry about that.” And now here’s the thing I was already mad. It was probably the kids’ fault. I don’t remember exactly what did it. But I was already a little bit mad. It was a very simple thing. But I was like abnormally really inexplicably angry by “Hey there’s a turn. Argh”
Okay, so we fixed it, we got on the road, we’re going along she goes, “Okay, there’s another turn coming up. It’s coming up.” Now that was it. “You did not just…how did that happen again?” And she’s like, “That road wasn’t on there.” And which I get it. It makes sense. Because again, that was like a dirt road, that last one, so it was even smaller, you gotta be zoomed in even further. And so it was so…here’s the thing. It turned out this massive I was mad at her than she was mad at me and I said things I shouldn’t. And she did and it just it fell apart and I absolutely blew it as a husband. I blew it as a father, it was just the worst. And you know what started it? Failure to do this right on the phone. That’s it.
She just hadn’t expanded it quite, that’s it. That was what started, that’s what got me so hot-tempered. It’s what caused it. Because here’s what happens is the anger causes to create or to escalate conflicts because anger amplifies irritation, right? Anger amplifies irritation. Now this Proverb also says that, “A hot-tempered person commits sins,” no big surprise there. The point is that when we’re angry, we’re much more likely to do something wrong, we’re much more likely to say something we shouldn’t say, something really harmful, destructive, something sinful. Anger causes us to commit sin. But why is that? It’s because anger reduces thinking. Right? Anger reduces thinking. And I think we all know that sort of intuitively. But I think it’s interesting how modern science keeps confirming things the Bible has known for thousands of years.
That, you know, the way God made us, our brains is that, you know, he gave different tasks to different parts of our brains. So we have different parts of the brains that handle different mental activities, right? And so one part of our brain is called the prefrontal cortex, right? The prefrontal cortex that’s in charge of thinking, it’s in charge of sort of like rational analysis and decision making. It’s in charge of sort of find a memory processing and that kind of thing. There’s another part of the brain called the amygdala, that’s in charge of the more sort of survival stuff, the fight or flight responses, you know, so either I fight back to keep myself protected or I run away, the amygdala is in charge of that. But here’s the thing, the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala are not separate parts of the brain. They’re interconnected. And it’s a little bit of an either-or situation the way God built us, if the prefrontal cortex, the thinking side is kind of online and really in charge, the amygdala is not doing all that much. But if the amygdala becomes online and in charge, the prefrontal cortex stops doing all that much. Now, guess which part of the brain is sort of in charge when we’re angry. It’s the amygdala.
So here’s what happens literally, physiologically, it’s a physical fact that when we get angry, the amygdala takes over and the prefrontal cortex activity goes down. But the prefrontal cortex is where thinking happens. So when we get angry, it reduces our thinking, we stopped thinking as much and this is why I’m sure none of you have ever done this. But this is why other people sometimes say things they would never say regularly when they were angry, right? This is why you never done this, but maybe somebody’s done this to you, you bring up things that you shouldn’t be bringing up because they’re subtle, you know, something in the past that honestly, you know, yeah, you had a conflict over it. But you know, forgiveness was asked, forgiveness was given, it was processed, it was raw, it was put to bed, it’s done, and then all of a sudden, you end up bringing it up again. Nobody, right? Nobody, nobody?
You know why that happens? Because the prefrontal cortex is in charge of the finer memory processing. The amygdala is not remembering that whole business of oh, yeah, forgiveness, grant or resolve. The amygdala is just looking for rocks to throw. It’s like, “I’m throwing that in the prefrontal cortex. I know it’s not a good idea, but I’m not in charge, okay, whatever.” Because literally anger reduces thinking and this is why, now I understand, by the way, I’m not saying it’s okay. All right. And I’m not saying that it’s out of our control, God has actually given our spirits the ability to sort of, on some level, decide which parts of our brain are doing the work. Okay, so we have some strategies that we can adopt to keep this from leading us to destruction. But I do think you need to understand that this is why the word of God says that a hot-tempered person commits many sins because anger reduces thinking.
And if we’re not really careful, this is maybe a worst part of it. If we’re not really careful, not only does anger cause us to create and escalate conflict, not only does it cause us to commit sin, but it creates a context in which there’s gonna be more anger, which leads to more conflict, which leads to more sin, right? And it kind of spirals out of control. And we’ve probably all had that experience, right? Check this out. This is the Book of Proverbs 30:33. “For as churning cream produces butter,” I like it already, right? I like me some butter. “As churning cream produces butter and as twisting the nose produces blood.” All right. “So stirring up anger produces strife.” This has to be my all-time favorite Proverb, right? I mean, what boldness to compare, you know, stirring cream to get butter and twisting somebody’s nose until you get blood? That’s awesome.
And you might go like, that’s a weird comparison, right? But did you catch the common denominator? It’s a circular motion. See, when we churn cream with a paddle to make butter, we’re doing a circular motion, when you twist somebody’s nose to produce blood, it’s a circular motion. I mean if you get it all the way around, by the way, lots of blood I think is what happens at that point. Right? And it says in the same way, the person who stirs up anger produces strife. It’s all about the circular motion. What he’s really telling us is that anger can be a real circular issue, right? And we’ve probably all experienced this, right? Like, you know, I am angry at this person. And so now they’re mad that I am angry at them. And so you know, they say something and I’m mad that they’re mad back. And because I was mad first, how dare you be mad now? And so now I’m a little bit mad and I say some things and they’re mad you said those things. And it just spirals and many of you have had this experience, right?
What we’re really being told here is that anger is a feedback loop. And that anger creates destructive feedback loops. That’s what we’re being told, anger creates destructive feedback loops. What is a feedback loop? Feedback loop is a self-reinforcing cycle. It’s a cycle that if somebody doesn’t get in and break the self-reinforcing cycle, it’s going to spiral into a place of destruction. We’ve probably all heard these, they’re called feedback loops in audio systems. And what happens is, that’s that horrible squeal that comes out of a sound system when a microphone gets too close. Because here’s what’s happening. The microphone picks up sound, feeds it into the system, the system amplifies it, sends it out the speakers, which is picked up by the microphone, which sends it back into the system which amplifies it, which sends it back into the speakers, which is picked up by the microphone, which sends it into the system, which amplifies it and it just cycles until you’ve got this horrible streak going on. That’s probably good enough, right?
That can destroy sound systems, it can destroy human eardrums. It’s a destructive feedback loop. Well, what the Bible is telling us is that anger creates destructive feedback loops. So what do we do? Well, something has to interrupt the cycle, somebody has to disrupt the self-reinforcing nature of that. So how do we do that? Actually, how many of you went to kindergarten? Chances are, if you didn’t hear this from your parents, you heard it in kindergarten, one of the best pieces of advice when it comes to anger, which is, when you’re angry, count to 10 and take some deep breaths. Anybody heard that? That turns out to be really sound advice and has a solid psychological foundation. But more importantly, it’s got a solid biblical foundation. We could go to so many Proverbs that talk about the power of holding our tongue, the importance of holding our tongue, the wisdom of holding our tongue, that people who are able to hold their tongue are just much more successful in life. Why is that? Especially when we’re angry, here’s what’s happening.
When we’re angry, the amygdala is online, the prefrontal cortex is going down, the thinking is going down, right? The very moment you decide, I’m not gonna react, I’m going to wait, that’s a rational decision. And what you’re basically doing is you’re signaling to your amygdala, I don’t really need you, and you’re telling your prefrontal cortex “Wake up, I’m looking for rational thought here. I’m not gonna react, I’m gonna choose what I do and what I don’t do.” That’s an important signal.
When you start to breathe intentionally and deeply, that actually begins to reduce adrenaline production. Your amygdala is in charge of adrenaline production. So when you begin to breathe deeply, you’re telling your amygdala, “I don’t need the adrenaline, thanks very much. Get out of here.” It’s like oh, you really don’t need me. And then when you begin to count counting as the rational thinking activity, and you’re saying I want the prefrontal cortex working, you’re engaging that part of your brain, and when the prefrontal cortex begins to come more online, the amygdala goes, “Oh, I’m out of here.”
Now that doesn’t resolve the conflict, it doesn’t take the anger away. But what it does do is it puts you in a position to stop making things worse, to stop reinforcing the cycle until it leads to destruction. And so it turns out that your kindergarten teacher, it turns out that some of those lessons given to us as very small children, profoundly wise advice. Breathing and counting to 10 when we’re angry can disrupt the feedback cycle of anger. Really, really powerful truth. Right? Now, here’s the thing. That’s a tactic. It’s a good tactic, but it’s just a short-term tactic for dealing with anger. What we really want is we want long term strategies for dealing with anger. And so I think the first place that we go to begin understanding a long term strategy for managing anger well is we need to make sure we understand what anger is. A lot of us have never really thought about, we’re like what do you mean anger, I’m just I’m mad, right? I’m enraged. I’m furious. I’m whatever it is. We get different words for it.
But we don’t really understand what exactly it is. There’s a couple of Proverbs that I think give us some very powerful insight into what anger is. We’ll start with Proverbs 6:34 says this, “For jealousy arouses a husband’s fury, his anger, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge.” Now, before we go any further, I just want you to understand that’s not a criticism of the husband. Okay? This is not an unreasonable, irrational jealousy or anger. This is part of a series of Proverbs that are warning people against committing adultery. And so we’re intent to understand that adultery has actually happened here. Okay. So this is not the husband who just gets you know, furious because the barista at Starbucks smiled at his wife a little too long, right? That’s not what we’re talking about here. Cheating has actually happened, adultery has actually happened. And what I want you to notice, though, why it is that the husband’s furious or why he’s furious, why he’s angry. And the answer is because he had an expectation.
He expected that his wife would be faithful to him. He expected that other men would leave his wife alone. That was his expectation, but it’s not what he experienced. And so we got angry. Check this out. This is Proverbs 14:35 says this, “A king delights in a wise servant. But a shameful servant arouses his fury.” And again, understand this is not a criticism of the king. It’s not saying that his anger is irrational or unreasonable. But what we wanna pay attention to is what made him angry, what made him furious? And the answer is he had an expectation that his servants would act wisely, that they would use the resources carefully that had been trusted to them, they would use those resources to accomplish the purpose for which they’d been entrusted. But that’s not what he experienced, his servant used them in a foolish way. And you’re seeing a pattern here? Expectation and experience. So here’s what I think anger is. Anger is the frustration about the gap between the expectation and the experience. Does that make sense? Anger is frustration about this gap between I expected this but I actually experienced this, there’s a gap between that, anger is the frustration about that gap.
Now, sometimes the expectation that drives that is conscious, we’re aware of it. Sometimes it’s unconscious, we have no idea we have that expectation. It’s just kind of hardwired into us. Maybe the way we were raised, we sort of expect things to be that way. We’ve never really thought about it. So it might be conscious, it might be unconscious. Our expectation might be reasonable. It might be a very unreasonable expectation, also possible. The expectation might be expressed, we might have talked about it. Other people might have known exactly what we expected, or it might have been unexpressed, we didn’t let anybody else know we had that expectation. But by the way, this is a little bit kind of a bonus truth for today.
One of the most powerful sources of conflict in relationships is unexpressed expectations. And the greatest sources of conflict in our relationships is unexpressed expectations. Because here’s what happens when we have an expectation, but we haven’t expressed it chances are that nobody’s gonna make any adjustments to meet it, because they didn’t know that it was there, right. And if we don’t express an expectation, there’s very little opportunity to decide whether or not the expectation was reasonable or unreasonable. It’s just that kind of an operation. This is why in counseling for premarital counseling, or even for marriage counseling, one of the most powerful exercises we do with people is help them kind of work through what their expectations are, especially those ones that are under the surface, and they put them out on the table. Because unexpressed expectations is one of the greatest sources of conflict in relationships.
But by the way, this is also why, for you parents of young children, this is why toddlers are so angry so much of the time, right? You know, we have that phrase terrible twos, you know, why? Because at that stage, they’re beginning to have much more complex expectations, not just desires, right? Not just a physical need for something, but actually a much more complex desires that leads to expectations of how things should be. But they don’t yet have the language to express it.
So they have an expectation, but they can’t express it. And we’re so helpful as parents, right? We’re like, “What do you want? What do you want? What do you want?” And they’re like, “I don’t have words, mom, I don’t have the words.” But they have the expectation, right. And of course, the greater the gap between expectations here and so the greater the gap, the greater the anger, right.
Now, here’s the thing, even when the expectations are unconscious, we don’t know about them, unreasonable, they’re not valid, and unexpressed, nobody else knows about them, they’re still there. They’re still operating. So if you think for a moment, at the last time that you were angry about something, I guarantee you, what you’re gonna ultimately discover is there was an expectation that had gone unmet. Maybe it was unconscious, maybe it was unexpressed, maybe it was unreasonable, but it was still there. Okay, so what do we do? Well, let’s start with what we don’t do. Here’s three things we’re not going to do when we’re angry. Number one, we’re not going to vent it. Okay? We’re not gonna vent and I think there’s this idea out there, that you know, anger doesn’t go away by itself so the best thing we can do is just like blow off some steam, right? You know, yell and scream, punch a wall, kick a puppy… No, not a puppy. A cat maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, right? No, no, not even a cat. Right?
But you understand what I’m saying, there’s this idea that if…we just got to give full vent to it. And then it’ll go away. Right? Here’s what the Word of God says about this. This is Proverbs 29:11. “Fools give full vent to their rage. Fools give full vent of their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” Why? Again, science is just now figuring out what the Bible has always known. And the reality is this, is what we’re discovering from scientific studies more and more these days. The more angrier we act, the more angry we, guess what? Feel. The more angrier we act, the more angry we feel. So giving full vent of our anger doesn’t make us less angry, it actually makes us more. Because really what we’re doing again, physiologically what we’re doing is we’re not giving vent to our anger, we’re giving control to the amygdala and it’s like “I’m in charge.”
But we don’t want that. That’s not good. Okay, so what do we do about it? Well, I’m gonna ask you to kind of put a pin in this thought for a moment. I’m gonna share it, we’re gonna impact it in just a second, but this is an incredibly important truth for dealing with anger and here it is. Wise people don’t vent their anger, they vet it. Wise people don’t vent their anger, they vet it. And what I mean by that is they study it, they analyze it, they dig into and figure out what’s causing it. And then they deal with that cause rather than with the emotion itself, okay? Put a pin in this thought we’ll unpack it in a second.
But wise people don’t vent their anger, they vet it. Venting anger, we’re not gonna do that. That’s not healthy. Another thing that people often do that we’re not going to do is we’re not gonna stuff it. Okay? A lot of people seem to have this idea and maybe you were raised in a household that said, you know, any kind of anger is bad. If you’re upset about something, you’re the one being sinful. Well, that’s not necessarily true at all. But it leads to these behaviors that say, I’m just gonna shove it down. I’m gonna, put it away and then it’ll go away. If I just don’t deal with it. It’ll go away. But you know what, that’s not true.
When we stuff our anger down, it doesn’t go away, it rots. And it turns into bitterness. And that bitterness begins to poison every relationship. And every interaction that we have. Stuffing anger doesn’t destroy it, it just causes it to rot into bitterness. The Bible is pretty clear that we’re supposed to go to the people that we’re in conflict with or we’re upset with and we’re supposed to deal with it. We’re supposed to bring resolution. In fact, this is such an important thing to understand. Ephesians 4:26 says this, “In your anger, do not sin.” Some more literal translations could actually render it. Be angry. There’s nothing wrong with being angry when something wrong is actually taking place. If there’s a legitimate gap between expectation and experience, be angry, and yet do not sin. Don’t let it lead you to doing wrong.
And he says this, “Do not let the sun go down while you’re still angry. And do not give the devil a foothold.” That’s such a powerful truth. And we could spend a lot of time talking about it, I can tell you some kind of hair raising stories in my own life where I began to realize the literal truth of that, but here’s the principle you’ve got to get a handle on. Unresolved anger creates spiritual vulnerability. Do you hear me church? Unresolved anger creates spiritual…it creates a chink in the armor and allows spiritual forces that are not on our side to get involved. So now because we got unresolved anger and we let the sun go down and we didn’t deal with it, we stuffed it and just let it kind of stay. What’s happening now is that we got us a chink in the armor. And now you know, it’s not just that I’m mad at her and she’s mad at me. But now we have an enemy in our midst stirring things up and making things worse, such an important thing to understand.
