Posts Tagged ‘overcoming’

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Cures for Class Envy

March 19, 2014

envyThere is enough money in this world to go around. But being fair and equitable has never been the point of money. The idea that people will voluntarily spread the wealth around is both wrong and naive. Unfortunately, no society has successfully regulated the accumulation of money; it probably cannot be done.

In an unequal system such as the world monetary condition, there will always be winners and losers. And just as it is wrong to think that this can change, so too it is a false syllogism to believe that those who have more money somehow deserve to be rich and those with less money are getting what they deserve.

I am guessing–but I believe I’m accurate–that more than 90% of wealth and poverty is not the result of justice or rewards for effort. Most of the people in our world who work the hardest are the poorest. Many who work the least are the most wealthy.

Therefore, class envy is inevitable. The Have-nots will always stare longingly at the Haves and would trade places with them if they could. The problem is, there are few people who propose workable solutions to this condition. And it is a problem.

More and more, those who perceive they are part of underclasses–and the makeup of this group varies with every society–are rising up to demand their ‘share’ of the equity of this world. The riots in London three summers ago, the “99%”, the property crime in upper-middle-class suburbs etc. all tell us that people are suffering from a Class Envy ailment.

Economists, philosophers, politicians, writers, bankers all fail to supply answers for this disease. This is the place for religion to supply the answer. And of all the religions that addresses wealth and poverty, only Christianity has a plan that works.

When I say that Christianity has a workable plan, I only mean this plan works for individuals. Collectively, we will always have a difficulty with class envy. There will always be strife among those who do not have the bare necessities of life. But if you want to live free of this envy in your own soul, here are three prescriptions the Bible offers us:

1. Contentment: The best known set of verses on contentment is found in 1 Timothy 6:6-11:

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

In this passage, the word for “contentment” means to have “sufficient amount“. Yet Paul ties this concept with the idea of “godliness”. How can we make that connection in practical living? The person who devotes themselves to finding out God’s priorities for their life and arranging their schedule to meet those priorities will find that they don’t have time and energy to devote to those things that don’t fit into God’s priorities.

A few years ago, I was spending a lot of time thinking about how I should dress for going out in public, for speaking engagements and for meetings I had with clients. I spent so much time on it that God had to intervene. In my regular prayer time with God, he confronted me on how important clothes were becoming. He asked me to go an entire year without buying any new clothes. At first, I resented being asked this–though I went along with it. But as I noticed my poor inner attitude, I learned this desire to have others notice me was a toxic attitude. By the end of the year, God’s input had produced a certain degree of contentment in me. I found I no longer cared much about what others thought concerning my clothes. I now buy some when I need them and usually don’t spend much time thinking about it. And I found I don’t notice other people’s clothing as much either.

2. New Supply Chain: When a person has committed to be a follower of Jesus Christ, he is expected to accept his Lordship over their lives. This means more than obeying God. It also has perks and amenities. If we are God’s children and we serve Him, then we should expect God will take care of all our needs. Paul says it this way in Philippians 4:19: “My God shall supply all of your needs according to his riches in glory.

One Christmas, my wife and I considered something we had never done before. We thought about going into debt. We weren’t getting paid very much from the church and we had four small children. We bought them each a gift from us and made one for each of them. That emptied out our meager savings. We realized we didn’t even have the money to buy a turkey. Three days before Christmas, Kathy and I spent time in prayer and asked God either to supply our needs or to cut down on them. When no money came in the mail, we went down to the store and for the first time in our lives decided to buy groceries with our credit card.

Yet both of us felt this was not the right thing for us to do at that time. I am not saying it is evil to use a credit card or to have basic food needs. But for us on that day, we felt we could not put it on credit. So we took the food back to the shelves and left the store. We drove down to the church so I could pick up something from my office. When we went back out to the car, there was an envelope on the front seat. It contained almost $200. To this day, we have no idea who put the money there. And from that day, it became a tad easier to believe God was going to supply our financial needs. And when we came to believe that, we stopped envying those who had more. The One who supplies my needs is richer than everyone else in the universe combined.

3. Live in the Opposite Spirit: Sometimes, it is not enough to just resist envy. More often than not, if we just try and gut it out, we’ll find that we aren’t that strong. Someone close to us will buy something or be given something that we want and the envy will rear its head.

No, for envy to be crushed completely, we should go on the offensive against it. This truth is painted beautifully in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 6:2-4 says,

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

So how does giving to the needy help to do away with class envy?

Pastor Jack Hayford of Church on the Way in Van Nuys, CA tells of a time when he and his wife went through a hard season with their finances. He noticed as their bank account got slimmer, his attitude toward other people’s possessions became jaded. He resented and envied more and more.

As he was reading the passage above, it occurred to him that this is not primarily about giving in secret. It is about watching the attitude of the heart by taking care of what is happening inside. Since he was facing envy and resentment, he decided to take what money he did have and give some away. He took five dollar bills and filled his wallet with them. Every person in town who panhandled, he gave them five dollars. Every letter that came in the mail asking for money he sent them some. He found after about two weeks, his resentment was over and the envy was completely gone.

