Saturday, August 02, 2008

Willing to Change Matthew 7:1-5

‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s* eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your neighbor,* “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s* eye.

One of the things that frustrates me no end is the comparison I keep hearing between 12 Step Programs and Christianity, which rarely speak well of Christianity. I was at a workshop one time and the keynote speaker said that the most successful “religion” he knew of was Alcoholics Anonymous. He went on to say that, even though AA is specifically not a religious program, people who work the 12 steps are making an effort to change their lives, to become people who seek to do God’s will. Just last night I heard a woman share that the Christian recovery program she had been through taught them to avoid the use of alcohol and drugs and to pray, but didn’t teach them how to share their pain and let God heal their souls the way Narcotics Anonymous does.

Yet if we read our Bible we find that are continually given instructions for how to behave as God’s people. We see here in Matthew clear instructions to make changes in our lives. We are told to look at our own defects and remove them, which sounds suspiciously like Step 6: “We became entirely ready to have God remove our defects of character.”

First, of course, we have to recognize our defects. We have done that in Steps 4 and 5 when we made a moral inventory of our selves and shared it with God and another human being. Our faults and our virtues are all listed, and another person now knows us as well as we know ourselves.

Another way to recognize our own defects of character is to look closely at our judgments of other people. Over time I have learned that when I find myself judging someone else or disliking another person, more often than not I am finding fault with some part of that person that reminds of the things I don’t like about myself. That speck I can see in their eye helps me recognize and put a name to the log in my own.

Some years back I was complaining about a friend. It really bugged me that she was always trying to be in complete control of her family. It didn’t matter where she was, she’d yell at her husband unless he was doing things exactly as she wanted them done. He had the job she wanted him to have, wore the clothes she wanted him to wear, volunteered for the things she thought were important. The friend I complained to simply said “When I point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at me.” My immediate response was to say “No. I’m nothing like her!” But I’ve learned to listen to the suggestions that are made to me, even when I don’t agree. So I looked at my life and realized I was doing the same thing but more quietly. I had quietly suggested a job change to my husband so many times that he did change jobs – and was miserable in the new one. I learned about my own control issues simply from looking at someone else’s and had to become willing to make the change – to remove the log from my eye.

But recognizing the defects of character is only the beginning. Once we know what they are, we have to become willing to change. We could liken this to the process of buying a new car. We might think that the first thing we should do is to look in newspaper advertisements or visit dealerships or go online to find the car we want to buy. But in reality, the first thing we need to do is recognize that we need a new car. Then we have to become willing to give up our old car. That may not be so easy. We’re used to the old car. We know where everything is, we know how it behaves going up hills, the radio is set to our favorite stations and we’ve finally figured out how to change the clock for daylight savings time. But you know, it’s starting to break down. It may be using a lot of gasoline. It’s just not serving us as well as it used to.

So it is with our defects of character. They simply aren’t serving us as well as they used to. We are in the process of making changes in our lives, and the behaviors and attitudes that used to serve well are no longer appropriate to the people we want to be – people who put God’s will first in their lives. How do we know what’s not working?

First, we picture our lives as we believe God would want it to be. We can imagine ourselves filled with the fruit of the Spirit – filled with goodness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

We can imagine what our lives will be like if we do not let go of our defects of character. At best we wouldn’t change at all – we would remain exactly as we are. We would never become better or happier or more at peace with the world around us.

We can think about the pain our character defects have caused ourselves and others. My desire for my husband to have a “better” job caused him to be miserable, until I apologized and told him I would be happy if he was happy, no matter what he earned or what hours he had to work. He went back to the old job and both our lives got better. The consequences of my control issues had made us both miserable, and I was quite willing to give it up. Perhaps we have become estranged from a family member or a friend because of pride or unforgiven resentments. Giving up the pride or the anger could heal the breach. At the least it would keep something similar from happening in the future.

We can ask God to help us become ready to change. We might not want to get rid of all the flaws in our character. We might be convinced that we are who we are and we’re too old or too set in our ways to ever change. But God can help us change this attitude. We only have to ask and then with God’s help, work at changing our ways. We can’t do it by ourselves. It would be wonderful to believe that we could just say “God, please change me,” and miraculously we would become different people. But it just doesn’t work that way. Jesus didn’t say “God will remove the plank in your eye.” He said, you remove it. God will help. But we have to do the work.

One of the flaws I really thought I wanted to have removed was my constant use of bad language. I used to sound a lot like that chef on the BBC program “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.” Probably every third word Ramsay speaks is bleeped. Where he is working, that language is not uncommon. And among the people I used to hang with my language wasn’t remarkable. But when my life changed and the people I spent my time with changed, I realized that it simply wasn’t appropriate any more. I started finding it offensive when other people constantly spoke that way. But at first I wasn’t willing to do anything about changing the way I talked. I thought it was enough to ask God to take it away. It took years and painstaking attention to the words I was using to make the change. When I use those words today it’s usually because I’ve lost control of myself – I’ve allowed myself to lash out in anger or frustration.

To remove that plank from our own eyes, we turn to God and ask for help in becoming willing to change. With God’s help we become ready to give up the attitudes and behaviors that separate us from God and from our brothers and sisters so that we might become the compassionate, loving persons God desires us to be.

Step by Step, let us learn to walk in God’s ways.

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