This is why stuffing it is not a good way to handle. We’re not gonna do that, we’re gonna reject that idea. Third thing we’re not gonna do, we’re not gonna share it with people who can’t do anything about it. Right? We have this interesting skill that we go, you know, “Yeah, I’m in conflict with so and so. I’m just gonna talk to this person, I’m gonna seek their perspective. I’ll be helpful to get some outside input.” But really what we’re doing is we’re generating support, right? We just want people on our side, we want allies. Right? Here’s the thing, you know, if I am, you know, having a conflict with Bill, so I could tell Sally about what Bill did, now Sally is mad at Bill. And maybe Bill and I get it resolved, right? But of course, Sally wasn’t in that conversation. So Sally’s still mad at Bill and Bill figures it out, right? He can tell. He’s like, “What’s going on?” And she finally is like, “Well, you did this to Craig.” And he’s like, “How do you know about that?” “Oh, Craig told me.” So now he’s mad at me, Sally’s mad at me because I didn’t tell her and Bill’s mad at Sally because she listened and pretty and it’s just this massive mess, right?
You know, here’s the thing, the Bible has a single word to describe this activity of talking to people who can’t do anything about the situation. You know what that word is? It’s called gossip. Here’s what the Word of God says about that. Proverbs 16:28. “A perverse person, a perverted person, a twisted person stirs up conflict. And a gossip separates close friends.” Compares a gossip with a perverted person. So we’re not gonna do that. We’re not gonna share it with somebody who can’t. So what are we not gonna do when it comes to dealing with anger? We’re not gonna vent it. We’re not gonna stuff it. And we’re not gonna share it with somebody who can’t do anything about it. What are we gonna do? We’ve already kind of shared the big takeaway piece of wisdom today. Let’s come back to it a little bit. A wise person doesn’t vent their anger, they what? They vet it. Let’s say it together. A wise person doesn’t vent their anger, they vet it. They analyze it, they study it to figure out what’s really going on and then they deal with that part.
Well, here’s what we’re gonna do three steps. Okay, step number one, identify the expectation. Okay, that’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna identify the expectation. Remember, anytime we feel anger, it’s because there’s a gap between expectation and experience. So you may not be conscious of the expectation, but as soon as you are aware I’m angry, you’re gonna go okay, that is a clue that I need to go on a search for the expectation that was unmet. Okay?
We’re gonna basically learn that every time we feel angry becomes a trigger to go looking for an expectation, it’s gonna be an expectation search, okay? Now, sometimes we can do that on our own. We can sort of step back, we can take a couple of deep breaths, we can count to 10, we can bring the prefrontal cortex back online, when we go, okay, what’s the expectation? Sometimes we can do that ourselves. Sometimes we really need to do that with the person that we’re in conflict with, which by the way, is a really powerful tool in the midst of a conversation that’s being coming sort of heated because it kind of cools things off. And so you can have this conversation and you go, “Hang on a second. I’m realizing I’m feeling anger.” And the other person’s like, “Yeah, me too,” right? Like, let’s get at… “No, no hang on a sec. I’m realizing I’m feeling anger and I’m wondering what expectation I had that’s leading to that?”
It’s a very interesting thing to throw into a conflict, because suddenly at that point, you’re not attacking, it’s about you, and you’re actually enlisting their aid. Could you help me figure out what it is? And they’re like, “I’ll be glad to help you figure out what’s wrong with you.” No, no, not. No, no. But actually, there’s a certain part of them that’s like, “Yeah, I’d love to figure.” And then as you begin that search, you’re having a very different conversation at that point. Okay, but that’s your first step, we’re gonna identify the expectation that wasn’t met. Okay. Second step, is we’re gonna assess the validity of that expectation. Some of the expectations are valid, some of them are not valid, some of them are reasonable, some of them are quite unreasonable.
But until we identify it, we can’t figure out which is which and we can’t move forward. So the first thing we’re gonna do is identify it, the second thing we’re gonna do is we’re gonna assess the validity of that expectation. Was this reasonable for me to have this expectation? Now, again, you might be able to do that on your own if you’re breathing and you’re stepping back and you’re taking a moment to get out of the feedback loop. Sometimes you can do that with the person that you’re having the conflict with. “Hey, so I realize I’m angry because this happened. Like, do you think that was an unreasonable expectation?” That can be a really powerful moment because sometimes the person will go, “Well, yeah, actually, yeah, I mean, I don’t…that’s not an unreasonable expectation.” And then they say, “I’m sorry,” and things get better.
Sometimes honestly, if you’re really fair-minded about it, you realize that you’ve been taught but that really wasn’t a fair expectation. And then you get to do the most fun part ever in a conflict. You get to say the three most powerful words you’ll ever speak. Do you know what the three most powerful words you will ever speak are? “I was wrong.” Incredibly powerful. Sometimes we hesitate to say those words because you think that gives power away? “Well, if anybody knows that I was wrong, then they won’t really respect me.” Listen, they know you were wrong. No, like nobody’s surprised by that. Okay.
What’s gonna surprise them as that you know it and you’re willing to own it. And suddenly at that point, you’re respectful. I promise you, I’ve seen this over and over and over again, in my marriage, in my parenting, in my leadership. Those are three incredibly powerful words, “I was wrong.” First thing we’re gonna do is we’re gonna identify it. Second thing we’re gonna do is we’re gonna assess the validity of it. Sometimes you have to go to somebody else for this, by the way, sometimes the conflict’s too heated, you’re not able to get to it quite yourself. And so you might need to enlist somebody else. And I know you’re thinking, “Well, wait a minute, I thought you said don’t talk to anybody else.”
There’s a big difference between telling Sally, “Listen to what Bill did,” and telling Sally “Hey, I’m angry at Bill and I’ve realized the expectation of this and honestly, I’m struggling to decide whether or not that was a reasonable expectation or not. Could you help me work through that?” That’s a very different conversation. That’s not gossip. But even then I would say be really careful because we’re amazingly sneaky in our own heads at like disguising gossip as something else. So be very careful. But do what you have to do to assess the validity of that. And then, this may be the hardest part of it all, we’re gonna address what’s valid and we’re gonna let go of what’s not. Right?
Because there’s probably some pieces of the expectation that we were valid and we’re gonna deal with those. And the ones that are not we’re gonna go you know what I’m just gonna push that offside, I’m gonna let it go. And that’s a really difficult thing to do. I know that’s easier said than done. One of the tricks to it is because, in the midst of a conflict, so many issues have come up, right? That what you have to ultimately do is once you finally identify that expectation, you kind of said that’s the priority. We’re gonna deal with this one. How many you ever had the issue where you’re so far into a conflict, so many things have come up that you look at each other going, “What was this about in the first place,” right?
And there’s so many things at that point and you have to figure that out and you have to go back and go okay, that’s the big issue. Here’s the expectation, here’s what’s valid. Okay, let’s make that our priority. And what happens is a lot of those other issues, honestly, they just kind of take care of themselves, you begin to realize they don’t really need to be dealt with. So what are we gonna do? We’re gonna identify the expectation, we’re gonna assess the validity of it and then we’re going to address what’s valid and we’re gonna let go of what’s not why? Because wise people don’t vent their anger, they vet it. Four questions for you.
Question number one. In what relationship am I most prone to anger? I think this is really helpful to sort of figure out because if you have a relationship where you know you’re most prone to anger, you can be on the lookout for it so it didn’t catch you by surprise and you’re not into the feedback cycle too far before you can begin to be intentional about breaking that cycle. If we already kind of know this is the relationship where I tend towards anger. So, identify that. Second question is this. What mistakes am I most likely to make when it comes to dealing with anger? Am I most likely to vent it? Am I most likely to stuff it? Am I most likely to share it with people who can’t do anything about it? Identify the mistakes and go, “I’m gonna reject those.”
Third question is gonna be, what expectations are driving the anger in that relationship? Oftentimes, the reason there’s so much anger in a particular relationship is because there’s a set of ongoing expectations might be unreasonable, might be unconscious, might be experience, but they’re still there. But there’s a set of ongoing expectations that haven’t been sort of understood and put on the table and talked through. So what expectations are consistently driving the conflict in that relationship? And then finally, what steps do I need to take to assess and address those expectations? Because wise people don’t vent their anger, they vet it. And just real quick before we wrap up. What we’re dealing with here today is what I would call everyday anger management. Okay.
Some of you have more than everyday anger management issues, some of the people listening to this have what probably moves into what we’ve called clinical anger issues. And if that’s you, what we’re talking about from the Word of God that is a great place to start but you may need to take a step further than that to really get a handle on this anger thing. Because it can be an incredibly destructive pothole, destroying your relationships, taking you off mission with Jesus, ruining your career, everything about your life. If you have clinical issues, you need to dig a little bit further into this. You know, we have a counseling center at Mission Hills, so I reached out to Pastor Jerry and I said, “Hey, could you give me a couple of questions to help people figure out whether or not they’ve gotten more clinical anger issues that need a little bit more, you know, sort of homework?” And he said, “Yeah, here’s two questions.” So question number one is this. Have I been hurt in the past in a way that’s causing me to hurt people in the present?
In other words, it’s not just that I’m angry because I had an expectation and there’s a gap between that and my experience, I’m always angry because I was hurt this way in the past, and so I just operate through a lens of constant anger. Okay, that’s an important question. Second question is this. When I’m angry do I physically destroy things? Or do I attack people physically or verbally? Now if the answer to either one of those questions is a yes and certainly if the answer to both of those is a yes, you need to take another step to get a handle on this pothole of anger. And what I would encourage you to do is go on the website, look up counseling, missionhills.org. You can find it there’s little form, you can submit it, you get on a counseling appointment, one of our Bible counselors, they help you walk through whether or not this is a clinical issue or not. And if it is, they help again to develop a plan that you can get a handle on this so that it doesn’t have this destructive influence in your life. But if you think that you may have a clinical issue with anger, I really wanna encourage you to take that next step to deal with it. Would you pray with me?
God, we’re so grateful for your forgiveness, because this is an area where we’re all on a pretty regular basis in need of it. Although we thank you for the possibility of what we would call righteous anger that this potential to be moved to do what is right and to be on mission with you and overcome the obstacles that would keep us from pushing back the darkness and bringing light into dark corners and fixing what is wrong. We thank you that anger could be that but, Lord, we confess, we’ve often used anger in other ways, and we are sorry for that, we just admit to you I was wrong. And we ask for your forgiveness. Lord, we ask that you would, through your Holy Spirit, you’d push deep into us the truths from your Word today that allow us to maybe begin to deal with anger in a way that would bring you greater honor and it would cause less destruction in our relationships and in our lives. Thank you.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, would you begin praying for people around you, people watching online all over the world who don’t have a relationship with Jesus? And if that’s you, I’d just like to speak to you for a moment. If you’re listening to this, but you know that you don’t have real faith. If you don’t have a relationship with God that comes from faith in Jesus Christ, and maybe you’re realizing as you’re talking through your anger that the reason is because you’ve always pictured that God is an angry God. Or maybe you feel like he should be angry because you’ve done wrong things. And maybe that’s what’s kept you from a relationship with him. And I wanna speak to you an incredibly important truth.
Our sin does make God angry, righteously angry; he has every right to be angry. God created us to be in a relationship with him. He created us to worship him. He created us to work on his behalf in the world and he created us to be righteous and that was his expectation, it was a reasonable expectation. And our sin creates a gap between God’s expectation and our experience, our sin, our jealousy, our pettiness, our bitterness, our selfishness, our insisting on doing things our way and spitting in God’s face. All those you’ve got every right to be angry.
But, and this is so important, what he did with his anger is he sent his own Son Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life, had no sin to make his Father angry, no sin that created a barrier between him and God. And yet he died on the cross because of our sin. He went to the cross to pay the penalty of all the wrong that we had ever done. God poured his anger out on his own perfect, sinless Son so that his anger would be paid and wiped away.
And so what God looks at you with is not anger, what he looks at you with is mercy. He looks at you with grace and he looks at you with love. And that if you will accept what Jesus did on the cross, you can have a relationship that begins now and goes on forever with that good and gracious God. He paid for your sin on the cross and three days later he raised Jesus from the dead, proving that he’d done it. And right now, right here, today, Jesus is offering you the forgiveness that he purchased with his own blood. He’s offering you a relationship with God that goes on forever. And if you don’t have that relationship, but you would you like to have it, would you just slip your hand up right now? That’s awesome, fantastic.
If you’re watching online, just click the button right below me. Wherever you are, you just have this conversation with God in your heart right now, say this to him say, “God, I’ve done wrong. You have every right to be angry. I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for my sin. I believe you rose from the dead to prove that you’d paid it off. And I understand, God, that you’re offering mercy and forgiveness right now. I’m ready. Jesus, I’m saying yes to you. Jesus, come into my life. I put my faith, my trust in you. I’m yours for now and forever. Amen.”
We’ve already had a number of people make that decision today and even just in this moment made a decision. Can we welcome them into the family of God together? How amazing is it that we worship a God whose anger he was willing to pay off in the sacrifice of his own Son. Can we stand together and let’s worship this merciful and gracious God.
Book of Proverbs
Pride is a pothole that we may feel affects others more than it does us as a matter of struggle. This week we focus on how it is a topic for each of us, and practical ways to identify our personal areas of pride and suggestions for overcoming it.
Craig: Hey, welcome to Mission Hills and week number three of our Potholes Series. If you’re just joining us, I’ll catch you up real quick. What we’re doing in the series is kind of on a search for wisdom from the Book of Proverbs in the Bible for how to understand and avoid the potentially disruptive and destructive potholes that we can encounter in the road of life. So far we’ve talked about the pothole of apathy and the pothole of anger. Today, we’re gonna dig into the pothole of pride. Interesting reaction. Interesting, okay.
It’s interesting actually. I realized as I was studying for this message that it’s a little bit of a confusing topic because we use the word pride in a lot of different ways, and they’re not all bad ways actually. So, for instance, we might say, you know, it’s good to have school pride, or national pride, or Bronco pride, and I’m not going after that. So, if you’re a Bronco fan, just relax, okay? You’re good. That’s not the kind of pride we’re gonna deal with. Sometimes we use the word pride just to mean that we’re pleased with somebody, right? That they’ve done a good job, and we say, you know, “I’m proud of you.”
So we might be proud of our kids, and that’s okay. I’m proud of my kids. Is that okay to say, church? I’m proud of my kids. My oldest daughter graduated college this spring. She’s had an internship this summer, and she just signed her first official contract for an actual real full-time adult job. She’s adulting, and that is awesome. I’m super proud of her. She’s working with Compassion International. So, she’s on mission with Jesus, and I love that. And my youngest daughter, great student. She, kind of, has sort of a plan right now, and both of my kids have deeply missional faith, so we’re looking to extend God’s influence in the world.
I’m proud of both of my kids, and that’s an okay thing to be, okay? That’s not the kind of pride we’re talking about. You can even be proud of yourself, and it’s not a bad thing. In the sense that we might say, you know, “I’m proud of the way I handled that situation.” Maybe you handled a difficult situation with wisdom, with integrity, and you’re proud of yourself for that. That’s okay. We’re not going after that kind of pride. What we are gonna do is we’re gonna go after the kind of pride that other people have.
The pride that you occasionally see in others that lead you to say, “That person is prideful. They’re full of pride.” Maybe we’d even say that they’re arrogant. That’s the kind of pride we’re gonna deal with. What we’re really talking about here is this, is pride is an overvaluing of self, and it’s an undervaluing of others, okay? It’s an overvaluing of self, and it’s an undervaluing of others so that we think we’re all that, and we don’t really need what anybody else has to offer. We don’t really need anybody else.
