What to do when you’re not where others think you should be

Nothing! Your first response should not be to leap into action–whether that be in defense of yourself or an offensive means of making changes that will better align yourself with the expectations of the person who is critiquing you. All critiques, to be properly handled, should be patiently evaluated and discerningly digested. These things spell time, which most of us don’t want to give to personal criticisms, but we must not neglect these measures or we will miss the blessing that is it be slowly squeezed out of them.

In most cases of solicited or unsolicited evaluation, someone will bring a criticism with at least a vague idea of what direction you should go in implementing the necessary changes to your problem. But just because someone has an idea of what you should do with their observations and advice, this does not mean the matter is settled. You, the hearer–as well as the one implicated by the information given–have the responsibility to exercise wisdom in weighing the judgment and executing a sound response. Even when someone goes to great lengths to exercise wisdom in what they present to us and how they choose to present it, this does not negate our own need to exercise wisdom in receiving it.

When we make it our goal to not receive the comments others have for us emotionally, we save ourselves from “feeling errors.” We are choosing to not be super-sensitive concerning ourselves so that we may be objective concerning the words and ideas before us. We recognize that the matter is not so much about us. We will not handle admonitions well if we do.

Because of Christ and the covering His blood gives us, we do not have to protect our honor by never messing up, nor do we have to try to avoid being confronted with our mess-ups. Instead, we turn our hearts from their occupation with our honor in order to focus on a higher honor: God’s honor in Christ. We acknowledge that we have messed up. We admit that without Christ we could not stand because of our sin, but with Christ, we stand because of His righteousness that covers us and is at work within us.

This righteousness from Christ does not become our excuse for personal unrighteousness, but rather our only power to confess it and reach out for change. It is our truth for living to Christ and also for dying to self. It allows love to bloom for Christ amidst our guilt, and even enables us to love the one who points out our offense. There is no reason why love cannot rule here: God is at work in the middle of every mistake and He commands every conveyance of correction. When our lives are yielded to Him, we become more distinguished by God’s love. It triumphs in the place of all our weakness. The cross’ shadow is big enough to engulf us in salvation as well as everyday occasions of being straightened out.


5 thoughts on “What to do when you’re not where others think you should be

  1. “Because of Christ and the covering His blood gives us, we do not have to protect our honor by never messing up, nor do we have to try to avoid being confronted with our mess-ups.”

    I really like this. I think that there’s a culture among the church youth of denying our sins. Growing up in a church community, I saw a lot of hyprocrisy this way. I don’t blame anyone, and certainly don’t mean to suggest that it is a deliberate thing, but I think that people are so scared of being judged that they feel like they have to keep their mistakes to themselves.

    Unfortunately, this breeds a culture of intolerance (or maybe just perceived intolerance). Speaking from experience, when my own sins became public and people found I was getting a divorce – not one single person from the church spoke to me. I believed then, and still believe now, that a lot of them were afraid of speaking up in my defence in case it made them look like they were condoning my actions – and they were afraid of being judged by association. I could be wrong, but it makes sense to me.

    Until Christians can learn to forgive their own mistakes, they will never be able to forgive them in others. In theory, people might understand this, but in practice it doesn’t really happen. And until the church leaders can learn to instil this kind of culture in their youth, it never will.

    I know this is a strange request and you may feel free to deny it because it’s a very forward thing to ask, but I think that I would find some of your ideas easier to get my head around if they seemed more personal and immediate. You obviously are learning some important lessons in your life – but how do you learn them? What is the situation that you faced that made you write this post?

  2. Thanks for your comment, Queen Gen. I share your grief over the fear we have in church culture of being identified as a sinner, or being recognized as one who keeps the company of such. This is so sad–isn’t this where we most frequently found Jesus in His ministry on earth? Do we forget that He still ministers to sinners (that is people who continue to sin daily) today?

