Proverbs 4:23-27 (the message)
Keep vigilant watch over your heart;
that’s where life starts.
Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth;
avoid careless banter, white lies and gossip.
Keep your eyes straight ahead;
ignore all sideshow distractions.
Watch your step,
and the road will stretch out smooth before you.
Look neither right nor left;
leave evil in the dust.
Scripture like this is why reading the Bible is downright essential! As I made my way through the last several days, I have a couple of times sensed a whisper in my heart that said neither right nor left. I knew this was a reminder from the Proverb above not to become distracted and keep my focus on Jesus. If you don’t read the Bible on a regular basis, I can’t say enough about how it can affect your life. Finding a version that you like and can understand and then even reading a chapter of Proverbs a day (there are 31) is a great start. You will be delighted and profoundly impacted as you face particular situations to have the very scripture you read be called up to mind and heart! Your Heavenly Father reminding you of His Word…leading and guiding. Amazing.
Why do I need the reminder to keep my eyes straight ahead? Because like the verse above states, there are so many distractions. I find many of the distractions I face are a matter of opinions. Someone else’s opinion or my own! Can I be distracted from Jesus by my own thoughts and opinions? Oh yes.
Have you ever been told you have a “strong personality?” Or perhaps you know someone who you would describe as a strong personality! I have been described as a strong personality as far back as my very early 20’s, I know. I distinctly remember while I was in college being described as a little “spitfire.” Honestly, at the time I think I rather liked it. But being real, I now think that was a matter of pride. See, I know we all have different personalities…some are extroverted and some introverted…some outgoing and boisterous while some are shy wallflowers…some needing to be heard and some not wanting to speak much at all. Part of the journey in life is accepting and learning to like the personality God gave you while simultaneously letting Him sand down the rough edges or bring you into balance. For me, this has been quite hard on my pride at times. It’s so easy for me to form very strong opinions on just about everything! And then I want those opinions to be heard! Smile…
I hadn’t heard the reference to my “strong personality” for a while but it poked its way to the surface in my life again this past weekend. But you know what? This time, instead of feeling some sort of satisfaction about it, I felt a bit grieved because I knew that the reference is really about forcing myself, my thoughts, my way to the forefront. Competing, even, to be heard or acknowledged. Defending myself as needed. I knew the description wasn’t meant as an insult! But in the end I went to God with it…as I still am today…because it left me a bit uneasy on the inside. Does this mean I want to be a “weak personality?” No, not at all.
As I take an honest look at myself, I tell my Heavenly Father I indeed want to be strong and viewed as strong…but not in myself. I don’t want others to see me as a strong personality when that really just means I’ll speak my mind and demand to be heard and defend myself even if it means a disruptive and less than gentle confrontation. The truth is I believe I used to savor my spitfire, stong personality because it confirmed what deep inside I was after…to push myself forward in the eyes of others. Over the past few years, especially in marriage, God has taught me a lot about putting someone else first. I still have a long ways to go, but I continue to learn that really there is a peace and stability that comes when I can as my Message paraphrase Bible describes it, practice playing second fiddle. For a strong personality, second fiddle is one too many fiddles behind. And yet the striving and tension that comes when I live this way is costly.
Galatians 5: 22-26 (the message) But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard — things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good — crucified. Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
Really, as I consider it, isn’t it quite possible when I drift into my strong personality mode that I am just insisting others see about me what God has already declared? That I am worthwhile, original and special. Isn’t it quite possible that demanding to be heard, defending, dominating and monopolizing are unwise investments of my energies?
See, I have tasted a bit of the sweet fruit of living in His Spirit. The delicious irony of dying to self and becoming more alive than ever. The juxtaposition of humility which God honors. The sheer freedom in letting someone else be front and center. The breath-of-fresh-air living to be found in the stability and serenity of letting someone else shine. I am so thankful for the taste I’ve experienced. The rarest of delecacies: deep contentment. So now, as I find myself distracted by the opinions of others or the magnitude of wanting my opinions to be heard, I know this is usurping my freedom in Christ. I can feel the shackles and weight of self bearing in on me. We think it’s normal. We live compelled to push forward and prove ourselves. Instead of living God-Strong, we take pride in living Self-Strong.
I take my cue from King David, the Psalmist. I cry out to God and ask Him to search my heart. I see how easily the self wants to dominate. And the more self dominates, the less freedom I experience. Oh, I long to be strong. But I want to be strong in His Spirit…a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in my heart…not needing to force my way in life, able to marshal and direct my energies wisely.
In the end, the energies I spend toward promoting myself produce little of that sweet, drip down your chin, summer-time ripened fruit of God’s Spirit in my life. I long for the flavors of my life to be robust, for sure. I long for others to see, hear and taste Jesus…Instead of hearing I have a strong personality, I hope to hear you serve a Strong God.