Ultimately, we don’t even need God because we’ve got everything that accounts. Being prideful doesn’t necessarily mean that we think we’re the best at everything, but it does often mean that we think the things that we’re not good at don’t really matter, right? We don’t need those. “Yeah, I’m not as good at that, but who really cares? That doesn’t count, right?” It’s an overvaluing of self. It’s an undervaluing of others. That’s the kind of pride that we’re gonna talk about. Why don’t you go and grab a Bible? So, we’re making our way to the Book of Proverbs 16.
While you’re doing that, I’ll just say real quick. What we’re doing in this is a little different than what we normally do at Mission Hills. Mission Hills typically practice what we call expository teaching, which means that we walk kind of verse by verse through a passage of Scripture, either from a section of a book of the Bible, or even the whole book of the Bible. But the Book of Proverbs doesn’t really allow us to do that because it’s more like soundbite wisdom, and what the Bible has to say about something like pride is actually scattered throughout the book.
And so rather than going verse by verse, we’re gonna jump around a little bit more than is typical for us, but that’s the only way that I know to be faithful to the Word of God that we’ve been given in the Book of Proverbs. So what we’re gonna do today is basically three things. Number one, we’re gonna understand why it is that pride is such a potentially destructive pothole. Number two, we’re gonna reject some bad ways, some unhelpful ways of dealing with pride. And number three, we’re gonna adopt some useful strategies for dealing with pride.
And, I thought we just start off in terms of understanding pride. We’ll start off with one of the most familiar Proverbs. In fact, even if you’ve never been a part of a church or had very little church involvement in your life, you’re probably gonna recognize this Proverbs. This is Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
How many of you have heard something like that before? Yeah, we have an abbreviated version that you’ve probably heard at some point, and maybe you can fill in the blank for me. Pride goeth before the fall, all right? And really what’s happening there is they’re kind of smooshing the first part and the second part together, but it’s the same basic idea, which is that pride sets the stage for destruction. Pride sets the stage for destruction.
Maybe in some ways worse than any other pothole because pride is not only the pothole that we can hit while we’re going along in life that can do some damage, pride is also the attitude that says, “I don’t need to worry about no potholes. Pedal the metal 100 miles an hour, so when we do hit the pothole, it’s way worse than it would have been otherwise.” And so pride sets a stage for destruction. Why is that? Well, check this out. Proverbs 21:4 gets to what I think is some really interesting insight into why it’s so destructive.
It says this, “Haughty eyes and a proud heart,” so prideful eyes and a proud heart, “the unplowed field of the wicked produce sin.” I think it’s so interesting that Proverbs compares pride to an unplowed field of the wicked. It says that it produces sin. I think that’s so interesting because, you know, if you think about an unplowed field, a field that hasn’t been tended, it hasn’t been cared for, it hasn’t been weeded. It’s not that an unplowed field produces nothing, it’s that it produces nothing good, right? I mean, stuff grows in unplowed fields.
You get weeds, you get the thorns, you get thistles. And so, as he says, the proud heart is like an unplowed field. It produces sin. It causes us to do bad things. But, you know, what’s interesting too is that it’s more than that. It’s not just the bad things grow up because sometimes, even in an unplowed field, you know, there might’ve been some good things that have been planted over the years, some leftover from previous seasons. And so, you know, there might the occasional stalk of corn or the stock of wheat that grows up here or there.
But the problem is you don’t get any good out of it because the bad stuff that goes up chokes it out, right? And so I just think this is such an interesting way that God’s given us to think about pride. But what he basically says is this, he says, “Pride sets a stage for destruction by producing sin directly but also by choking out virtue.” And, some good things might’ve been planted in your life. Wisdom might’ve been given into your life by your parents, or maybe teachers, or other people in your life.
And yet, pride not only produces the bad stuff, but it also chokes out any potential good we might have gotten from those virtues that have been planted. So pride is a destructive pothole, but why exactly is it? Why does it do this? Let me give you three reasons. The first one is just this, pride keeps us from learning wisdom. Pride keeps us from learning wisdom. I don’t know if you know this or not, but there’s no such thing as a wise toddler, okay? Kids aren’t born with wisdom. We’re not even born with knowledge.
We don’t know things, right? And wisdom goes a step beyond knowing things. Wisdom is like, how do we use what we know to accomplish good, okay? Nobody’s born with that, which means we have to learn it from others, okay? The problem is that pride disrupts that process. Pride keeps us from learning wisdom from others. Check this out, this is Proverbs 11:2, and says this, “With pride comes disgrace.” And the word “disgrace” or the Hebrew word basically means contempt from the community because you’re acting like an idiot, okay? That’s basically what it means.
It means that people look down on you. They look at you with a certain amount of scorn because you’re acting foolishly, you’re acting stupidly, you’re acting like an idiot. So it says, “With pride comes this view from the community because you lack wisdom.” But he says, “With humility comes wisdom.” Now, pay attention to that. With humility comes with wisdom. It says that humility is ultimately required to gain what? Wisdom. Without humility, there is no wisdom. Pride gets in the way of that.
Without humility, we can’t gain wisdom. And pride is exactly the opposite of humility, which means that we’re kind of in this place that we’re lacking wisdom, we’re not able to acquire it. Or maybe check this out, this is Proverbs 13:10, “Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.” Wisdom comes from taking advice, right? Which is exactly the kind of thing that pride keeps you in it? See, pride keeps us from recognizing that we don’t know everything we need to know. You got to have humility to be able to go, “Yeah, I don’t necessarily know what the best thing to do here is.”
And then you got to have the humility to look around and go, “I think that person might actually know something I need to know.” And then you got to have humility to go to that person and go, “Hey, would you speak into my life?” And then you have to have humility to take that advice. But that whole process is how we acquire wisdom. It’s how we learn wisdom. So, humility is necessary for gaining wisdom, and pride derails that whole process. And so, pride keeps us from learning wisdom.
Second thing that happens is this, pride connects us to dangerous people. Pride connects us to dangerous people. I learned this pretty early on in my life when I was a freshman in high school. I was playing with the junior varsity soccer team. But midway through the season, I got drafted to the varsity team. It’s was kind of a big deal. We were a pretty large school, and so that didn’t happen necessarily automatically. And so, it’s kind of a big deal. And I’ll be honest, I did not handle it with the utmost of humility.
I made sure people knew, you know, you drop little hints here and there like, you know, ‘Well, last night at varsity soccer practice,” right? Just wanna make…because pride never stays inside. Pride always makes sure that it gets out there, right? And so, you know, I was handling it prideful. I was struggling with pride at that period of my life, and what’s interesting is that there was a guy on the soccer team who was incredibly prideful.
He was the captain of the team. Maybe one of the most arrogant people I’ve ever met, incredibly prideful person. But it was interesting when I was struggling with pride, I was not at all put off by his pride. In fact, there’s a part of me that was attracted to it. There was a part of me that looked at his pride and went, like, “I admire that.” You know, he’s confident, he’s bold, and those kinds of things. Not only was I not put off that I was attracted to it, but I found myself, kinda, honestly, I wanted to be like him, and I wanted to hang out with him.
Now, sometime during my high school career, God really got ahold of me and began to change me from the inside out. And, over the years, I have developed what I think is some legitimate humility. Now, I’m not saying I’m the best at humility, okay? Let’s just be really clear about that. I think humility is actually something we continually have to put on, right? In fact, this is probably an important thing to understand. Pride is a perspective. It’s an internal thing. It’s the lens that we look at things through. Pride is a perspective, but humility is a practice.
We practice humility. I don’t know that we necessarily are humble, but we choose to practice it. And God got a hold of me, and he began to teach me the importance of practicing humility, began to develop that. And what’s interesting is that as the time has gone by, what I found is the more genuine humility God builds into me, the less tolerance I have for prideful people. When I was in high school, I was like, “I wanna be like that guy. I wanna hang out with that guy.” Now, that guy would be like fingernails down the blackboard for me.
I know this because I was just at a conference this past week, and there was a speaker who, at some point early on in the message, said, “I’m the best at, blank.” And, I laughed. I thought this person was kidding. And then I was like, “Oh, you’re serious about that.” And then it came up three or four more times in the talk. “I’m the best at this, I’m the best at this,” like four times. “I’m the best at,” and I realized this was a pride problem going on here. But here’s the interesting thing. I think there might’ve been some really good things said in that message, I didn’t hear them.
All I heard was, “Eeegh,” fingernails down a blackboard. It’s so interesting. Humble people really can’t stand prideful people, which, follow me on this, church, it means that the only people who will hang out with prideful people are, in fact, other prideful people. And the truth is that prideful people are dangerous. Prideful people are dangerous. Check this out. This is Proverbs 16:19, “It is better to be lowly in spirit,” to be humble, “along with the oppressed,” to be connected with, associated with those who are being taken advantage of, “than to share plunder with the proud.”
Hang out with the proud, you’re gonna have plunder to share. But where did the plunder come from? It came from those who were being oppressed, those taken advantage of because pride, it’s predatory. Pride preys on other people, and, you know, it builds itself up by tearing them down. It takes from them what isn’t deserved. Pride’s predatory. And so, he says, “Yeah, if you’re prideful, humble people aren’t gonna want anything to do with you. The only people who’ll hang out with you are other prideful people, but prideful people are dangerous.”
And you know what happens when you put a bunch of prideful people together? It’s bad. It’s really bad. The second way that pride causes this kind of destruction is that it connects us to dangerous people. Third thing is this, pride puts us in conflict with God. It puts us in direct opposition with God. It puts us in conflict with God. Let me just share a few Proverbs starting with Proverbs 3:34. “He,” that’s God, “He mocks proud mockers.” You know, mockers are prideful people that are putting others down, making fun of them. He makes fun of them who are making fun of others, “but he shows favor to the humble and the oppressed.”
The favor of God comes upon those who practice and who have humility but not upon the proud. Proverbs 16:5, “The Lord detests,” that’s a strong word, isn’t it? “The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this, they will not go unpunished.” How about this one? Proverbs 15:25, “The Lord tears down the house of the proud, but he sets the widow’s boundary stones in place.” He tears down the house of the proud. God is in conflict with proud people. Why? Because, as we said, pride is predatory. Pride is predatory. Pride only is able to feed itself by feeding on other people, and it causes damage.
It destroys marriages. It destroys lives. It takes people off mission. Pride’s predatory, and God cares about the people who are damaged by our pride. Do you understand that? In fact, I think this is important to understand, God cares too much about those that will hurt with our pride to leave our pride unchallenged. He cares too much about our spouses. He cares too much about our children. He cares too much about our coworkers. He cares too much about the people in our community. He cares too much about those who will be hurt by our pride to allow it to go unchallenged.
By the way, that also includes us. He cares too much about us and the damage that we will do to our lives and to our ability to be on mission in the world in the way he designed us for. He cares too much about us to allow our pride to go on unchallenged. And so, pride sets us up for being in conflict with God because he cares too much letting it go unchallenged. Okay, so what do we do about it? Let me give you two things we’re not gonna do. Number one, we’re not going to deny that we have a pride problem. We laughed about it earlier.
Yeah, other people have pride problems, but there’s a kernel of truth in that, right? Because we tend to compare ourselves. That’s how pride functions. Pride is always about comparison. And so we tend to look at people, and we go like, “That’s a really prideful person right there. I’m nowhere near that bad, so I must not have a pride problem,” right? And we can find ourselves in this place where, honestly, we deny that we have a problem with pride, but I think you’re probably wrong. Let me give you some meddlesome questions. Can I do that? Can I meddle, church?
How about this? Ask yourself this question. “Am I angered, jealous or frustrated by other people’s success?” When you see somebody else succeed in life, is that hard for you? Because you might have a pride problem if you do. It’s hard for me. I had to really grow in this over the years. You know, as an itinerant speaker, I often found myself at conferences. Maybe I’d get to do a breakout session, but, you know, there are certain people that would show up on the big stage that you kind of expected, and then people would come out of nowhere and get the big stage.
And that was hard for me, and I’d find myself go, “Why do they get that opportunity?” And I wasn’t pleased at all. I was jealous. I was frustrated. I was angry. And the Holy Spirit began to go, “You know where that comes from, right? I think you have a pride problem. Maybe you struggle with that.” Or let’s flip it around, how about this? Do I feel pleased, relieved, or vindicated by other people’s failure? You see somebody else who’s marriage falls apart, whose career suddenly tanks, somebody who falls hard, and there’s a little secret chamber part of you that goes, “All right.”
I mean, we hate to admit that. I hate to admit that, but if I’m gonna be honest with you, I’ve been there. Some of those speakers who got those big stages, a couple of them over the years, they fell hard. Moral failure, it was all over the headlines, and there was a really secret, disgusting part of me that felt good about that, felt vindicated somehow. And the Holy Spirit, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’ve got a pride problem. Maybe you struggle with that.” How about this? Am I highly critical? Am I highly critical? Can nobody ever do it good enough because I’ve got three ways they should have done it better and four things they should not have done that they did?
I would’ve made it better, I would’ve made it perfect. Are we highly critical? Can nobody please us? That’s something I’ve struggled with. That can be a sign we have a pride problem. Am I defensive or dismissive of feedback, especially well-intentioned feedback that, in our hearts, we know they’re trying to make us better? And yet, we’re like, “I don’t need that. Who are you? You don’t have anything to offer. No, you don’t understand why I did that. You just don’t get the situation,” and we’re defensive and we’re dismissive. We are not able to receive it.
That might be a clue that we have a pride problem. Do I make compromises to get attention? Do I act in ways that honestly I’m a little bit ashamed of, I’ve compromised my integrity, my character, maybe even my faith at work or on the internet, on Instagram, or whatever it is, right? It’s something that we know it’s not good, but we’re willing to make a compromise because it’ll get us something that we’re desperate for, some attention, that could be a sign you have a pride problem.
I don’t know how you’re doing. Anybody feel like they’ve gotten off the hook so far? All right. One more question. Have I ever sinned? And I know you’re like, “That’s cheating,” right? But actually, it’s a real question because I honestly believe that pride is at the root of all sin. I don’t believe there is no sin that’s ever been committed that ultimately didn’t have in its root pride because it’s pride that causes us to look at God and go, “Hey, God, I appreciate the life and everything, but I’ll take it from here.” I got it. I’ll call the shots. I’ll decide what’s right and wrong for me, I’ll be in charge from here on out.” That’s pride.
And at the root of every sin, big and small, is ultimately pride. So, we’ve all got a pride problem, we do. The first thing we’re not gonna do is we’re not gonna deny that we have a pride problem. The second thing we’re not gonna do is we’re not gonna devalue ourselves. We’re not gonna devalue ourselves. Some people seem to have this idea that the way you deal with pride is you adopt humility. And the way they define humility is thinking nothing of us is good, or worthwhile, or useful. That I have nothing to offer, that, you know, I’m dirt.
I think Rick Warren said this best, the pastor at Saddleback, he said, “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less,” Less often. It’s not thinking you have nothing to offer. Honestly, when we think we have nothing to offer, that we have no gifts, that there’s nothing that we can contribute, what we’re really doing is we’re insulting the God who made us, the God who gifted us and equipped us and called us to be on mission with Jesus in the world. When we say, I”‘ve got nothing, that there’s no value in me,” what we’re really saying is, “God, you did a terrible job on me.”
That’s not how we deal with humility, that’s not even humility. It’s not thinking less of ourselves, it’s thinking about ourselves less. It’s getting our focus off of ourselves and onto others, right? So, we’re not going to devalue ourselves. Some people do this by, you know, like anytime you say, you know, “Good job,” they just can’t take a compliment, right? Maybe you know somebody like this. Any time you say, “Good job,” they’re like, “Oh, now here’s three things that were wrong with, and there’s five things I should have done.” And you’re like, “Well, I guess I’m stupid. I didn’t see that.
I just thought it was a good job, whatever.” Right? Or maybe the person who always…you know, the credit always goes somewhere else, you know, “Not me, it was the team,” or, you know, Christians are the worst at this. “It’s not me, it’s God.” No, listen, there’s a root of truth in this, okay? Recognizing where the gifts come from and pointing the glory ultimately back to God, that’s a really good thing. But sometimes Christians are just weird about it. I played a soccer game once with a Christian. And when it was over I said, “Hey, dude, good game.” And he goes, “It was all God.”
