Episode 1. Who Are You Really?
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One of the most important, the most profound, the most fundamental influences on our lives is how we see ourselves. And let me say, how we see ourselves, isn’t always that healthy. So … what sort …
One of the most important, the most profound, the most fundamental influences on our lives is how we see ourselves. And let me say, how we see ourselves, isn’t always that healthy. So … what sort of an impact is that having on your life?
DISTORTED MIRROR SYNDROME
On a fairly regular basis in the various series and programmes that I share with you here on ’Christianityworks’, I touch on things like self-image, low self-esteem, giftings and abilities – that sort of thing. There’s a reason that I keep coming back to that genre of discussion if you will, and that reason is this: I see so many people in this world who are walking around with a distorted view of who they are, and those distortions (fed to them largely by the people in the systems and the economy that surround them) are ruining their lives. So as I was thinking and praying about what we could talk about starting this week, I came to the conclusion that it was time for a whole series on self-image, and so I’ve called it “So … How’s Your Self-Image Looking?”, because the aim I guess is to challenge you about how you see yourself.
If you’ve ever read Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, you may remember that one of the things he starts off with is how we see the world. He describes it something like this: ‘It’s like we each have a different set of glasses on our face. Maybe yours have a pink tint and mine have a yellow tint and the next person’s have a green tint, and what we see and how we see it depends entirely on those lenses through which we’re looking at the world. Most commonly, people say that “seeing is believing”, but actually no, argues Covey, “believing is seeing”. What you believe profoundly influences what you see.’
A few weeks ago on the programme, I shared the difference between someone who’s secure in themselves and someone who’s insecure. Let’s say you’re insecure. A person comes up to you and shares a constructive, well-meaning piece of criticism with you. None of us likes criticism, but an insecure person is going to react terribly to that. They might get angry; they might be hurt; they might withdraw further into their shell; they might start bad-mouthing the person who criticised them. They’re all the sorts of reactions that an insecure person would have. A secure person on the other hand might initially be annoyed by the criticism, but fairly quickly starts thinking about it, and assessing it as objectively as they can, and if the criticism has some basis to it, they start to do some things to change – to learn from what they’ve just heard; to get better at this thing that maybe they’ve botched up the last time round.
Do you see how believing is seeing? How the lenses through which we perceive the world profoundly impact what we see and what we feel and how we react? And let me ask you: In this one small example of handling criticism, which person ends up being better off for the experience, the secure one, or the insecure one? That’s pretty obvious, right? That’s why I said at the beginning of the programme that how we see ourselves is one of the most important, the most profound, the most fundamental influences on our lives. And it’s an influence either for good or for bad; for liberation or for bondage; for building an amazing future, or for living a rotten life. That’s not hyperbole. I’m not overstating the case here at all.
I used to have a terrible self-image of myself. Now let me tell you, it was truly a rotten life. When I was young (and that’s always where it starts, let me tell you), I was short and dumpy and not very good at running and not very good at sports, and in a sports-mad nation like Australia that simply wasn’t a good thing. The other boys used to make fun of me and even when I went and became an officer in the Australian army (a four-year degree course), I was almost kicked out in my final year of officer training for failing the cross-country by just twelve seconds. Other people looked down on me. Forget the fact I had other talents and abilities, my peers considered me to be something less than they were, in fact, considerably less.
Now I caught up with some of these guys recently from the Royal Military College, Duntroon (my classmates). It had been thirty-four years since I’d seen most of them. We were all young men back then, when we were training to be officers. Anyway, we had a great night together, eating and drinking and reminiscing and laughing, and you know, none of them seemed to remember anymore that I was the guy that couldn’t run as fast as them. They’d all moved on, but can you see how these hurts from the past can live on in you and distort your self-image? So many people are carrying round the reproach of the past with them, and they wonder why they’re not having such a great life.
The Bible talks about the reproach of the past, and God is super-keen to remove it from us, because while we’re still carrying it around with us, we simply can’t live the life that He has planned for us. Have a listen to this. Joshua 5:9:
“Then the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you’, so that place has been called Gilgal unto this day.”
That was said to Joshua (the new leader of Israel) after Israel had been slaves for several centuries in Egypt. Now they were about to cross over into the land that God had promised to Abraham many, many centuries before, so why did God say this thing about rolling back the reproach from the past? Why did God do that? Because God knew they wouldn’t be able to take hold of the Promised Land, battle by battle, if they were still living in their heads as slaves from Egypt. These people had to see themselves as God’s chosen people (not lowly slaves), in order to fight the battles they would need to fight to take hold of all the blessings of the promised land. So God lifted the reproach of Egypt, that sense of looking back on the past and deciding they weren’t good enough. He lifted that off them, so that they could enter and take and enjoy the Promised Land.
