Several months ago I shared how important it is to think about God rightly—in other words, in line with who He says He is in Scripture. (See Womenary Blog, February 14.) Second in importance to that is how and what we think about ourselves. Proverbs 23:7 (NKJV) says, As (a man) thinks in his heart, so is he. Let’s explore that idea a bit.
Each one of us carries around a picture of herself in her head or more accurately, in her heart. That picture has been molded and shaped by the events in our lives, the training and upbringing we have had, the response to us from others, and the things that have happened to us. More than that, there is an inner dialogue going on all the time in the heart and head. It’s called self-talk. The problem comes when this self-talk is inaccurate. What we say to ourselves needs to line up with Scripture—what God says about us.
There isn’t time here to cover all the facets of self-talk, but let’s look at a few things that easily get out of line. I remember when I was a young girl my father asked me, “Do you think people are basically good or bad?” I answered, “Good.” This led to a discussion about our hearts and original sin, and how deceitful and wicked the human heart is. It is easy to get caught up in humanistic philosophies that say man is basically good and getting better. The truth is, at his core man is self-centered and has sin etched into his heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says, The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it? (ESV).
The NET Bible translates the Hebrew word leb as “mind” instead of “heart”. Their choice was based on the next verse which has the Hebrew word for “kidneys” in it. In those days “the ‘heart’ was considered the center of intellect, conscience, and will and the ‘kidneys’ the center of emotions.” In today’s English, mind seemed a more precise way of communicating what the author was intending, considering its combination with heart in verse 10. Hence the NET translates verse 9: The human mind is more deceitful than anything else. It is incurably bad. Who can understand it?
God is saying then, through Jeremiah, that our hearts and our minds are deceitful. They are affected, beyond our understanding, by the sin we have inherited from Adam.
I don’t know about you, but I easily struggle with why I say what I say, and do what I do. Sometimes I just don’t understand myself. Maybe you can identify. Fortunately we need not be in the dark completely, nor despair that there is no cure.
Here’s what we do need to know and remember. First, we are sinful creatures. When the rich young ruler approached Jesus one day calling Him “Good Teacher”, Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:18, ESV). It is so easy to think we are good based on what we do. We compare ourselves to others and think, Hey, I’m not so bad. The rich young ruler told Jesus he had kept all the commandments since he was a young boy. When Jesus told him to sell all his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Him, the young man went away sad. He placed his faith in his own ability, and saw his wealth as a sign of God’s blessing. He may have wholeheartedly kept all the commandments. What he didn’t realize was, that was not enough.
After the rich young ruler left, the disciples asked Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” In other words, salvation only comes through God. It is not about our performance or our obedience. It is about receiving Christ’s obedience to the cross. Only God is good and perfect. Therefore, to be accepted by God we must trust God and place our faith in his Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:36).
Which brings me to the second point. If we have placed our faith in Christ we have revived our spiritual image: obedient, accepted, beloved, empowered, gifted, redeemed. I could go on and on. That is what the New Testament is all about.
I have been working on my chaplaincy certification the past five months. One of the books has challenged my thinking in several areas. Each chapter helps us see the myths we believe from birth that shape how we see ourselves, and influence the decisions we make and the things we do. The difficulty arises in identifying these myths, and learning to see and apply God’s grace to ourselves and others. It is more than just applying Scripture and telling ourselves the truth about ourselves. It is learning to hear the things we tell ourselves, wonder where they come from, and reframe our story.
I have discovered that if I am to love and give care to others, I need to love and give grace to myself as well. Jesus said the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. I have had to remind myself I am a sinner who is loved and accepted. I don’t have to be perfect or get it right. I can give myself the space to make mistakes and learn from them. I am beloved (loved by God) and have gifts that are worth celebrating.
A couple of years ago I sat in on one of the lectures Eric Barton was giving for the Womenary course Angels, Man, and Sin. He opened the session with a question: “Have you ever celebrated you?” I answered “no” in my heart; but I knew that was exactly what God was asking me to do. I needed to stop and take the time to celebrate how I am uniquely made in His image, and that He has a plan to use exactly who I am.
I am learning more and more how to appreciate me as I continue following where God is leading me, and leaning on his forgiving, redeeming love. There are many times I grow discouraged and listen to the negative self-talk, the voices of my past, and the emotions that threaten to overwhelm me based on what I am hearing. Tim Keller says we need to talk to our hearts instead of listening to them, and for every look at our sin to take five looks at Jesus.
It matters what we think about, and whether we are listening to our hearts or talking to our hearts. We need to remember we are sinners saved by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, created in God’s image, and being transformed into the image of Christ. We are endowed with unique gifts, and God has a plan to use those gifts for the glory of His Name, to accomplish His purposes.
Take time to celebrate you today and rejoice that you are beloved. As Mandisa sings, “I’m just unfinished.”