And I was like, “Yeah, I wasn’t that good a game.” Yeah, God gives us the gifts, but he also calls us to be faithful. He calls us to identify them, to develop them, and to deploy them on mission with him. There’s a sense in which we can say, “I’m glad that I was able to be faithful, and I’m glad that that did good for you.” That’s not what humility is, not this denying there’s any value. That’s what we’re not gonna…we’re not gonna devalue ourselves. What are we gonna do? Three things. Number one, we’re gonna restrict our expressions of pride. See, pride is like a fire, okay?
The more you feed it, the more it grows, the harder it burns. We don’t get rid of pride by feeding it, we get rid of pride by suffocating it. We restrict the expressions of it. Check this out. Such an interesting Proverb, Proverbs 14:3, “A fool’s mouth lashes out with pride.” The pride leaps out. It’s out in the world, it’s expressed, “but the lips of the wise protect them.” The fool lets his pride out there. He expresses it, and it fuels the fire of pride. But the wise, their lips protect them. And you know the number one way that the lips of the wise protect them? They clamp together, and they stay that way.
Sometimes they involve the gluteus maximus muscles. And what I mean by that is they sit down and they shut up. They stopped going, “Hey, here I am. Take a look at me. Look at who I know, look at what I’ve done, look at what I can offer you.” No, no, no, they clamp down, and they don’t let that out. They don’t give expression to it. And what happens is when we restrict the expression of pride, we begin to suffocate it. And that’s the important first step. Now, sometimes that’s verbal, sometimes it literally is clamping your lips together.
And so, you know, for you, if the typical expression of pride is boasting, dropping names, those kinds of things, then we literally just go, “I’m just gonna shut up. I’m just not gonna say it.” It’s an important first step. But it may not be that. It might be some other things. For instance, maybe your expression of pride is that critical spirit we talked about. Maybe it’s criticism, in which case it’s not maybe enough just to not voice the criticism, maybe what we have to do is we have to make a decision to voice something else, to voice praise, to find something in that person we’re tempted to criticize that we can praise to somebody else.
It’s to silence the criticism and give voice to praise, and in that way to restrict expression of pride. Maybe it’s defensiveness for you. Maybe that whole business of dismissing or being defensive about criticism, maybe, like, “That’s my struggle. That’s how it expresses itself in my life.” And what you need to learn to do is to adapt to it. It’s a very difficult attitude, but it’s an incredibly powerful one. When you sense that feedback coming and you sense the defensiveness coming on, what you do is you go, “You know what? I’m gonna be honest, this is hard for me to hear, but I wanna get better.
Would you help me understand? Oh, that’s hard, but it’s powerful. I’m just not gonna let pride do what pride does. I’m gonna admit that it’s difficult, but I’m gonna understand what it is that humility could actually gain me, and I wanna act on that rather than on the pride.” Whatever your particular expression of pride is, you need to find it and you need to silence it. You need to restrict it. That’s the important first step. Second thing we’re gonna do is this, we’re gonna redirect our energy towards helping others.
We’re gonna take all that energy that we naturally want to use for self-promotion, self-protection, self-congratulation, self-advancement, we’re gonna take all that energy and we’re gonna redirect it towards helping other people. Hands down without any possible close second, best example of this is Jesus himself. Check this out, this is Philippians 2, blows me away every time I read it. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Do nothing out of pride.” Clamp it down, restrict it. “But rather, in humility, value others above yourself.”
Not meaning that they’re more valuable, but if I’m gonna choose to look to see what difference can I make in their life, what value can I add to their lives, “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude, the same mindset as Christ Jesus, who, being in the very nature, God…” That’s valuable, isn’t it? And he didn’t say, “No, I’m nothing. I have nothing to offer.” No, in the very nature, he was God. His value was without question, but he did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.
But rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man, as one of us, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on the cross. Jesus didn’t say, “I have no value.” He said, “I’m just gonna take all of that value, and I’m gonna use it to serve other people. I’ll take all that energy that could have been used making sure everybody understood who he was.” And instead, he redirected it towards serving us. Interestingly enough, towards serving the very people whose pride created the problem in the first place.
You’re gonna take that, and you’re going to redirect it towards serving others. And seriously, that’s an interesting thing about this approach. Humility provides what pride pursues and fails to accomplish. Humility provides, it gives to us the very thing that we are searching for with pride and always, always failing to hold onto. Because what we’re looking for in pride is we’re looking for recognition, we’re looking for significance, we’re looking to matter to people, right? Pride’s looking for that, and it’s always slipping out of our grasp. And yet, humility leads to exactly the same thing. Check this out.
Proverbs 29:23, “Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor,” real honor, real significance. Humility produces what pride pursues and fails to get a hold of. Jesus, he gave it all up and yet, he was exalted. He is the name over every name, right? Humility provides what pride pursues and fails to accomplish. So much we can say about that Philippians passage. I’m not gonna really get into it right now because, in a few weeks, we’re actually gonna start a verse-by-verse study of the entire Book of Philippians. And, you’re gonna see some really practical wisdom about what it looks like to get a handle on this pride issue I think we all struggle with.
But for now, just understand this, Jesus is the preeminent example of this choice to redirect our energy towards helping others. That’s the second thing we’re gonna do. The third thing we’re gonna do is, we’re gonna redefine our identity as children, not as champions. Let me explain what I mean by that. We live in a culture that has taught us that our significance rests in what we have achieved. It’s the awards we’ve gotten. It’s the promotions we’ve earned. It’s the money that we’ve managed to bring in. It’s the possessions that we’ve gotten a hold of, and there’s three problems with all of that.
Number one, it’s all external to us, which means it’s not really under our control, which means our sense of identity is always at risk. Number two, it’s temporary. All of those things can be taken away from us at a moment. And number three, it’s always relative to other people, right? A promotion means nothing if everybody gets a promotion. When I was like, I don’t know, I must’ve been like 10, 11 years old, I was living in Japan. I was part of a judo contest. We had a bunch of American kids who went up against a bunch of Japanese kids at Judo, and they kicked our butts. Like, every one of us lost big time.
I got slammed to the mat so hard, I saw stars for three days. And then they gave me a trophy, second place. Oh, come on, right? It doesn’t mean anything.
See, we build our identity on that stuff that means something, and it only means something if we’ve actually beat somebody else out. Only the first-place trophy matters, right? How much money you have doesn’t mean anything unless you have more money than those people. The possessions you have don’t mean anything if everybody’s got all the same, right?
And so we’re seeking to be champions because that’s where we’ve learned that our sense of identity is in. And it can all be taken away from us at a moment and our identity crashes. So, what do we do instead? We begin a shift. We begin to shift our identity from being a champion to being a child of God. And we begin to recognize that it’s not about who we are from the world’s perspective, it’s about whose we are. If we are sons and daughters of God Almighty, we have significance that it’s not outside of ourselves. It cannot be taken from us, and it’s not about where we stand in the rankings that the world is constantly calling us to keep our eye on, okay?
So what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna recognize it’s not about who I am, it’s about whose I am. We’re gonna move our identity that, and we’re gonna say this. We’re gonna say, “I matter because I’m a child of God, not a champion of men.” In fact, why don’t we just say that together? Can we do that, church? “I matter because I’m a child of God, not a champion of men.” Now, it takes a long time to make that shift, but the first step is recognizing it needs to happen, to declare that to ourselves right here, right now and maybe on a regular basis in the weeks going forward to begin that process of shifting our sense of identity.
So, we’re gonna redirect our energy toward helping others, and we’re gonna redefine our identity as children not champions. Why does it matter? What happens if we make this shift? One of the most amazing things about what I get to do as a pastor of Mission Hills is I get to stand up here week after week and deliver a message from God’s Word that hopefully makes a difference in people’s lives. And I get to deliver this to thousands of people here and several thousand people around the world, which is an incredibly humbling experience to know that God uses it in that way.
And it’s a blessing when people come to me, and they tell me how God used the message. It’s encouraging to hear, and I always say I’m really glad God used it. It’s great to know that it’s being used that way. What’s really always interested me, though, is that often people will push in a little bit in, and they’ll go, “You know, here’s what I love about your message. I love how practical they are. I love the fact that you really kind of put, you know, feet to the concrete and you figure out how to help me put this into practice in my life.” And that’s always interesting to me to hear because, can I be honest with you? I’m not good at that.
See, when I first started out preaching, I was really bad at that. In fact, my wife and I had conflicts over it. Whenever I would preach, I’d always share my message with her and, you know, and what I really wanted her to do was go, “That was awesome.” Period. We’re over. We’re done, right? But that’s not whatever happened. Well, what typically happened, she’d go, “That’s really good. Aghh.” “What? What?” And almost every time when there was that little but, it was like she would go, “Can you help us figure out how to put that into practice? Can you help us figure out what that looks like in day-to-day? Like can you make this a little bit more applicable. And my response was always, “No.”
Because I wasn’t good at that. I didn’t understand how to do that. And I would spiritualize my lack of skill in that, and I’d go, “No, no, no, no, no. You know, they have the Holy Spirit. My job is to do what I am good at, what God’s gifted me. Help make Scripture clear, make sure they understand right-thinking proceeds right living.” That was a phrase I used all the time. “If I just help them think right, then the Holy Spirit can take it from there. I’d be practical.” I’d say, “No, no, no, no, no. If I tell people it looks like this, or this, or this, then you’re gonna have some people that none of that applies to them.
And so they’re gonna be kind of left out, and then they’re gonna be upset, or they think it won’t apply to them. And so it’s better to not apply it to anybody than just only apply it to some.” But honestly, what was going on was just pride. I wasn’t good at that, and so I didn’t want to do that. Somewhere throughout the years, God began to build in me genuine humility, build in me the practice of humility. And somewhere along the line, I started getting that little bit of feedback and going, “Oh, what do you think that would look like? I mean, how would you help people apply this?”
And my wife has tremendous wisdom, and she began to say, “Well, you know, I think this might be useful, or this might be useful.” And then I began to go, “Huh. So that’s what that looks like. Huh? That’s… Yeah, okay.” And sometimes she’d go, “I’m not really sure how to apply that. You should talk to some other people,” and I’d be like, “Nah, it’s not gonna happen.” Like, it’s bad enough that you know I’m not good at this, there’s no way my pride’s gonna let me tell other people, “Hey, I’m not good at this. Welcome to my shame.” Right?
And then pride began to work in me, and then the Holy Spirit began to work in me counter to that working of pride and began to move me to go, “Okay.” And so I’d invite other people in specifically that kind of a thing. And, over the years, that’s really developed to the point, now, it’s interesting. Now, on Tuesday afternoons, I have a team that I meet with. I write the sermon for the most part on Monday, and I’ll work on it throughout the week. But on Tuesday, I share the whole message with the team of about 8 to 10 people. And I lay it all out, and then I ask honestly some kind of scary questions.
I go, “What didn’t work? What was confusing? What caused you to go off on bunny trails? What wasn’t clear? What do I need to spend more time on? What do I need to spend less time on so I can focus on something that I’m leaving out? Does this help you figure out how to live this out? What else could I do to make this more practical?” And to the extent that the messages are practical, it’s because of what I’ve learned from my wife and other people, and it’s because of what I continually learn from those teams, none of which would have been possible if pride had continued to have its way in my life.
Here’s what I learned, and this is so important. We’re better together. Do you hear me, church? We’re better together. We’re better in our marriages. We’re better at work. We’re better in our neighborhoods. We’re better on mission with Jesus in the world. When we are together, when humility allows us to receive from others what pride pushes away, we’re better together. Here’s what I want you to hear today. We are better together, so don’t let pride derail your potential.
God has purposes and plans for you, and pride will keep you from realizing the potential that God brought you into existence to experience. We’re better together. Do not let pride derail your potential. Don’t let it be this pothole in your life. Three quick questions for you. You can always get these online and continue to wrestle with them. Question number one, what are the clearest signs of pride in my life? What are those expressions of pride that we all struggle with that are the clues that pride is somewhere under the surface? What are the clearest signs of pride in my life?
Question number two, what’s one step that I will take this week to restrict those expressions, close the lips together, or redirect it towards praise, or whatever that happens to be? What’s one step you can take to restrict those expressions of pride in your life? And question number three, what’s one thing, not five things, not 20 things, just one thing. Pick one thing, if you pick five things, you’re not gonna do any of them. Pick one thing. What’s one thing I can do this week to redirect my energy towards helping others?
Have the same attitude as Christ Jesus? We’re better together. Don’t let pride derail your potential. Would you pray with me? God, we just come before you as your people, as the followers of Jesus, saved by your grace. We come before you, and we recognize why we needed your grace. We admit to you that we have a problem with pride, all of us do. We asked for power through your Holy Spirit to get ahold of it, to set ourselves free from it by your strength, by your power, by your spirit, so that we wouldn’t be derailed from the mission you’ve called us to, from the potential that you’ve given us. And, we thank you for your love.
We thank you for a love that was willing to send your own Son to die for us, to die for our sin, sin that was caused by our refusal to love you, our refusal to submit to you, our refusal to obey to you, pride that drove us away from, you said, “I’ll take it from here.” That’s what led to the sin that your Son died to set us free from. An incredible grace and mercy that is. We thank you for it. If you’re a follower of Jesus, just right now, would you begin praying for the people around you, for the people watching online from all over the world that don’t have a relationship with that gracious God.
And if that’s you, if you don’t have a relationship with God by faith in what Jesus did for you, I just wanna speak to you for just a moment. My prayer has been all week that a light bulb would turn on, that you would realize why it is ultimately the pride creates this barrier between us and God, why it is that sin creates this barrier because it’s this attitude, this, “I don’t need you, God. I’ve got this,” and so you’ve gone off on your own, and so many of the difficulties that you face in life come because you have chosen to be in charge.
The thing that we call sin, it’s driven by this sense that you don’t need anyone, you don’t even need God. Maybe for the first time, the light went on and you realized, “That’s what created the barrier, and that’s what Jesus came to die for.” That he loves you that much. God loves you so much that, even though in your pride you walked away, He chased after you. He allowed his own Son to carry our sin on his shoulders. He died in our place to pay for our sin and ultimately for the pride that drove him. If you don’t have a relationship with that God who loves you so deeply, you can have it right here, right now.
Wherever you are, you just have this conversation with God. Say to him, say, “God, I have done wrong. I’ve sinned. I’m sorry. I understand it was driven by pride, and I’m sorry for that. Jesus, thank you for dying in my place. Thank you for paying the penalty for my sin and my pride. I understand that you rose from the dead, I believe it, and you’re offering me forgiveness, love, adoption into the family of God. I’m ready to receive it. Jesus, right here, right now, I’m saying yes to you. I’m putting my trust in you, my faith in you. I’m yours for now and forever. Amen.”
We’ve had a number of people make that decision this weekend in all of our campuses and around the world, can we just welcome them into the family of God? So, awesome. Hey, if you made that decision for the first time today, here’s what I wanna ask you to do. Just text the word “Jesus” to 888111. You’re gonna get back a link to tell you five things that are true about you now that you put your faith in Jesus, put some resources in your hands and begin walking with this God. Hey, can we stand up? We have a God who didn’t let our pride derail his love and his pursuit of us. How good is it to have a God who chased after us, even when we were running from him? Amen?
Book of Proverbs
Does your life experience consist of fear as a pothole, or fear as the everyday status? Our imagination populates the future with danger, rather than hope which sees anticipation instead. We can’t get rid of fear, but we can tame it so we can move forward. Join us as we tackle the idea of fear and how to manage it.