    I don’t think we can understand God’s grace until we recognize that our sinner-ship makes it necessary. I just had an experience today that coincides with this matter well: I had just had an angry outburst with my mom that left me feeling anxious about the sin that had just spilled out of me. The need to make amends for my wrong behavior surged up within me. My thinking was that I needed to get this whole thing dealt with and effectively behind me as soon as I could.

    But I sensed that God had a different view of the matter than I did, and thus would have a different way to handle it, so I waited to see what He had in mind. I didn’t rush into repentance that was driven more by a desire to restore my own comfort with myself than it was to deepen my fellowship with Christ.

    And God made it clear to me that the main problem in the moment was not that I had gotten angry and been harsh with my tone and the words I used, but that I was so concerned about how my own righteousness had been demonstrated. I wanted to preserve my own reputation, based on what I did, rather than remembering that I am not okay because of what I do, but because Christ’s perfect righteousness has covered me.

    Now I no longer cower in my sin, but let them cause me to grow in appreciating the sinless nature of my Savior. I bask in His righteousness, grateful that I can enjoy fellowship that is based on His merits and not mine. I do not try to make my mission fixing myself–as I am so often tempted to do–I embrace God’s mission of transforming me into Christ’s image as He fixes my eyes on Him.

    I realize that this comment has nearly turned into another blog post, but I want it to be clear that the joy I found in His grace was deeper than any joy I could have found in focusing on my own righteousness and trying to make it sound enough to support me–in His presence or that of fellow church members. I think if we all experienced more of this, we would not want to continue boasting in our own righteousness or idolizing our performance records–we would see these things only as pride-fueled obstacles to embracing grace.

  3. I felt your comment was involved enough to warrant two comments. I didn’t supply any concrete example as a backdrop for my post because I was thinking of a collage of instances when I presented the points I wrote. I apologize for how this would make it more vague for you as a reader. Perhaps it would have been helpful if I had included composite illustrations to give you visual of what I was trying to communicate. I’ll attempt to give you that now.

    I tend to be a very analytical person, which means I analyze what people do and don’t say to me. I am also a person who tries to always make sure I’m doing things right. Both qualities can get me in trouble, both have plenty of sin mixed in. But as I follow God, He often prompts me to do things that force me to stretch out these boundaries I have constructed for myself. Sometimes I don’t always know the whys of what He calls me to do, only that it is for my good. And sometimes while I’m in the middle of learning to trust God with what He’s doing, people question me as to what I’m doing or why I am where I am.

    The reality in these situations is that I frequently have very little “ammo” with which to answer. I would figure if God has me in this place, He should give me the resources to explain where I am to others. But He often chooses not to give me the answers I think I need to be able to give to people. And sometimes I respond by making up something that I think will sound nice to my listener. Something that will get them on my side. Something that will make them confident that God is really leading what’s going on in my life and He knows what He’s doing.

    But my hearers are not always convinced by what I tell them. Sometimes they’re convinced that I’m making grave mistakes. Sometimes they think the lessons I’m learning with God are taking too long–I should be acting more or acting differently, at this point. I’m slowly realizing that there are few people that I can really hope to please–at least some of the time. The rest may think that my life does not look how it should or that I am not turning out how they thought, but that is really God’s business (and their business of course), not mine.

    As for the people I’m close to who press me, at times, about how things in my life are developing, I recognize that the things they say or the expectations they have of me have more power than that of the average person because of our close association. I know they care about me and want to give me good counsel, which I respect (all of this is a work an inner work of progress). My family and friends know my goals and perceive my heart with more precision than anyone else, so their words usually land in the right area, though their emphasis may be a little off.

    It is in these cases, that I must resist the temptation to treat their words as the words of God (let’s just make this quick and simple) and, instead, weed out what God may be wanting to use in my heart from what may be only their limited personal perception. I endeavor not to please men by my treatment of their counsel, but to glorify God by making use of what portion is good and not foolishly being diverted by all things simply because they are spoken honestly.

    I hope this helps. I appreciate your feedback since having what I say be personal is one of my highest goals. I will try to be more mindful of giving illustrations or context to my writing in the future.