Well, let me tell you this: God wants to lift the reproach of your past off you too, so that you can enter the promises He has for your life, so that you can fight the battles He has for you to fight, and so that you can enjoy the blessings He has for you to enjoy. I know what some people are thinking right now. ‘Nah, my life has failure written all over it. That can never happen to me. I’m always going to be fat and ugly. I’m always going to be not good enough. I’ll never be free from my insecurities.’ Well, that’s simply not what God has to say about you, so let’s start listening to what God actually does have to say about you. Here it is, Isaiah 54:4-5:
“Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace. For you will forget the shame of your youth, and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your Husband, the LORD of Hosts is His name; the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, and the God of the whole earth He is called.”
Maybe you do have failure written all over your life. You’re divorced (maybe once, maybe more than once). You don’t look the way you want to look. You haven’t achieved what you want to achieve. You aren’t perceived the way you want to be perceived. People don’t acknowledge you and praise you the way you want to be acknowledged and praised, so you look at your crummy little life in your crummy little neck of the woods, and you think to yourself: ‘Blah! There’s nothing anybody can do with me; I’m done.’ Well, here’s what I want to leave you with today: God is not done with you. For as long as you have breath, God is not done with you. He won’t be done with you until you’re dead and then, if you believe in Jesus, you’ll enjoy eternal blessing. That’s what this series is all about. It’s called “So … How’s Your Self-Image Looking?” We’re going to discover together from God’s Word how to be free from the reproach of the past, so that you can enter into and live in the life that God has promised for you.
AN ACCURATE PICTURE
I had a message on my blog from a man just the other day who has been through bankruptcy. He and his wife had a taxicab business in New Zealand, and it just didn’t go that well. Anybody who knows anything about driving taxis knows that it’s very long hours just to get a reasonable return; it can be tough. Anyhow, this man couldn’t make a go of it, despite all the long hours. Let me ask you something: Do you enjoy failure? No. Me neither. So let me ask you then: How do you get on in the face of failure? When something like that, something you’ve worked really hard at in life, You’ve poured out all your energies into it and it goes belly up, and people look at you, and it’s as though someone has stamped the word failure across your forehead in big red upper-case letters, and it doesn’t seem to matter how hard you scrub; you just can’t get rid of that sense of failure plastered all over you?
See, it’s things like that, that shape our self-image, and when it comes to the making of our self-image, one failure seems to outweigh more than a hundred successes. Have you ever noticed how that works? That’s why relying on success and failures, on our comparisons between ourselves and other people, on what we think other people think of us, on the images of success that the advertising industry tells us we should aspire to but seem forever out of our grasp … That’s why relying on all of that stuff out there is so incredibly dangerous – because none of it’s accurate. None of it really tells us who we are, and what we’re worth. Looking out there to find our self-worth, and shaping our self-image based on all that palaver out there, is a little bit like looking at yourself through one of those distorted mirrors down at the local amusement park – something we talked about on a programme I think a few weeks back. Believing the wrong things about yourself is simply no way to live your life, is it?
The question is though, where do you start to get an accurate picture of who you really are – the good, the bad, and the ugly? Where do you turn to get an objective and yet incredibly loving assessment of yourself, on which to base your self-image (how you see yourself; where you fit in; what you were made to be and to do)? There’s nothing more wonderful, let me tell you, than feeling secure in your own skin; than enjoying who you are, and in fact, being totally relaxed and totally comfortable and even delighted with who you’re not. It’s just a stunning feeling to have twenty-four by seven for the rest of your life; really, and it’s a feeling that I’ve only had for less than half of my time here on this earth so far. That doesn’t mean that any of us is ever going to be perfect, but to be secure in who we are, to see yourself for who you truly are and to be totally at peace with that, is simply awesome.
So today, and for the remainder of this series, I want to share with you how to go from insecure to secure because I used to be an incredibly insecure person: Always trying to please other people; always worried about what others thought of me; trying to impress them; secretly feeling like a charlatan on the inside, because of all my failures and limitations that I knew about that I was trying to hide. Does any of that sound just vaguely familiar?
Most months, I write a booklet to go along with each of these new series. This month the booklet’s called: ‘How to Receive a Whole New Self-Image’, and I’ll share with you in a couple of minutes how you can request your free copy of this latest ten-chapter book, but because I’m a visual person, one of the first things I always do when I’m planning a new series (or a new booklet or a book) is to choose the cover-image for the book. It’s something I always do myself, because it’s an integral part of the creative process for me of putting together a new series of messages like this. So if you request your free book, you’ll see that the image is that of an apple reflected in a mirror: Well, not so much an apple as an apple core with the flesh eaten off. Isn’t that so often how we perceive ourselves – all chewed-up; all worn-out; all worthless by comparison to the rest of the world?
But how does God see us? Well, that’s the second part of the image that I chose, because the reflection of the apple core in the mirror is that of a full, green, healthy, shiny apple; whole and complete; a perfect specimen. And that to me so powerfully depicts the difference between how we perceive ourselves and how God sees us.