Craig: Welcome to Mission Hills. So glad to have you with us for a week number four of our Potholes Series where we’re taking a look at wisdom from the Book of Proverbs about how we avoid those destructive potholes in the road of life that we all encounter. So far, we’ve dealt with apathy, anger, and pride. Today we’re gonna tackle the pothole of fear. And I wanna be honest with you, I’m not necessarily someone who I think struggles with a lot of anxiety and paralyzing fear, but at the same time I’m also in a stranger to it. In fact, our family is dealing with something right now that’s caused us to experience that pothole. And I know what it’s like to be awake in the middle of the night thinking about, does anyone else do this? You think about all the worst possible scenarios, how something could play out, right? And then there’s this weird part of our brains that not only is like we know we’re imagining it, but our brain partly feels like, “If I can imagine it must already be true,” right? And there’s that tension and there’s the panic that begins to rise. And so I know what that’s like. I’ve experienced it in the past, dealing with a little bit right now in our family. And also recognize that for some of you it’s not an occasional pothole. For some of you, fear is such a regular part of life that it doesn’t feel like a puddle. It just feels like the rhythm of the road. But whether we have dealt with it occasionally or consistently, fear can be a paralyzing thing. It can keep us from moving forward with God and keep us from being on mission with God and all that he has for us. And so we need to deal with it.
Now, as I was getting ready for this message, one of the staff sent me a link to one of my favorite preachers, Andy Stanley, on fear. And I’ll be honest, I was afraid to listen to his because like it’s gonna be a whole lot better than mine. But I always wanna make sure that I’m giving you what is absolutely best and didn’t need to always come from me. And so I listened to it and he had an insight that I think was powerful enough that I really wanna share it with you. He said, ”Honestly, we’re probably never gonna be completely free of fear because to get rid of fear would also be to get rid of hope.” And I thought, “Well that’s kind of interesting.” And then he went on to explain, he said, ”Because fear and hope both come from the same place. They come from our imagination.” They come from our ability to picture a future that’s different than our present.” And I thought that was an important insight and if I can be so bold as to add to Andy Stanley’s thought, I would say that what happens is fear populates the future with demons and disaster. Hope populates the future with angels and anticipation. Which means ultimately, check this out. It means ultimately, that dealing with fear is about taming our imaginations. It’s about putting the bit and the bridle that you put on a horse that you can tame all that power and use it for good. It’s about taming our imagination so that they don’t keep us trapped where we are, but allow us to move forward into everything that God is calling us to. That’s what we’re gonna talk about today. How do we basically tame our imagination?
So why don’t you go ahead and grab a Bible, start making your way to the Book of Proverbs, Chapter Three. I think the first thing we need to deal with when we talk about getting a handle on fear is really, it’s recognizing this. It’s that fear isn’t always a bad thing. Okay? Fear isn’t always a bad thing. There is such a thing as healthy fear. Having the right fears for the right reasons and to the right extent can actually be a force for good in our lives, right? It really can. Check this out. This is Proverbs 3:7. ”Do not be wise in your own eyes. Fear the Lord and shun evil.” And I would argue that’s a healthy fear. We’ll unpack that in a little bit, in a second. But, “Don’t be wise in your own eyes. Fear the Lord and shun evil, ” stay away from evil, “And this will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” I love this proverb because it says two things about a healthy fear. Number one, it says that a healthy fear leads us away from bad things, right? In this case it says, a healthy fear of the Lord leads us away from evil. Now, I realize that that might be an odd thing to hear even that the idea that fearing the Lord is a healthy thing. And so there’s people saying, ”Well, wait a minute. I mean, God’s a god of goodness and of love, and doesn’t The Bible even say that perfect love casts out fear, why then does the Bible in both the Old and the New Testament consistently say that we are called to fear the Lord?” We’re going to talk about that. I’ll explain that. Understand though, it’s not necessarily about living in terror of, and we’ll unpack what that means, but for now just understand this. It’s a healthy fear.
Having a fear of the Lord as a healthy fear because it leads us away from bad things, right? It leads us away from sin. It leads us away from evil that ultimately will get its tendrils into us and it’ll lead us ultimately to a place of disaster and destruction. And so having a healthy fear of the Lord is actually something that keeps us away from bad things. I mean, even think about it very in practical terms, right? I mean, a healthy fear keeps us from stepping off the curb into a busy intersection. A healthy fear keeps us away from the edge of the crumbling cliff. A healthy fear keeps us from buying things that we can’t afford and getting into the place of crippling debt, right? Healthy fear leads us away from bad things. But this proverb also says that healthy fear does something else, and that is that healthy leads us into good things, right? It says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” And it means basically that in the deepest parts of us, down at the core of who we are, healthy fear can actually lead us to a place of peace and contentment that allows us to experience joy and meaning and significance. Healthy fear actually leads us into good things, and that’s true on a practical sense as well. I mean, if you’re afraid of being alone, that might cause you to push into becoming the kind of person other people wanna be around, which means that not only are you not alone, but it means that you have meaningful, significant relationships that are life-giving to you. You might be afraid that you’re gonna end up in divorce and so you decide to pour into your marriage and not only do you save the marriage, but you end up transforming the marriage into something that is a place of joy and it’s a life-giving thing.
Our Re|Engage ministry at Mission Hills has had story after story of people who came in just basically going, “We don’t wanna get divorced, but that’s where it’s headed. Can you save us from a divorce?” And they’re not only not divorced, they’re actually at a place where their marriage has become a life-giving source to them, a source of joy and peace and contentment and security. Listen. Healthy fear can lead us away from bad things and into good things. But, not all fear us healthy, fear, right? Not all fear us healthy fear. And unhealthy fear actually does the exact opposite of that. Unhealthy fear leads us away from good things and into bad things. That’s the fear we need to deal with today. So several years ago, Coletta’s brother and his wife were really generous than they took our family on vacation with them to Italy, and they had this house rented in the hills of Umbria and it was just a gorgeous place. I can’t even begin to describe it. Fantastic house on top of this hill, had it’s own private pool and from the pool you could look down into this valley that Hannibal invaded with the elephants all those years ago. This is the place of history. It’s just, it was idyllic in a way. I can’t even begin to describe. It only had one dark spot and that is it had a big lavender garden in front of the house. And some of you understand. Others of you are going like, “Why is that a dark spot?” And the answer is the big lavender garden, massive lavender is beautiful, but it was buzzy. It’s filled with bees. And I hate bees. That’s not actually true. I am terrified of bees. Okay? Absolutely. Like, and I’ve got a good reason. Can I be honest with you. I have a good reason.
When I was a kid, I was at my grandmother’s house and it was the winter and I got under the sheets of her guest bedroom and some bees had gotten them through the air conditioning and they’d made a nest. And I like slid into them. I know, right? And I know I’ve messed up your whole day at that point, and you’re gonna like, huh? I have a phobia of bees now, right? Yeah. I have a reason. Okay. But I also realized that in some level it’s an irrational thing, and so I, you know, I’m at this house in Italy and it like, I know that the bees probably don’t care about me. Part of my brain is like, “They’re not even noticing.” Part of my brain is like, “Uh-uh. They’re plotting against you. They’re all gonna.;..” But I’ve learned enough that like I could, like I can walk through, appear calm, cool and collected. I’m sweating like I can’t even begin to tell you. And inside my heart beats going crazy and I got this little voice going, [makes sound] But I could deal with it. Interestingly enough, somehow I transmitted this fear to my youngest daughter, Lynae. She’s never had a bad experience with bees, but she is terrified of them. And it was interesting, for a while she wouldn’t go to the pool whenever we all head out to the pool and she’d be like, “I just can’t do it. I cannot walk through that, that buzzy field of lavender.” Which tells you that unhealthy fear can keep you away from good things, from experiencing good things that God has for you. But one day she finally, “Okay, I’m just gonna do it.” And so she started off, she’s trying to be calm and cool and collected, but by the time she gets to the middle of the garden, she’s going 100 miles an hour. She is booking it. She comes, she comes screaming out of the garden onto the driveway, which was gravel. She caught her foot, she tripped, she did a superman dive into the gravel, left a three-foot trough behind her. And she came up, she’s scraped and cut and she’s bleeding and she’s in pain and she’s crying. And I’m like, yeah, that’s unhealthy fear, right? It can keep us away from good things and it could lead us into bad things.
So how do we deal with it? How do we deal with unhealthy fear? Well, the first thing we need to do is we need to have some understanding of what fear is exactly. And there’s a great Proverb that I think gives some very powerful insight into this. This is Proverbs 13:13 says this, ”Whoever scorns instruction, whoever ignores it, whoever doesn’t pay attention to instruction will pay for it.” There’ll be a price for that. ”But whoever respects a command is rewarded.” Now, you might go, “Wait a minute. Where’s the fear? Like, there’s no fear word in that.” And in English that’s true. And in most English translations there isn’t. But in the original Hebrew, the word that’s being translated here as respect is actually the Hebrew word for fear. So literally what the Proverb says is whoever scorns instruction, whoever doesn’t pay attention to instruction will pay for it. But whoever fears a command will be rewarded. And I think that’s really helpful because you can understand when you see it like that the writer of that proverb, God isn’t trying to tell us, “Hey, whenever you hear a command, you should shriek,” right? He’s not saying whenever you see a command, you should be terrified. He’s not saying, whenever you hear a command, you should break into a cold sweat. No. What he’s saying is that there’s a certain amount of respect that comes from the power of the one who is issuing the command. They have power in your life and to ignore the command, they’re not paying attention to it, it’s probably going to have negative consequences. And so you need to respect the command. Ultimately, you need to pay attention to the command. Don’t just ignore it.
And I think that’s really helpful because I think it begins to help us understand this. It’s that fear is paying attention to the power of something. Does that make sense, church? Fear is paying attention to the power of something. It’s fear that’s paying attention to the power of the cars that keeps us from stepping out into the busy intersection, right? That’s paying attention to the power of those cars zipping by. It’s paying attention to the power of gravity that keeps us off of the edge of the crumbly cliff, right? It’s being aware of and paying attention to the power of crippling debt that keeps us from going into debt to buy things that we really don’t need and we really don’t even have the money for, right?It’s paying attention to the power of something. And I think, by the way, this us to understand why it is, the Bible talks so much about fearing the Lord and what exactly the Bible means by that, because when the Bible talks about fearing the Lord, it’s not saying that we’re supposed to be terrified of God. So that’s why we’re supposed to live in a constant, you know, expectation that God’s just gonna come and get us and zap and punish us. I mean, honestly, we serve a God who loves us so much, he sent his own Son to pay for our sin, right? That’s not a God that you need to live in terror of. But it’s a God who has enough power that we need to be paying very careful attention to him and do his Word and do his commands and do his instruction and what he says about how we live life. And so ultimately it’s this. Fearing God basically means that we’re paying attention. But the problem of course is there’s all these other voices that speak to us, right? There’s all these other voices going, “I’ve got power in your life too and you need to pay attention to me. What about me over here?” You know, we’ve got relationships and we’ve got money and we’ve got all these kinds of things that are saying, “Hey, I’ve got the ability to make your life better or more difficult and you need to listen to me.” And ultimately to fear God, check this out. To fear God is to pay more attention to God than all the other things that call for our attention. That’s what it means to fear the Lord. That’s what the Bible is talking about.
When the Bible says fear God, not live in terror, but to pay more attention to God than to all those other voices that are calling for attention. And please hear me. I’m not saying that those other voices are lying and that they have no power. They do, but they don’t have as much power as God. Honestly, they don’t have as much power as God to bring difficult things in your lives, but much more importantly, they do not have the same power that God does to bring blessing into your life. They cannot give you what they claim that they will give you. And I think this really begins to help us understand what exactly constitutes an unhealthy fear. An unhealthy fear is paying more attention to something than its power justifies. It’s not saying it doesn’t have any power, but it’s saying it doesn’t have enough power to justify the amount of attention that I’m giving it. That’s unhealthy fear. Paying more attention to something than it’s actual power justifies. But we have these things that we give so much attention to, right? I think in our culture, one of the most common is money. We look to money, we hear the voice of finances speaking in our lives going, “Hey, if you really want a happy life, if you really wanna be secure, if you really want good things, then you’ve gotta do what’s necessary to get money because it’s so, so important and it’s so, so powerful,” right? It’s interesting to me that one of the number, it’s usually in the top four or five lists of fears that people have, is financial fears. And by the way, that’s true about people who have very little money and people who have lots and lots of money, we all have the same fear. And what that says is we are believing that money has the power to secure our lives. And yet, listen to this. This is Proverbs 23:4. “Do not wear yourself out to get rich.” Don’t give it that much time. Don’t give it that much attention. “Don’t trust in your own cleverness in getting wealth. Cast at a glance at riches, and they are..” – what’s that word, church? They’re gone. They will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. Wealth doesn’t last. Ad the trust that we put in wealth is temporary. The power that wealth has in our lives is transient. But when we pay so much attention to it, we’re ultimately giving it power in our lives that it wouldn’t otherwise have, and yet Bible over and over again says, understand this truth.
This is Proverbs 15:16. “Better, a little,” better, a little wealth, “With the fear of the Lord,” with the fear of something that really does have power, “Than great wealth with turmoil because it’s not a secure foundation.” But maybe that’s not you. Maybe money’s not the thing that you pay more attention to than it’s power deserves. Maybe for you it’s, how about the opinion of other people? Can I get a little support here? Like, that’s not just me, right? How many of us struggle with what other people think of us? Online, if you want to just type, “That’s me too,” that’d be awesome, because I don’t wanna be alone in this. But I get it. I mean, I understand that, you know, it’s so easy to get to this place where you feel like what other people think has a lot of power, that it really, really matters. And I’ve experienced what it looks like to be in that place, and then finding that, okay, it’s hard to make the right decision. It’s hard to do the right thing. Sometimes it’s even hard to discern the right thing because I’m so worried about what other people think and that’s such a paralyzing place to be. And yet so many of us struggle with it. Check this out. This is Proverbs 29:25. “Fear of man, fear what other people think of us, “Will prove to be a snare.” It’ll trip us up. It’ll take us off the mission, it’ll hold us back. “But whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe,” or we could even say whoever fears the Lord is kept safe. Fear of man is a trap. It’s a snare. What’s interesting is that whether it’s money or the fear of other people’s opinions or any of those other things that we kind of get locked in on and we hear their voice saying, “I’ve got power in your life,” and we give them more attention than their power actually deserves, all of those things, here’s an interesting reality. It’s a little bit ironic. But the more attention we pay to something because we think it has power, guess what? The more power it actually has in our lives. You hear me, church? The more attention we pay to something because we think it has power, the more power we’re actually giving it in our lives. And when we think that money has the power to secure our lives, we’re giving it the power to at least shape our lives. It doesn’t have the power to secure them, but it absolutely does have power when we give it to it to shape our lives. When we think that the opinions of other people have the power to secure our lives, we’re giving to other people the power to shape our lives, and typically for the worse. Yeah. It’s such an interesting truth.
I think this is why kind of an interesting Proverb. Proverbs 10:24. It says this. ”What the wicked dread will overtake them.” What the wicked fear will come the pass. What the wicked are focused on will actually be what undoes them, what takes them down. But what the righteous desire will be granted. So interesting, isn’t it? Because what we’re paying attention to, we’re actually giving power in our lives. I mean, the principle here is basically this, is that we drift towards what we focus on, right? We drift towards what we focus on. And we’ve seen this at play in our lives. We all know that one guy or girl who was so paranoid that their boyfriend or girlfriend was gonna break up with them, that their jealousy and paranoia led their boyfriend or their girlfriend to break up with them. “I can’t be around this person. They’re insane.” I see it with parents all the time. I see parents that are so afraid of their kids not liking them, of not having a friendship with their kids that they never discipline their kids and their kids end up growing up to be the people who are so self-centered and immature that they’re not capable of having the relationship that their parents were trying so hard to protect. We drift towards what we focus on. I remember reading a story about the guy who lived through the Great Depression and he was so afraid that the market was gonna crash and he would lose all of his savings and he kept it all in cash hidden in his house, which caught fire and burned it all up. We drift towards what we focus on. So I wanna ask you a question. What I’d like you to do right now is I’d like you to think of something you’re afraid of. Think of a fear of you’re struggling with, and it can’t be bees. Okay? It doesn’t need to be a phobia, like nobody should pick clowns. It’s okay to be afraid of clowns. That’s totally justified, okay? Because it’s not what we’re talking about here. I want you to think of one of those fears that has that potential and maybe in the actual experience of, It’s there when you wake up at night, it, maybe it keeps you from falling asleep and it keeps circling back around that that fear that is causing you to populate the future with demons and disaster. Maybe it’s a relationship. Maybe it’s something to do with your work. Maybe it’s a health concern. Whatever it is, I want you to think about it and then I want you to ask us if a very difficult question, begin the processing, and this is the question. Is this something that actually has as much power as I’m giving it? The amount of time I’m spending thinking about it, the amount of influence that I’m allowing it to have on my decision making, my thought life and all those things. Is this something that actually has as much power as I’m giving it? You may not be able to fully answer that question right now, but it’s an important question to begin wrestling with.