  4. Thank you. I really appreciate your taking the time to further explain. That’s something else I’ve not often thought about – whether I want to make things right so that I feel better, or because I genuinely want to make them right.

    I have an example in my own life of people who seem to expect Christians to be free from sin. To begin with, the church likes sinners. Jesus hung out with them, didn’t he? So should we. A church I used to go to was always especially proud when someone turned away from their sinful life and turned towards God. They made a big deal of it, calling people forward during their worship services so everyone could see the difference God is making in people’s lives right before our eyes. I probably sound sarcastic, but I don’t wholly mean to be. It really is a fantastic thing … I just feel like maybe people put too much emphasis on the “exciting” part where someone sees God for the first time, and then forget about the rest of their life where it stops being so glamorous.

    My best friend turned her life to God at one of those services. She’d been a drug addict and her life was spiralling out of control. The final straw came when she almost killed herself one night, and she knew that God wanted her to turn around – and she asked me to take her to church. The people we spoke to at church absolutely loved this story, for the miracle that God worked in her life. Unfortunately, drug addiction is hard to beat. It’s one of the reasons she asked for help to do it. But when she began to backslide, and began to take drugs again – the friends from her Bible study group gave up on her. They felt that if she didn’t want to turn from her sins, there was nothing they could do for her. Meanwhile, I sat on the end of her bed for hours on end just holding her hand while she suffered through the withdrawals, and told her it was okay when she couldn’t take it anymore and relapsed, because no one is perfect and no one expects you to beat this overnight.

    Her church stopped calling her, and even had the nerve to tell me to stay away from her too.

    Like I said, the church likes sinners: but only when they’re on the outside. The church doesn’t seem to like the failings of its own people. I recall that when we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And that no one is good, not even one. We say it all the freaking time. But apparently where I grew up, we don’t believe it. We used to be sinners, but now that we have Christ, we’re meant to be perfect. No one is good, but you have to be or you’re out.

    Where is the grace?

  5. This is another sad thing. I think it comes from not fully understanding what we’ve been ushered into. Yes, the life we’re now a part of is all about righteousness–but not our righteousness, that was already shown at the cross. It is about Christ’s righteousness and His alone. His righteousness is enough to cover all of our sins for our entire lives. Yes, it is supposed to have an affect on our lives and be made manifest through our actions and speech–but, as you say, how quickly?

    I say as quickly as the time it takes for a heart to be rid of all its darkness and permeated by all of Christ’s light. And only Christ knows how long this will take–everyday until we reach the glories of heaven. Funny thing, God is prepared for the ardors of this journey, but we His people are not. We want the quick results. We want to think that none of us are really that bad–that the hope that saves us does not really have to be that strong. But, the truth is that none of us need only a little help. If we are spiritually dead men who need to be brought to life in Christ, why should we be appalled that we have to go through all the tedium and everyday-ness of growing up in Him–taking our first steps and falling and getting up to try it again.

    I am sorry that your friend didn’t receive more mercy from the church when she needed so much of it. I am sorry that you didn’t get more help in supporting her. I am sorry that some times people have no tolerance for any struggles outside the sphere of their own. It weakens our concept of why we are saved and how we are saved every day by Christ. I am wondering how your friend is doing now and what your connection with her looks like today.

    To answer your rhetorical question, I think the grace was in your willingness to carry your friend’s burden with her. Grace breaks in on some of the worst conditions of mankind and it’s a shame that sometimes the only ones to be found in those places are Jesus and the person who recognizes their condition. We need to each see that we all have the same condition as our neighbor; our symptoms just vary sometimes.

    I pray that you sharing this story will have an affect on those who read it here and hear it elsewhere. Hearts are changed by stories and there is still power in the ones filled with bad things. Thanks for telling this one to me. I will be praying for your friend and asking God to prepare me to care for others in His body who need support that I have not been used to giving for struggles that I do not entirely understand. It’s a difficult thing being in community together in spite of our sin–calling for change in both the struggling to overcome temptation and the one struggling to learn how to help in the ways that Jesus would.

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