Do you know what a paradigm shift is? It is a change in the way you see something or the method you have become accustomed to doing something. People don’t like paradigm shifts because they cause us to release our death grip on something we’ve always believed was true and consider an alternative viewpoint. What I will ask you to do is to at least consider a paradigm shift in how we’ve all learned to think we can MAKE our lives please God.
Let’s try this illustration:
Imagine that I am a person who loves God and wants to please Him (I am by the way). In my mind, there is only one way to please God. The way I’ve always learned was the only way. Performance! (Good behavior, good thoughts, outward righteousness). The only way to please God is to do a righteous deed. So, determined to please God, I head through that door but this time it is locked. Panicked, I keep throwing myself against it. “The only way to pleasing God is through this door,” I think.
You see, we have been taught that in order to please God, we MUST perform THIS way. Ironically, the very way that we are told to please God, our good behavior, isn’t what will please God. God is looking at our hearts. So often, in our very efforts to be righteous and please God, we actually sin, without even realizing it, because we are sinful beings. Scripture says that even our righteousness is like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6 (NIV84): All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.)
Let me ask you some probing questions:
How often in our desire to please God is it more about how much I am doing for Him rather than how much more He’s done for me?
How good do I feel about MY efforts to please Him?
How often do we expect that He will be impressed with MY love and sacrifice for Him?
Maybe He’ll look down and clap his hands at how much I’ve improved myself today?
For sure, we believe, He’ll look at our devotion and surely that will impress Him.
Of course, I’ll wonder if He thinks better of me today than yesterday when I didn’t do so great?
In the show, Friends, Phoebe is challenged to do a selfless good deed. And she becomes quite frustrated as she realizes that every good deed she attempts has a measure of self-gratification to it (that is, made HER feel good), thus she couldn’t claim it to be truly selfless. What she was discovering is that it is quite difficult to do a good deed without that air of self-righteousness to sneak in—that temptation to pat ourselves on the back. Because even our righteousness are like filthy rags in comparison to God’s righteousness.
So, should we stop trying to please God? No! 2 Cor 5 says, “whether we are here in this body or away from the body, our goal is to please Him.” So, yes, we should all want and try to do the “right thing” but ONLY because we love Him NOT because it has any righteous value to it. Neither does it increase our acceptance before God. And specifically, it is simply the heart of pride that insists I can do better and be righteous with my strength, self-will and self-control.
But, I do want to challenge you to consider whether… what God really intended for us was to please Him differently. As an example, the Pharisees in the Bible took a good concept, trying to figure God out and trying to figure out how to please Him, then created a set of rules by which they could feel good that they were indeed pleasing to God. The irony was that by following those very strict set of rules, Jesus expressed how much their supposed righteousness disgusted him. Ultimately, what’s more important? Whether our actions have the appearance of pleasing God or whether our heart pleases God?
As a way of introduction, let’s all go back and remember our childhood. All of the dreams and aspirations that were planted in our hearts as children (to be the best person, wife, mother, friend, citizen, whatever), were taught alongside learning to be a “good girl,” a good Christian, an acceptable person, and a person whom society would admire. Unfortunately, we were taught that becoming the best we could be was achieved through good behavior. So, as a child, when you followed rules, you were called a “good girl.” If you followed your parent’s rules, you were a “good girl.” It made your parents happy. If you followed your teacher’s rules, you were a “good girl.” It made your teachers happy.
And if you followed God’s rules, doing all the right things, then you were a “good girl” (that is, a good Christian). Because people in our lives were happier with us when we were a “good girl” (parents, teachers, friends), we learned that when we behaved well, it made people happy. So, we came to believe that it must make God happy with us, too, if and when we followed His rule book and when we were successful at it. To be clear, we came to believe that what we DID dictated how happy God was with us.
Where did all these unrealistic expectations of making God happy and everyone else in our lives come from?
In essence, we learned we could become good at anything we put our minds to:
• if we studied hard, we could be successful at whatever we attempted if we tried hard enough,
• we could win at anything we tried hard enough to achieve when we tried harder than anyone else,
• we could have the cleanest home with just a little more organization,
• we could have a successful, happy marriage by making the right choice and learned compromise and conflict resolution skills,
• we could raise the best kids by just teaching them the right principles,
• we could get along with anyone as long as we were nice,
• we could be healthy as long as we took care of our bodies,
• and we could be financially secure simply by being wise with our money.
We pretty much spent the first 18-21 years of our lives figuring out how to live the life of our dreams and building the confidence, fortitude and self-control to do it, and then…. Well, raise your hands if your life didn’t end up as easy as you hoped or dreamed. Real life didn’t turn out how we’d been led to believe it could have turned out if we simply “tried harder or better” than all the rest.