Okay. So unhealthy fear is paying more attention to something than it’s power actually justifies. So what do we do about it? How do we keep from being caught and paralyzed and trapped and kept away from good things and trapped in bad? How do we do it? Three things. Number one, we’re gonna remember that fear isn’t the problem. The problem isn’t fear. It’s what we fear. Okay? As Andy Stanley say, we can’t be rid of fear completely. We don’t even want to because that would require getting rid of the imagination that fuels hope, okay? Fear can’t be gotten rid of, but that’s okay because the problem isn’t fear. The problem is what we fear. And we have a struggle with this in our culture I think in part because we have this famous quote, President Roosevelt gave it back during the Great Depression, and I hear it all the time. People use it all the time to say, “No, the problem really is fear.” You can probably finish the quote for me. “We have nothing to fear but…” Wrong. This is not true. It’s not even what he meant. What he meant was actually that we drift towards what we focus on. What he’s saying was, the problem is everybody’s so afraid the economy’s gonna crash, they’re taking all their money out of the economy. They’re not putting it in the banks. They’re not making investments. They’re not buying anything. They’re holding onto it. And the problem is that they’re so afraid the economy’s going to crash, they’re taking their money out and they’re causing the economy to crash. That’s what he was talking about. He wasn’t saying that fear is the problem. He was really saying, no, you’re afraid of the wrong thing and your fears are bringing to pass the very thing that you’re afraid of. It’s not that we have any fears, it’s what we have fear of, just, we’ve already talked about this one, and I think it speaks the truth so clearly. Proverbs 29:25. ”Fear of man will prove to be a snare. But whoever trusts in the Lord or fears the Lord is kept safe.” Right? The right fears can be very good. The wrong fears are the problem. Does anybody remember? Maybe you still have them, but years ago there were all these tee shirts and belt buckles and jeans that had it printed on them and bumper stickers and jackets, and they said, “No fear.” Anybody remember those? It was from the No Fear Company. Anybody heard anything from the No Fear Company recently? Yeah. Which is interesting because at a certain point in their cycle, they were actually, they were making $200 million a year telling people to have no fear. And now they’re gone.
Here’s the interesting story of why it happened. There were three founders and as they tell the story of what happened, they said, “The three of us had slightly different ideas about how the company should go.” Not massively different, just one or two degrees off of each other. But the problem is, you know, one or two degrees off, carried out over enough time, takes you to very different places, right? They just said, “We just weren’t as aligned as we needed to be.” And ultimately that led to the destruction of the company, the complete dissolution of it. And when they were interviewed about like, well, why didn’t you get alignment? Why didn’t you come together? And their answer was, “Because we were afraid of having an awkward conversation. We are afraid that it would be hard on our friendship. We were afraid that it would be uncomfortable. We were afraid that it might affect our relationship, and so we never had the hard conversation.” Interestingly enough, it killed their friendship too. Very thing they were afraid of came to pass. But here’s, do you understand the irony of this, church? This is a group of guys that they were totally fine with taking their motorcycle and jumping across canyons. But having a hard conversation? Now, that’s scary. Let me say, I’ve come to understand and leadership that most people, I really believe this now, most people are one hard conversation away from a breakthrough. But we’re so afraid that we don’t have it. The problem is not what we fear… The problem is not fear itself. The problem is what we fear.
Okay, so what do we do after we realize that? And the answer is, number two, we cultivate healthier fears. We cultivate healthier fears. There are fears that are good for us, that lead us into good things and away from bad things. Proverbs 14:26. Check this out, ”Whoever fears the Lord,” whoever pays attention to the Lord more than all these other voices calling for our attention. “Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress and for their children it will be a refuge.” It’s not only a place of safety and security for them, but for others around them, others that they have the ability to influence. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life. It’s a source of refreshment and encouragement ,of peace and of joy and contentment, turning a person from the snares of death away from bad things and into good things. So we cultivate healthier fears. How do we do that? Honestly, for the most part, it’s simply a matter of deciding which voices we’re gonna act on. We can’t stop being afraid of those other voices. We can’t just get rid of that emotion, but we can choose not to continue to give them power by acting on them. In 1996, Coletta and I were in ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. We’d been married three years. We’d been at that church for three years, and I was the youth pastor and God was just doing some incredible things. We’d seen kids come to Christ. The youth group was growing, families were being transformed. It was awesome. And then God spoke, and then he began to, to make it clear to us that we were being called away from that ministry and to come to Colorado and go to seminary, which is a really scary thing because, well, it was a scary thing for a lot of reasons. First off, we had paychecks. We had that magical thing where every month they sent you money for doing things that you loved and were meaningful. I mean, that was amazing. I was a youth pastor, Coletta was a teacher. We loved the ministry and the way we were on mission with God and all the, what he was doing, we were getting paid for it. All of our family was in Ohio. Our friends were in Ohio. We’d just bought a house. Like, less than a year before God began to call us to Colorado, we’d just bought a house. And let me tell you, the housing market in Cincinnati compared to the housing market in Denver, not the same thing.
We didn’t know how we were gonna pay for seminary. We didn’t know how we were gonna pay for housing. We didn’t know anybody. And honestly, everybody told us we shouldn’t do it. “It’s not wise, it’s not smart.” And we were like, “Yeah, I get it.” That, like, yeah, but God was continuing to call and to stir and to confirm in different ways and we had to make a decision. Ultimately, we had to make decision, which voice do we listen to? And we made a decision ultimately that they boiled down to we’re gonna cultivate healthier fears by paying more attention to God’s call in our lives than all of these other voices. That was really hard, but we have never regretted it. In 2004, I quit another full-time job, which was the only full-time job that we had at that time because Coletta was now, she was homeschooling our kids, and I quit a full-time job at a church in Castle Rock because God was calling us to form a nonprofit. And so I entered into a period of life where I had kids. I got more people than ever depending on me and I was eking out a living between some part-time work at the church where I stayed on teaching at the seminary some, starting to build a speaking ministry, which some days brought in a little money and a lot of days didn’t bring in much at all. But God spoke into our lives and he confirmed it and we had to make a decision between these other voices and God’s voice. And we made a decision to cultivate healthier fears by listening to his voice above all the others. We’ve never regretted that. 2014, I came off the road because our church in Castle Rock was in a really bad place. The senior pastor was leaving and they’d decline than it was. It was in a difficult place and they said, ”Hey, would you become the interim pastor?” And I went, ”Oh. I don’t know that I really wanna do that.” But I think it was the right thing to do. It was a scary thing, but we made a decision to cultivate healthy fears and do what we thought God was calling us to.
2016 again, God began to call us to Mission Hills. And I can’t even begin to tell you how scary that was. 2016 we had been at our church in Castle Rock for 20 years. It was our family. It was our friends. And I may have shared this before, but the day that I finally left, the day that I closed my office door and locked it and left for the last time, I felt like the kid who’s gone off to college and on his way out to the car, he realizes there’s a for sale sign and his parents are selling the house and buying a one bedroom condo and there’s no way to ever go home again. There’s not even into where to go back to. That’s what I felt like. It was scary. But we’ve spent a lifetime ultimately deciding on a regular basis, we’re going to cultivate healthier fears. And here’s what I’ve come to understand, and you need to make sure you get this. God’s power is poised not to punish you, not to discipline you. I mean, he loves you too much not to do that if it’s necessary, but God’s power is poised to bless you. God’s power is waiting to bring you into meaning and significance and to peace and to joy. And that’s not saying no bad things will ever happen, but to do that with God and in the confidence that you are present in his will and you’re living in obedience for what he’s called you to do, God is poised to bless you. And the fear that keeps us from listening to his call will keep us out of so much good. This is what I’ve come to understand. So we cultivate healthier fears.
The last thing we do is we pursue wisdom and righteousness. This is our greatest antidote to unhealthy fear. It’s the pursuit of wisdom and righteousness. Check this out. Proverbs 3 starting verse 21. ”My son, do not let a wisdom and understanding out of your sight.” Laser focus in on it, lock in on it, move towards it. “Preserve sound judgment and discretion. They will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck and then you will go on your way in safety and your foot will not stumble when you lie down.” Check this out, church.” When you lie down, you will not be afraid.” When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. The pursuit of wisdom is an antidote against unhealthy fear. And then it begins to go on and he talks about, you know, wisdom and righteousness, pursuit of righteousness and what it does for us. It says, ”Have no fear of sudden disaster of the ruin that overtakes the wicked for the Lord will be at your side and we’ll keep your foot from being snared. Do not withhold good….” This is what it looks like to practice righteousness. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due and it’s in your powered act.” Don’t say to your neighbor, “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you,” when you already have it with you. Don’t plot harm against your neighbor who lives trustfully near you. Do not accuse anyone for no reason when they have done you no harm. “Do not envy the violent or choose any of their ways for the Lord detests the perverse, but he takes the upright into his confidence. The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous.”
Listen, our best defense against unhealthy fear is the pursuit of Godly wisdom and righteousness. Three questions. Question number one. What unhealthy fears am I giving power in my life? Hopefully we began that process when I asked the question earlier, but you need to push in it. What unhealthy fears am I giving power? What fears am I paying more attention to than their power actually justifies or deserves? Second question is this. What’s one step I’ll take this week to cultivate a healthier fear? What’s one choice that I’ll make to move forward in faith rather than being paralyzed by fear that I’ve given more power than it really deserves? Maybe that’s a hard conversation, and maybe there’s a breakthrough waiting on the other side of that. Maybe it’s an awkward, it’s willing to deal with awkward and uncomfortable to get to a place of health. Maybe God’s calling you to something. Honestly, maybe some of you, it’s not so much that, you know, I’m in an unhealthy place or I can’t have this but, there’s something in your life right now that God has planted there. There’s a seed of something that he’s beginning to give you a vision for and you’re scared to take that step of faith. You’re scared to move forward. And so maybe it’s to take a step of beginning to trust him, to get after that thing that he’s planted there. But what’s the one step you’ll take this week to cultivate healthier for fears?
And then finally, what’s my plan for pursuing wisdom and righteousness? Wisdom and righteous is one of the best antidotes to unhealthy fear. But if we just think, “I’ll do it, I’ll pursue wisdom and righteousness,” and you don’t have a plan, you’re not gonna actually get it. You’re not going to experience the benefits of it. You need a plan. Maybe you’re kind of new to church and church is not a regular part of your life and your plan is, “I’m gonna come back,” or “I’m gonna go to church.” We’re not trying to build Mission Hills. I’m not saying come here more regularly. Find a church that teaches the Bible, that teaches wisdom and righteousness from God’s Word and attend more regularly. Maybe that’s your step to do that, or to listen to podcasts from people who teaching God’s Word. Maybe it’s joining a group. It’s a Group Link at Mission Hills. Maybe it’s about getting a group of people around you. All of our groups are, we’ve got Life Groups and men’s groups and women’s groups and hope groups and Sunday school groups and all of those exist to help people become like Jesus and join him on mission, to love each other so that that becomes possible. And a group can be an incredibly powerful place to begin pursuing wisdom and righteousness and beginning to listen to the voices we should listen to and put the others in their place. So maybe joining a group. Maybe that’s what you do. But what’s your plan?
Would you pray with me? God, as followers of Jesus and on behalf of all my brothers and sisters listening from around the world right now, we come to you and we confess to you now that we have often paid more attention to voices that really didn’t have as much power as we were giving them. And though we confess these fears to you and we confess that we have not given nearly enough attention to your voice, even though we know that your voice longs to lead us into good and into peace and into prosperity and contentment and hope and joy., but we confess that and we ask for your forgiveness. I ask that you give us power through your Holy Spirit to move forward in faith.
If you follow Jesus, would you just begin praying with the people around you, for people watching online who don’t have a relationship with God. And if that’s you, I just wanna speak to you briefly for a moment. I made the statement here that one of the biggest antidotes against fear is the pursuit of righteousness and I realize that for some people that actually was a statement that caused fear because you feel like, “Well, if that’s what it means to get out of this place that I’m in, I’m stuck because I’ve tried to be righteous. I’ve tried to be better. I’ve tried to do the right thing and I just keep falling on my face. I just keep cycling back into sin. I can’t pursue righteousness.” And if that’s where you are, you need to hear a truth. You’re right. You can’t pursue righteousness on your own on our own. We will never be good enough. It’s not possible. But we have a God who loves us so much that he did the impossible for us. Hear me on this. God loves you so much, he sent his own Son to die for you. He took all of our sin on his own shoulders. He paid the price of all of it in his blood because of his love for us. Three days later, he rose from the dead. That’s not a matter of faith. It’s not an opinion. It’s a fact of history. It’s demonstrable by historical fact. Jesus rose from the dead. The faith part comes in when we decide what we’re gonna do about that fact, when we decide to accept from Jesus what he offers. And what Jesus you is mercy and grace and forgiveness. He offers to pay off every wrong thing you’ve ever done. He offers to come into your life, to put the Holy Spirit in you and to begin transforming you from the inside out so that you can actually become the man or the woman that God designed you to be, free from fear and free for a life of meaning and significance, a life of actual righteousness. And he’s offering that to you right now.
And if you don’t have that relationship with God, but you’d like to have it, if you’d like to be free from fear and guilt and shame, and if you’d like to move into relationship with your creator that begins now and goes on forever, if you’d like to have that, would you just slip your hand up right now? That’s awesome. I see those. That’s fantastic. If you’re watching online, please just click the button below me. Let your online host know that you’re making this decision. And wherever you are, this is what you do. Just in your own heart, you have this conversation with God. It’s so simple, but it’s so powerful. Just say this. Say, “God, I’ve done wrong and I’m sorry. I’m so tired of being afraid. Jesus, thank you for paying for my sin on the cross. I believe you rose from the dead to prove that you’d done it, and I understand that you’re offering me forgiveness, courage, adoption into the family of God and a new life free from this fear. Jesus, I’m saying yes to you. I’m putting my trust in you. Jesus. Come into my life. I’m yours for now and forever. Amen. Had a number of people make that decision this weekend, and even just in this past moment. Can we welcome them into the family of God? It’s so awesome.
Book of Proverbs
We look at our final pothole in the series: bitterness. A sneaky element, bitterness wears disguises so we don’t recognize it for what it is and may not even feel how it is weighing on us. Let’s review some life applications to free ourselves from this damaging hindrance.
Craig: Well, welcome to Mission Hills for our fifth and final week of the Potholes Series. If you’re just joining us, we are on a search for wisdom from the Book of Proverbs on how to avoid those potentially destructive potholes that we all encounter on the road of life occasionally. So far we dealt with anger, apathy, pride, and fear. Today we’re gonna deal with bitterness. So how many bitter people do we have in the house? And actually a lot more hands went up. I don’t know what you guys are saying online, but there were way more hands this time here at the Littleton Campus than I’ve seen anywhere else which is interesting.
Most people actually don’t think that, you know, they don’t think we have a problem with bitterness. I think bitterness is probably the sneakiest of the potholes in the sense that we don’t usually see it coming from 300 yards out. Sometimes we don’t even feel it when we just hit it but it’s still done its damage. I think part of the reason for that is we tend to…we disguise bitterness with other things, right? You know, we say, “I’m not bitter. I’ve just been hurt. And if you understood what had happened to me, you would understand why I’m hurting, why I’m struggling to get over that,” or maybe we say, “You know, I’m not bitter. I’m just mad,” all right? “I’m just angry. And again, if you knew what they did, you’d be mad for me. You’d be mad at them for me. That is totally what will happen,” right?