You see, there’s something special that you and I need to know about ourselves to be able to move on from a distorted self-image to the real one – the true one, and that’s this: That you and I are handcrafted in the very image of God (the imago Dei) and that always, always was God’s intent. Genesis 1:26-27:
“’Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: Cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind’, and it was so. And God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps along the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. But then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, over the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth’, so God created humankind in His image. In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.”
And you see, there’s your starting-point, because that’s how God sees you: Not as a chewed-out old apple core, but as a perfect specimen made in His image – the apple of His eye. Now have you made some mistakes along the way? Course you have. Are you chewed-out to some extent? Well, yeah, probably. Are you forensically perfect in this moment? No, but God sees the potential for you to be, and that – that’s why He sent Jesus: So that through Jesus, you could be forgiven and restored back into this perfect image in which you were created – the very image of God.
That’s the starting-point, and that’s the ending-point, and that’s what Jesus is all about – restoring you back to the original image, the very image of God. That’s not some fairy-story; that’s the story. It’s the story that God has had for you and for your life from the very beginning of time … before the beginning of time. He always, always knew that you and I would be imperfect. He always knew that you and I would reject Him, and He always, always knew that He was going to send Jesus to die on that cross for you and for me so that we could be forgiven and restored back into His image (the imago Dei).
And do you know what God says in the very next breath after ‘Male and female He created them’? He says this in verse 28:
“God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it’.”
Made in God’s image in order to be what? Blessed! That’s you! That His plan for you! Do you know what the one profound difference is between the image that God has of you, and the image the world reflects back at you? His image is the image of love, whereas the world’s image is the image of criticism; of putting you down; of making you feel worthless. When the world looks at you, more often than not, it sees an opportunity to make use of you. But when God looks at you, the way a father or a mother gazes at their child, He sees someone He made in His image to love and to bless … And sure: He sees the chewed-out bits; the blemishes, but He looks at them not with criticism, but with love! What He sees is the potential to restore you back to that original image – His image. God looks at you and He sees your potential. He sees all that’s possible, and that’s why He sent Jesus for you.
A FAITH CHOICE
It seems to me that you and I have a significant faith choice to make each and every day when it comes to who or what we believe about our self-image. Way too many people are believing what the world has to say. After all, every time you turn the television on, advertisers are dangling these glossy images of beauty and success under your nose, and they tell you that if you buy their product, this is how it’s going to be for you: successful, beautiful, balanced, happy people fawning over you. But of course, it never happens quite that way, does it? Those images turn out to be a cruel mirage, and so they continue to feed our distorted self-image. They continue to rob us of the true image that God has created in us – His image, and the same is true of how we live our lives, what we actually do with our lives. That’s something we’re going to talk about a whole bunch more next week on the programme, but all too often, we’re trying to do things we were never made to do.
The passage I always come back to in order to get my faith choice right (about believing who I am and what my worth is) is Psalm 139. If you’ve been listening to this programme for any length of time, you’ll be getting to know this passage rather well, ‘cos it’s so important. Have another listen. It’s beautiful (Psalm 139:13-18):
“For it was You, God, who formed my inner parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; that I know very well. My frame wasn’t hidden from You when I was being made in secret, intricately woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance; in Your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are Your thoughts, o God, how vast is the sum of them! I try to count them, but they are more than the sand; I come to the end, and I am still with You.”
In other words, the Psalmist who wrote that is saying to God: “LORD, I am amazed; I’m totally gob-smacked at who I am, who You made me to be. I … God, I just can’t get my mind round it.” Now, let me ask you something: Which one are you going to believe – the Word of God, or the world; the advertising industry, or the Bible? Perhaps you’ve never quite thought about it in those terms, but it’s a stark choice. You know what they say: ‘You are what you eat.’ If you continually swallow the rubbish the world feeds you, if you continually dine on that junk-food emotional diet, and stare into those distorted mirrors believing the distorted image they reflect back at you, your life is going to be a mess. Your sense of self-worth is going to be destroyed.
It follows as surely as night follows day, but (and here’s the big but) if you choose instead to gaze into the Word of God, to listen to His Spirit, to experience His loving arms around you, to live out God’s Word in your life … If you choose to believe what God says about you, and you start living as though it’s true (‘cos it is), then little by little, your self-esteem, your self-worth, your self-image is going to be restored back into the right image – the image of God in which you were created.
So this is what I want to leave you with today: From this moment forward, which one is it going to be? Who are you going to believe? And perhaps to help you answer that question for yourself, you could start with: “What do I want my life to look like? Do I want to be safe and secure in who I am in Christ, or do I want to be insecure and plagued by low self-esteem or pride or both?” I don’t know about you, but that sounds like something of a no-brainer, I would have thought. So please, grab your Bible this week. Start reading it. Start here at Psalm 139, and some of the other Scriptures that we’ve been talking about today, and start hearing and seeing and believing who God says you are, and what plans God has for your life, and the love that He wants to pour out on you, through Jesus Christ His Son.