In all these things, being “good at what we DID” was what defined us as being a “good girl,” that is, who we were. What we DID gave us a feeling of value and self-worth because it made people happy when we behaved correctly. And we were happy when they were happy with us. (As a child, we were dependent on someone else’s view of us). If we were a “good girl,” we were rewarded with praise. If we were a “bad girl,” we were punished with feeling ashamed for what we’d done. Unfortunately, when we grew up and didn’t achieve all our wonderful ideals, we somehow came to believe it was because we must have been a “bad girl,” a disappointment, a failure, because only bad things are supposed to happen to bad people. We were easily ashamed of ourselves. We felt bad. We felt others must be disappointed in us.
So, we came to believe that to be acceptable to God and to others in our lives, we’d have to always be a “good girl” and stay a “good girl,” we’d have to be successful in all of our endeavors, our relationships would always have to be successful and happy, our homes would have to be immaculate and always in order, we would always have enough money to live comfortably, we would always have healthy, fit bodies, and we’d have learned, in time, to overcome our sinful natures and stop doing bad things, by digging in our heels, applying good self control and determination. In fact, without realizing it, we probably came to believe that all those “good girl” things were actually possible to attain if we just tried hard enough! Unfortunately, we were wrong!!!!!
Self-Achievement and Self-Fulfillment is a Learned Behavior
Is it possible that all those self-achievement skills we were taught, that good behavior makes a good person, actually inadvertently anchored our childhood hopes and dreams and aspirations in our OWN self-achievement and self-fulfillment. Did our training not reinforce to us that WE are truly capable to be in control of our own destiny? While that might be good for society as a general rule (that is, all actions have consequences), I think it misleads us in terms of what pleases God.
You see, we were taught how to be a “good girl” in the same teaching moments as we were learning other life skills. Our parents were trying to show us patterns for successful living. But attached to those beneficial life skills lessons, we were also establishing our value and our identity. So, as moms, we continue to unknowingly teach our children to be good alongside self-achievement by telling them, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” And… good kids try to emulate what they are told. But they are now attaching value to their behavior.
However, as a general rule, no one told us that weakness and brokenness were ok. Weakness was NOT ok! Brokenness was NOT ok! Winning was better! Succeeding was better! Being victorious was better! Achieving was better! Winners and overcomers and those that avoided negative situations were praised. Losers, incompetence, difficulty and weakness were shamed. Unfortunately, we were also taught that given enough will power, we could perfect our life, our circumstances, our relationships, our health, our homes, our finances, and we could indeed become more and more righteous.
For those of us who grew up in Christian homes, we learned this didn’t only make our parents happy, but when our parents were happy, then we were taught it made God happy. So, we learned that GOOD BEHAVIOR will make God happy. In fact, we were taught that He even EXPECTS us to become more and more righteous (let’s just say, “we believe He wants us to become more perfect”).
Even today, impressionable children are still being told to do everything they can so that they can be be “just like Jesus!” But those poor kids will never be JUST LIKE JESUS! There is no one like Him. He is perfect.
Here’s the Fallacy (the first lie we came to believe)
Is it even possible to become “more righteous?” If you aren’t 100% righteous, then aren’t you unrighteous? Given that standard, is it even possible to become “more righteous?” But don’t we keep trying to become “more righteous?” Don’t we keep hammering our kids with “be more righteous?” Don’t we keep trying to become MORE perfect? Better this? Better that? More, more, more? In fact, have we even considered that God might not even want us to achieve (fill in the blank with whatever your greatest dream or accomplishment is)? Is it even His will that we achieve this “good thing” or that high ideal? Finally, what does God want from us then in terms of doing right, then? I’m going to address that next.
Here’s the second LIE that we have come to believe.
This is where it all got distorted. The lie is that our WORTH (our VALUE) comes from behaving or achieving, whether achieving something that someone else wants from me or something I’m determined in my own heart to achieve or what I believe God wants me to achieve. But nothing we do or achieve in our behavior can ever determine our value. Our value is determined by the value God placed on us when He made us in His image (as far back as in our mother’s womb) and on the value Christ won for us on the cross.
But, to be clear, we will NEVER be able to give Him what can ultimately make Him happy or satisfied with OUR behavior. Perfect righteousness is the only thing that can make a holy God happy OR He’d be diminishing His own holiness, His perfectness. That’s why our awesome God came up with a plan, THE CROSS! Oh the glorious rescue from a performance driven life to embrace the significance of the cross! (To be continued)