And what we don’t recognize is that bitterness might begin that way but there’s something really dark and unhealthy that happens when we kind of hold on to those things and that’s what we’re gonna deal with today. I want you to go and grab your Bible and start making your way to the Book of Proverbs Chapter 14. What we’re gonna deal with today is kinda how we identify bitterness, what kind of damage it can do and then how it is we go about dealing with it.
I was with a friend this past week and some stuff has happened in my family recently that I recognized from the position that I’m in and some of the experiences that I’ve had, I recognized, you know, this has the potential to cause bitterness in my life and so I need to get ahead of it and sort of deal with it. And I felt really good about that. I felt like I was doing that. I was like, yeah, I’ve got a handle on this thing.
And then I was talking to this friend about something entirely different and he kind of goes, “It sounds like you might have a bitterness issue over there.” And I’m like, “Shut up.” No, no, no. I got bitterness. Like I got a handle on it. It’s this thing of it’s not there. And I was like, “Aw man, yeah, it’s a sneaky, sneaky thing.” And a lot of times what we’re gonna find is that we’re struggling with it or had been struggling with it, and in some cases for a long time, without really having the right label on it. Proverbs 14:10 says this, “Each heart knows its own bitterness,” which I think is powerful all by itself.
He says, “There’s a certain amount of bitterness probably in every one of us, whether we call it that or not, or call it something else, it’s there. Each heart knows its own bitterness and no one else can share its joy.” And then we’re gonna jump down to verse 13, he says, “Even in laughter, the heart may ache and rejoicing may end in grief.”
Now it might seem a little strange that I’m doing verse 10 and 13 but I really believe that verses 10 and 13 were both written to be understood together. They’re both really about bitterness. And it might seem strange that there’s a couple of verses in between there if those verses were meant to be read together and that’s because we’re Westerners. We’re English speakers and in English, everything’s linear. We go A, B, C, D, we just kind of truck on forward.
But in Hebrew writing, they often had this way of kind of organizing their Proverbs and Psalms and so, well, they kind of circled back to similar ideas. Again, for those of you who are interested, it’s called a chiasm. Anybody? No, not at all. Okay, well don’t worry about that then. If you can work that in a conversation later today, you’ll sound good but otherwise don’t worry about it. Chiasm basically is they sort of go instead A, B, C, D, it’s A, B, C and then you kind of go back to B and then you end up back on A. So the first and the last thing are kind of connected together. And that’s what’s happening here. And so verses 10 and 13 they’re really part of a package of statements, of verses really about bitterness.
And when we understand that those two go together, we really see four things about bitterness here. The first one is just this, it’s that bitterness is the opposite of joy. Do you see that? He says, “Each heart knows its own bitterness and no one else can share its joy.” And that’s intended to be understood as a full spectrum of human emotion, right? On the one side we’ve got joy and way, way, way, way, way on the other side of the spectrum we have bitterness.
Bitterness is the opposite of joy which is interesting because I don’t think we always think about it that way. I think we tend to think that the opposite of joy is sadness, right? We think if you’re sad, then you’re not joyful. Those are opposites of each other but that’s not really true. Joy, biblically understood is it’s the ability to be at peace in spite of circumstances, okay? It’s not exactly the same thing has happened, it’s that they’re related. There’s an overlap there.
But joy is really the ability to be at peace in spite of circumstances. And if you understand that, that’s when you realize it’s entirely possible to be both joyful and sad at exactly the same time. You can be sad about the circumstances but you can still be joyful in spite of them. You can be at peace in spite of them. I spent some time just over the last couple of weeks with a good friend whose wife passed away a few weeks ago after a very long and prolonged battle with cancer. And as I’ve sat with him, I’ve seen both joy and I’ve seen sadness happening simultaneously.
He’s sad. He’s lost his wife. They were married for almost 47 years. And her absence from his life is painful. He’s deeply, deeply sad about that. At the same time, I also see him have these moments right there in the sadness where he is at peace. He’s joyful. He’s almost even happy that she’s not in pain anymore. It was a very painful last few months and he knows that that pain is gone. He’s experiencing joy because she’s in the presence of God. And what she previously believed by faith, she now sees by sight. She’s in the arms of Jesus and experiencing everything that her faith promised and now it’s all real for her and he is enjoying that truth.
And so I see both joy but also deep sadness at the same time. They’re not opposites of each other. What the proverb tells us is that the opposite of joy is bitterness. Bitterness is the opposite of joy. The second thing I think this proverb tells us is that bitterness is the opponent of joy. It’s not just the opposite of joy, it’s the opponent of joy. It’s not just sitting somewhere passively on the other side of the spectrum of our emotions, bitterness is an active enemy of joy. It actively undermines, undercuts, attacks, chokes out joy, making it impossible to experience joy.
He says, “Even in laughter, the heart may ache and rejoicing may end in grief.” Even when there’s joy going on, there’s always bitterness underneath going. I’m not gonna let this stand. We’re not gonna keep you there. It says rejoicing may end in grief. And I don’t think that’s a fatalistic statement that all good things come to an end, I think it’s a statement about the power of bitterness to bring all good things to an end.
It’s interesting, you know, if joy is the ability to be at peace in spite of circumstances, bitterness is the inability to experience peace in spite of circumstances. That even when good things are happening, even in the midst of good circumstances, bitterness gets a hold and says, we will bring that to an end. There will be no lasting joy. There’ll be no lasting peace. And so bitterness isn’t just the opposite of joy, it’s the opponent. It’s actively working to steal joy from us.
The third thing we see here is that bitterness is buried out of sight. It’s not on the surface emotion. It’s hidden deep underneath. He says, “The heart knows its own bitterness and no one else can share its joy.” And on some level that’s a statement that all of our emotions are basically ours alone, right? We can’t share in somebody else’s bitterness or their joy. And that’s true for all emotions but it’s especially true for bitterness. Not only can we not share in it completely but we can’t even recognize that it’s there and that’s true in others but it’s also true in ourselves.
I think it’s interesting he says that even in laughter, the heart may ache, right? Even in laughter. Even on the surface when it looks like everything’s fine and then there’s joy and there’s peace and there’s goodness, even in that laughter, bitterness is still underneath it and there’s still an ache going on. And it’s just a matter of time before it comes to an end because when bitterness is in the equation, joy can never be more than a temporary illusion.
The last thing this proverb teaches us about bitterness is that bitterness begins with a pain and it becomes a perspective. It begins with a pain and it becomes a perspective. It begins with something that’s done to us. It begins with a hurt. It begins with… You know, we talked over the last few weeks about the fact that anger is the frustration because there’s a gap between our expectation and our experience. We get frustrated about that gap. We expected this, we experienced this. And anger is the frustration we feel about that gap. Bitterness starts in that gap. It starts from this experience of hurt and pain. Maybe it makes us sad, maybe it makes us angry, but it starts there but it doesn’t stay there.
He says, “Even in laughter, the heart may ache.” And I think that “ache” word is really important because it says it begins with a pain. The problem is that it doesn’t stay there. It becomes the way we look at the world. It becomes the lens through which we view every relationship. It becomes the lens through which we view every scenario, every situation, every set of circumstance. So it starts with the hurt, right?
And that’s okay. There’s nothing we can do about that. We can’t avoid being hurt and we can’t avoid feeling hurt. We don’t have to tell ourselves, “Don’t feel bad. Don’t feel hurt. Don’t be angry.” We don’t have to do that because that’s natural. The problem is that, what happens is that we begin to sort of embrace that. We hold onto it tight. We almost begin to cherish it, right? We cherish that hurt. We cherish that pain.
The problem is that while we’re holding it, it begins to rot. And as it begins to rot, its toxins and its poisons begin to leak out of that thing into us. Bitterness is the choice to live in the gap. Do you hear me, church? We have the gap between expectations and experience. We can’t avoid that. The problem is that with bitterness, we choose to live in that gap. We choose to plant our feet in the poisoned soil of that gap and it begins to poison everything in us.
It’s not just what’s happened to us, it’s the way we see the world. It begins with the pain and it becomes a perspective. I think one of the clearest illustrations of this is actually a story from the Gospel of Luke. If you want to make your way to Luke 10. Luke 10, there’s a story. If you’ve spent much time in church, you may have heard this story before. It’s the story of two sisters, Mary and Martha.
And typically the way that we use this story is we use this story as a way to illustrate the danger of busyness. Because we go…we have these two sisters, one was the good sister and that was Mary by the way. Mary is the good sister because she just sat at Jesus’s feet. Martha is the bad sister. She’s the bad girl. And I know that in part because there was a book published over years ago called “Bad Girls of the Bible” and Martha’s in there. Okay?
And what everybody says about Martha is she had a problem. She was too busy. She was so busy that she couldn’t sit with Jesus. She was so busy, she missed on all these things. And so it’s often used as an illustration of the danger of busyness but I actually believe that’s wrong. I think this is intended to be an illustration of the danger of bitterness, and I’ll show you why as we go through it. Luke 10:38 says this, “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” It’s Martha’s home. She owned the home. A little unusual in those days but she came from a wealthy family, she had her own home.
And she opened her home to Jesus and his disciples. And when you see the word “opened her home,” understand, it doesn’t mean she opened the door. It doesn’t mean she reluctantly allowed them to come in or rented them some space for a while. It means she took on the obligation of hospitality. That the word that Luke uses, actually, it’s a word that’s deeply connected to hospitality there. And hospitality in the ancient world was really a big deal. We don’t always see that because for us, we hear the word “hospitality” and we think, you know, Martha Stewart and centerpieces and, you know, place settings and potpourri and that kind of stuff, right?
But in the ancient world, hospitality meant that when you opened your home, when you brought somebody in, you took on the obligation of caring for them as though they were your own family. And to not care for them as though your own family was incredibly dishonoring, not only to them but to God who called us to be hospitable to people. And so Luke used a very particular word. He says, “Basically she took on the obligation of caring for them.” It’s gonna be important in a second.
Verse 39 says, “She had a sister called Mary who [also] sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” Now just a little bit of a technical thing, I threw in a bracket there. In the original Greek, there’s a word here that doesn’t always get translated and it usually doesn’t need to get translated. The word is chi. You don’t need to know that. Typically chi just kind of moves a sentence along. It can mean “and.” It can mean “also.” And often we don’t translate it because it doesn’t really add anything to the sentence.
There’s a chi at the beginning of this sentence by the way. And she had a sister called Mary. See, we don’t transmit it because it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just moving things along. What’s interesting though about where I’ve got the bracket there is that when we see chi in the second clause, it’s in a strange place. We expect to find it before the word “who.” That’s where you’d normally see it but it’s after the word “who.” And the most literal way to translate it, that would be she had a sister called Mary who also sat at the Lord’s feet.
And what’s intriguing about that is that if Mary is also sitting at the Lord’s feet, it kind of raises the question, who’s the other part of the “also.” And what this begins to suggest is that Martha was probably sitting at the Lord’s feet too, which is what we would expect. She was the owner of the home and it was expected that the owner of the home had the place next to the guest of honor. And so we would fully expect Martha to have been sitting at Jesus’s feet.
And now it looks that, and Mary, her sister, was also doing that. They were given this incredible privilege to sit at the feet of Jesus, which means basically to be treated as disciples, kind of as equals with the rest of the troop of disciples, and to learn from him is a powerful thing. But if Martha was also sitting there, it casts a slightly different light on what happens next because she couldn’t stay there. And the next verse is this, “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”
A perfectly good translation, but understand that there’s connotations to those English words that weren’t necessarily in the original one. For instance, that word “distractions.” I don’t know about you but I hear the word that she was distracted and I think she’s got a problem, right? Like what is she, ADD? She just she just has a focus issue, right? You know, she’s like, you know Jesus, place settings, Jesus, spread. Like she just doesn’t know where to focus because you just can’t stay… I mean that’s just not implied by the original. In fact, literally the Greek would be something like she was pulled away. The same verb is actually used to talk about donkeys dragging away a heavy cart.
The point is there’s some effort involved. It’s not that she’s just flighty. It’s that she’s been pulled away from where she was by the preparations. And that’s a perfectly good translation. The original Greek word is where we get the word “deacon” from. I don’t know if some of you may have grown up in churches where you had deacons. Maybe you even know the word “deacon” basically means servant. And so it’s literally as if she was kind of dragged away by what she had to do to serve her guests to honor them.
She was dragged away by her serving, which check this out, the preparations that had to be made. I mean right there in English that should be paid attention to and we typically skip over it. But if you…you might even underline that word “had.” Had to be, that had to be done, that she didn’t really have any choice. This was required. In the Greek, it’s even more powerful because the word literally means something like they were piling up over her or literally they were standing over her.
And then the sense is that, you know, this kind of happened over time until she really didn’t have any choice. I mean, as you imagine the scene, you know, Jesus has come in and his disciples are gathered around and Martha and Mary had this amazing privilege of listening to Jesus and Martha’s sitting there going, “This is unbelievable. He’s in my house. I’m definitely getting a plaque,” right? “Jesus was here,” right?
And not only is he in my home, he’s allowing me to sit as a disciple. Mary and I are right here. And gee, this is just an incredible thing. And as the day goes on, she’s just she’s caught in this moment and then she begins to hear things. The first thing she hears is something like [grumbling stomach noise]. And she looks over and Peter is going, “Sorry. Sorry.” And then John is doing it and she’s like, “Oh, they’re getting hungry.” They’re probably teenage boys, late teenage years at this point, so they’re always hungry, right?
And she kind of looks at her and she was like, “Yeah, the shadows are getting a little bit long. Yeah, time to do what I need to do to take care of my guests.” And so she, you know, she reluctantly but forced to. She gets up and she goes, “Yeah, Mary, so I’m gonna go. I’m gonna go. We’re gonna… She’s not looking at me. I know she saw me. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe she didn’t see me, maybe, maybe. I’ll just… Hey, hey Jesus, I’m gonna just go and you know, we’re gonna just… So yeah, so Mary we’re gonna… I… We… It’s gonna be I, huh? Yeah? I shouldn’t have. Ugh.”
And I don’t know how exactly how it plays out. Maybe she goes to the kitchen and she stews over it a little bit, right? And probably goes from, “What’s her problem?” to, “I don’t know why I’m surprised. She always does this. This is not the first time. This is just who she is.” And it begins to come to a boil and so she goes out, and here’s what happens. Check this out. “She came to him,” that’s Jesus, “She came to him and she asked.” By the way, the word “asked” there, I’m gonna put in parentheses because I don’t think this was a theological conversation.
I don’t think she was like, “Hey Jesus, I’ve got something I was wondering about and hoping you could maybe just shed some light on it.” No, she asked. Here’s what she asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?” That’s what she wants to know. “I thought you cared about me, Jesus. Is that a lie? Is that just all talk? Do you really care about me? Because I thought you did but if you really did, then I think you’d probably react to the fact that she’s not doing anything. Don’t you care? My sister’s left me to do all the work.” And then she goes, she says, “Tell her to help me.”
Like can we just stop for a moment and appreciate the boldness of this? Like she just chewed Jesus out, right? And that’s why I say there, there’s more going on here than a moment’s irritation, isn’t there? That there’s bitterness in place. That’s when you begin to see it, this is a powerful one. She’s yelling. She’s throwing up on Jesus basically. And she’s giving Jesus orders. “You’re not sure what to do? I’ll tell you what to do, Jesus. How about this? How about you stop teaching? You tell her to get off her butt, get in the kitchen and help me.”
And then probably there’s somewhere in the back of her head going, “Did I just say that to Jesus? What happened? What’s wrong with me?” There’s bitterness going on here. And here’s what you need to understand about bitterness. Bitterness poisons all our relationships. Bitterness does not stay isolated to the one person who hurt us. It doesn’t stay isolated to the one person who did this or that. It spills out into all of our relationships.
Now, I don’t know where Martha’s bitterness came from. Maybe, maybe Mary had a long history of not moving. Maybe they’d been dealing with this for a long time as sisters. Maybe, maybe Martha, she’s probably the oldest kid. Maybe Martha’s parents held her to such an impossible standard that she could never satisfy them and she always lived feeling like a failure. Maybe it’s that. Maybe Martha’s just built to serve. She’s just wired that way and yet she’s been taken advantage of and she hasn’t been appreciated. Maybe that’s what’s happening. I don’t know. I don’t know. But you can see it, right?
And bitterness spills out and it poisons all of our relationships. Here’s what bitterness does. Bitterness, it amplifies hurt, amplifies hurt. It spreads blame. And it steals joy. It amplifies hurt. What Mary has done at this point really is not that big a deal. It’s not her home. She doesn’t have the same obligation that Martha does, but Martha’s furious. Jesus hasn’t done anything at all and she’s mad about that. She’s got a list of things he should have done and didn’t. It amplifies hurt. It spreads blame, right? It’s Mary’s fault. It’s Jesus’s fault, right? It spreads blame and it steals joy.
I mean, think about this, friends, think about this, Jesus is in her house. She gets to cook for Jesus. How cool would that be? Think about it. If Jesus came to your house, what would you make for him? I’d make him pulled pork. And I know he’s Jewish. I know. But he declared all food is clean, Mark 7:19, okay? It’s in the Bible. He’s the one who made them so tasty. And I’m good at pulled pork. I’d love to serve something like… I mean, what would you make for him? I mean I have made for Jesus… Do you understand? Like there’s a possibility Jesus could leave you a Yelp review, right? How awesome would that be?
That you can get another plaque that says Jesus ate here and he loved it. What an amazing opportunity. And yet Martha’s enjoying none of it. Do you see that? There’s no peace in this. There’s no pleasure in this. There’s no happiness. There’s no joy in this opportunity because bitterness, it amplifies hurt, it spreads blame and it steals joy. It kills it. It takes it out at the knees. So Jesus looks at her. Verse 41 says, “Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, you’re worried and upset about many things but few things are needed or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is good and it will not be taken away from her. ”
Four things there, real quick. First, he says, “Martha, Martha.” And that’s such a powerful thing. It’s a tender moment. I grew up in a family and my parents were from the south. And so in my household growing up, if they used two of your names, it was a bad thing, right? If they used your first name and your middle name, you are in a lot of trouble, okay? That’s not what’s happening here. This is the same name twice. This isn’t anger. This isn’t frustration. This is tenderness, okay? He says, “Martha, Martha.” It’s a powerful moment.
And what you need to understand is Jesus isn’t frustrated with her, he’s concerned for her. He sees that what’s going on in her is killing her. He’s concerned about her. He says, “Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, you’re worried and upset about many things.” And that word “worried” is interesting. It’s the same word that Jesus uses consistently to talk about you’re so focused on this thing that you can’t experience joy in these other things.
It’s the same word that Jesus used to say, “Hey, you’re so worried about tomorrow that you can’t enjoy today. You’re so worried about what you’re gonna get and how you’re gonna get it tomorrow, you can’t have any peace or any joy that comes from all the things that God has put in your life right here, right now.” So that this word is about the inability to experience joy and what’s happening is that Jesus is recognizing her inability to experience joy. That’s why he’s worried about her and he’s pushing into that.
He says, “Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, you’re worried and upset about many things but few things are needed or indeed only one.” And I’m gonna be honest, I’m not 100% sure I know what that means, what the only one is. A lot of times what people do with the stories that I go, the only one thing she’s supposed to do, she just needed to slow up, sit down, chill out, that’s the only thing she needed to do. I don’t think that’s likely.
Luke’s made it clear that she has this obligation to care for her guests. She’s being pulled away by the serving that was piling up over her. I don’t think that what she was supposed to do was sit down but what’s interesting is that, you know, she was trying to make Mary do what she had to do, right? And maybe I think what’s happening is that is that Jesus is kind of going, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, you know, you’re, you’re all upset about Mary but you know, Mary really only has one thing to do and maybe the one thing is really about Mary than it is more about Martha.
Mary is free to sit. It’s not her house. It’s not her obligation. If she wants to get up, that’s great but it’s not what she’s called to. And I think what he’s ultimately doing is he’s telling, Martha, “Hey, you need to get your eyes off of what she’s not doing and maybe get your eyes off of the other ways that people haven’t done or all the other ways that people have done to you.” Maybe you need to get your eyes…maybe what you need to do, maybe the one thing is just maybe you just need to focus on whatever it is that God’s calling you to do right here at this moment. Maybe just focus on what God has placed before you right now.
The problem is that’s exactly what bitterness keeps us from doing. Bitterness makes it impossible for us to focus on the one thing God would have us do at this moment because bitterness insists on bringing the past into the present. We can’t focus on the one the thing because is bitterness to saying, yeah, but you remember all the things that she did before, and we’re looking at it through this lens. Do you remember all the things she didn’t do before? Do you remember all the ways he mistreated you? Do you remember all the ways they took advantage of you? Do you remember all the ways they didn’t appreciate you.
And it brings the past into the present. It changes the way we think about the present and ultimately it dictates the future because we move into the future in a particular way, driven by bitterness. And he says, “Martha, Martha, you’re worried and upset about many things but few things are needed or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is good.” And some English translations say “what is better” but the original Greek, there’s not a comparison. It just literally says she’s chosen right.
Not necessarily saying you’ve chosen wrong by getting up and doing these things, she’s chosen right to sit here and then he says something that’s so important, “and it will not be taken away from her.” Do you understand that what Jesus is doing is he’s protecting Mary from Martha’s bitterness. Do you see that? It’s not her house. It’s not her obligation. I’m not gonna let you take this away from her. I’m not gonna let it happen. It’s just not gonna happen, Martha. And really what’s happening is we’re being told that bitterness cannot be allowed to do its damage to others, right?
Because it doesn’t stay in us, it doesn’t just do its damage to us. It spills out of us and it does damage to everybody around us. And some of you are right here today and that’s where you are. You’ve got a bitterness whether you recognize it or not, and it’s spilling out and it’s affecting your marriage, it’s affecting your kids, it’s affecting relationship with your parents, it’s affecting your work relationships and work life, your relationship with your neighbors. It’s poisoning everything.
And you need to hear the voice of God speaking to you that says it’s got to stop. Something has to be done. Bitterness cannot be allowed to do its damage to others. What’s interesting is that, that’s the end of the story. The story just stops. We don’t really know what Martha did. We don’t know if Martha looked at Jesus and went, “Oh, really?” Probably not. But we didn’t know if she broke down. We don’t know.
Here’s what we do know. Martha keeps showing up in the Gospels. We keep seeing her showing up. And what’s interesting is every time we see Martha show up, guess what? She’s busy. Every single time she’s busy, she serving, she’s giving, she’s doing. She served the meal before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We don’t know but it’s entirely possible that she served at the Last Supper itself. She’s always busy still, but there’s no more rebuke for it, there’s no more challenge, which suggests that she somehow got free of the bitterness.
You go, well, how did she do that? How did she manage it? What happened and why doesn’t Luke tell us? And I think the answer is because Luke has already been telling us. All the way throughout the Gospel of Luke up to this point, and continuing on, there’s this…a theme that Luke continually comes back to, there’s a drum that he keeps beating and building a rhythm for that I think we’re meant to understand took place here and that theme is forgiveness.
Jesus taught us the very famous, maybe you know the famous, the Lord’s Prayer, right? Which has that line that says, “Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” Jesus said forgive and you will be forgiven. Jesus hung on the cross and he said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”
This theme that Luke has been building to this point, I believe we’re meant to understand now’s the moment that we get the chance to see whether or not we practiced and whether or not it will do its work. And I think it did, and that’s why we continue to see you’re busy but not bitter. This is about forgiveness. Listen to me, forgiveness is the antidote to bitterness. Forgiveness is the antidote to bitterness. So that’s all you got to do.
Take all the hurt and all the pain and the betrayal, all those things, just forgive them. Take a deep breath, we’re done. It’s harder than that obviously, but listen to me, church, we have to fight our way to forgiveness. We have to fight our way to forgiveness because forgiveness is the antidote to bitterness. Forgiveness is what digs it up out of the soil in that gap, sends it packing and it begins to set us free of its poison. How do we do that? Four things. Number one, identify the person.
Forgiveness is not conceptual, it’s not philosophical. You cannot forgive a circumstance. You cannot forgive a situation. You can only forgive a person who has harmed you. So identify the person. Sometimes that’s easy. Some of you are going, I know exactly who it is. Some of you may see the signs of bitterness. Maybe God is doing something in your heart right now and you’re realizing, yeah, I do see some warning signs of it. There is a perspective, it’s affecting my relationships, and it’s not entirely clear to you where it stems from but you’ve got to do the soul work and you’ve got to figure it out.
Ask God and the Holy Spirit and you will begin to bring that to the surface. Okay? But you have to identify the person. That’s key. The second thing you have to do is you have to detail the debt. What I mean by that is you need to write down, I mean I really suggest actually writing it down. At the very least, you’ve got to go through it in your mind, you know, yes, this is what was done to me, this is what is owed to me.
And you might go, well, that doesn’t seem healthy. And I’m gonna disagree. I think it is healthy because two things happen when we do that. Number one, some of the things we go, yeah, they did this, so they owe me this. Sometimes when we actually verbalize them and articulate, we realize they’re actually not to blame for that. I’ve been holding them to account for something that honestly wasn’t under their control, it’s not their fault and that they don’t owe me anything for that one. And that is when we can begin to let that go and that’s important.
The second thing know some of those things you’d go, no, they actually do owe me that. And I think the reason it’s important to list it, to detail that debt is because that stuff is already doing its work in you. It’s there. It is forming the lens that’s affecting not only your relationship with that person but your relationship with all people. Writing it down doesn’t change anything. It just brings it out in the open so you can address it. Stuff that’s unidentified goes unaddressed. So we’ve got identify it. Detail the debt. This is what they owe me.
Then this is where it gets hard, we’re gonna balance the books. We’re gonna look at each one of those things and what is owed and we’re gonna say, I forgive that debt. I forgive it. You say it to God. If God calls you, maybe you have that conversation with him, but at the very least, between you and God, you’ve got to look at each one of those lines on the ledger and you’re gonna go, I forgive that. We’re gonna bring that to zero. And you’re gonna do that for every entry. You’re balancing the books.
And the last thing you’re gonna do, and this is probably the hardest, you’re gonna close the book. You’re gonna close the account. You’re gonna go, it’s done. It’s over. It’s finished. There’s no more debt owed. And so the account’s… You know, if you pay off your mortgage which I understand is possible, like I’ve heard that that happens, but when you pay off the mortgage, when they close the account, you don’t still have an account with them because it’s all done. It’s over. It’s gone. I mean, you could open a new account at some point but that account’s closed and that’s what we’re called to do.
If I’m paying off what’s owed there, we’re done. It’s finished. We’re done. A couple of quick things. That’s our steps to fighting for forgiveness, identify the person, detail the debt, balance the books, close the account. One of the reasons that’s often hard for people is they won’t ask this question of, do I have to forgive somebody even if they haven’t repented or asked for it? It depends. How comfortable are you with bitterness? Like if you’re okay with being bitter, if you’re okay with allowing it to poison your own soul in every other relationship then maybe you’re good. Maybe you don’t have to forgive, maybe. But then there’s that whole pesky Jesus business, right?
What does the Bible say? The Bible says that while we were yet sinners, while we were still sinning against God, while we were still doing wrong, before we repented, before we came back to him, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He paid the price for our forgiveness in his… Well, he did everything necessary to pile up forgiveness. He was ready to go, So that the moment we repented, we could experience it, but it had already been provided. And so yeah, I would argue if we’re gonna become like Jesus and join him on the mission, it’s what we’re all about here in Mission Hills, then yeah, we have to become the kind of people who go, I’m gonna do the hard work of forgiveness in my own soul whether they ask for it or not.
The second thing that might is this, forgiveness is not trust. Do you hear me? So then as we struggle to forgive because we feel like, well, if I forgive, then I have to give people who’ve done incredible damage in my life and are unrepentant, I have to give them the same access to continue doing that? No, that’s not the same thing at all. Forgiveness is not trust. I mean, if I default on my mortgage and the bank is an incredibly gracious bank and they say and go, “You know what? We are gonna forgive your mortgage. We’re gonna cancel the debt and close the account.” And then I go back and I say, “Hey, could I have another mortgage?” They don’t have to say yes. Forgiveness is not the same thing as trust.
Now understand God may call you to that. And sometimes that is a hard thing that the Lord calls us to, to reenter a relationship and to begin to extend trust even when that’s hard. But that’s a separate thing and you need to understand that and you need to deal with it separately. Don’t let this mistaken idea that forgiving somebody and trusting them are exactly the same way. Don’t let that misunderstanding keep you from forgiving and ultimately keep you from experiencing the freedom from bitterness that comes from forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the antidote to bitterness. We have to fight our way to forgiveness. Two questions. Number one, what pain in my life has become a perspective? What pain in my life has become the way I’m looking at things, stealing my joy and poisoning my relationships? Identify it. Question number two, what steps do I need to take to fight my way to forgiveness?
Would you pray with me? God, we thank you for the example that you’ve set for us, and being willing to forgive even before we repented. We thank you that we’re not forced to earn it, we’re not forced to try to work our way into it and recognize that we could never deserve it and yet you provided it. We thank you for the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus.
Thank You for being willing to go through that on our behalf. And though we confess that we have not always followed your example, that many of us right now are struggling in this moment of recognizing that we have allowed a hurt, we’ve allowed a pain to become a perspective, we are continuing to look at the world through a lens that is distorted by bitterness, we’ve been unwilling to forgive and so we have been the ones harmed and it’s become in us something that’s harming our other relationships, it’s doing damage to our families, it’s taking us off the mission with you and we ask for your forgiveness and we ask for the strength through your Holy Spirit to fight our way to forgiveness and so to be free from the poison of bitterness.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, would you just take a moment right now, begin praying for the people around you, the people watching all over the world online because I believe there’s some people listening to this message right now that don’t have that relationship, they haven’t received that forgiveness that we’re talking about, that God offered even before you knew it was available, even before you knew it was there, you don’t have that experience of forgiveness with God. I want you to understand you can have it right here, right now. You don’t have to earn your way into it. You can’t earn your way into it.
God has already done the hard work. He loves you so much. He sent Jesus. He lived the perfect life. He died on the cross to purchase your forgiveness, to pay for your sin, to wipe out every wrong thing you’ve ever done. All by itself, that’s an amazing, amazing thing. But three days later, Jesus rose from the dead. That’s a fact of history. And it’s the proof that he has forgiveness to offer you. And that right here, right now, please hear this, right here, right now, wherever you are, God is offering you a new start. He’s offering you forgiveness. He’s not angry at you. He’s not bitter with you. He has already done the work to forgive you.
And if you will simply trust him, if you put your faith in him, you can receive that forgiveness, you can be adopted into the family of God, you can begin a relationship with God that goes on now and goes on forever. You’ll receive the power of the Holy Spirit to give you the strength to forgive others and to be free of this poison of bitterness. And if you don’t have that relationship, but you’re ready to begin it right now, would you just raise your hand briefly? That’s awesome.
If you’re watching online, just click the button right below me, and wherever you are, have this conversation with God. Say God, I’ve done wrong. I admit it and I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for dying for me before I realized I needed it. Jesus, I believe you rose from the dead and I understand that you’re offering me forgiveness. You’re not angry. You’re not bitter. You’re excited to give me this forgiveness that you’ve purchased for me. Jesus, I receive it. Jesus, I’m saying yes to you. I’m saying yes to a relationship with you, to faith in you. Jesus, come into my life. I am yours for now and forever. Amen.
We’ve had a number of people make that decision this weekend at Mission Hills. Can we just welcome them and give them forgiveness in the family of God? That’s so awesome. If you made that decision for the first time today I just want to encourage you to do a very simple thing, text the word Jesus to 888111. You’re gonna get back a link, it’s gonna tell you five things that are true about you now that you’ve said yes to that relationship with Jesus. We’re gonna get some resources to you to begin living out the experience of that forgiveness and the power to not only be forgiven but to forgive and to be free from bitterness. God bless.