How did that work?

When we walk in the opposite spirit from a bad attribute, we are no longer in the control of that thing. If we feel like hating, loving our enemies breaks the power of hatred. When we feel jealous, being sympathetic pulls us out of jealousy’s grasp. And when we feel envy creeping in, charity will scatter it.

These three things will annihilate envy: Contentment, trust and charity.

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Exercises That Will Help When You’re Offended

April 2, 2013

OffendedSeveral years ago, I was counseling a woman who had severe depression marked by suicidal tendencies. After a month of counseling, most of the depression had lifted. But every time we made progress, she would return to issues regarding her sister. She could not let go of the pain her sister had caused.

She refused to talk about it. She would get choked up, and the knot in the center of her brow tightened. Finally, after we had exhausted every avenue of getting past this hurt, I told her I didn’t think there was anything else I could do to help her.

I could see her struggle internally – and then she decided to tell me.

“She told everyone in the family I was always going to be fat!” As she said this, her skin became flushed, she knotted her hands together in the middle of her chest and she bent over in pain. This hurt so badly it even caused somatic symptoms. It had happened 27 years before, when the girls were teenagers.

John Bevere, in his book “The Bait of Satan” calls this “personal offense”. He believes that personal offense is the root cause of almost every relationship problem on the planet. I have taught on this truth in seminars and no one ever disagrees with it. Unfortunately, the solution most people recommend is to “gut it out” and “just forgive them.” I really wish it were that simple.

But it isn’t. You cannot  just will away the hurt others have caused you.

But I have found we can dig up the root reasons for why personal offense burrows into our soul and eats away at our peace of mind. Here are eight exercises (and one final healthy response) I recommend to my counseling clients when they struggle to let go of past pain and move forward into forgiveness.

1. Think of a time when you did something similar to the thing you are offended by. Part of the ache we experience comes from a sense of injustice. It is not fair that others lie to us, gossip about us, take advantage of our trust. It is fascinating though, if I ask people to think about a time recently when they did something similar to the way they have been mistreated … people often feel the internal knots start to loosen.

Most of us commit offenses on a semi-regular basis, but we often don’t see the troublesome nature of our actions. It is only when it is done to us that we get upset. As we go through the exercise of thinking how we have done the same thing, it gives us a measure of empathy for those who have sinned against us.

2. Ask God to show you how He sees the situation. Several years ago, a friend of mine made a list of things I needed to improve upon. It was not a pleasant list; many of the items called into question my intelligence and choice-making. I was deeply hurt by the list. After marinating in my inner irritation for several days, I asked God to show me how He saw the situation.

First, God pointed out how some of the list items were actually true. Second, he showed me how my friend had been feeling cut off from me and didn’t know how to express his own hurt. This gave me enough solace so I could forgive him and set up a meeting. During our time together, I expressed my regret at how I had cut him off recently. Then I proceeded to tell him how some of the items on the list were very true. I also ended by helping him see how he had gone beyond the truth in some items as well. We re-established our relationship at the end of that meeting. (By the way, I have his permission to share this story).

3. Ask yourself who the person who offended you reminds you of. If the same person keeps offending you, and especially if your reactions to these offenses seem more intense than they ought to be, ask yourself if this person reminds you of someone else you were hurt by in the past. Often, we have trouble letting go of a personal hurt because the person reminds us of a person or situation we have not forgiven years before.

4. Put yourself in their shoes and ask how they would want others to react to the situation. If we can begin to see how it probably looked from the point of view of the person who hurt us, we may perceive the incident differently. Perhaps what we interpreted as a criticism was just a simple question. Or maybe the attack was motivated by fear for our safety. Even if the offense was truly offensive, we may discern how it was motivated by something we had done. Seeing things from the other person’s perspective softens the blow.

5. Keep short accounts. Wherever possible (and it’s always possible) try to let go of the hurt before the end of that day. Each day you coddle an offense, the larger it grows. Think of it as a debt. The longer you take to pay off a debt, the more you will have to pay and the more onerous the burden.

6. If feasible, talk to the person who offended you. Don’t just assume they know what they did or how you reacted to it. I can’t even begin to count how many times couples have said to each other in counseling, “You know what you did”. The reality: they often don’t.

7. React in the Opposite Spirit. One of the great teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) is this concept of giving people back the opposite of what they give you. If a person speaks hurtful words, speak a blessing. If they take something from you, give them even more. If they force you to do something you don’t want to do, help them in love. This will completely leverage your own soul and feed it while they witness you are not affected by their hurtful behavior.

Early in my walk with God, a man cheated me at a local business. The details are unimportant. I made plans to go to the local Better Business Bureau with the hope of causing him some kind of grief. My roommate in college offered to pray with me about it. As we prayed, I had a sense I was supposed to go into his shop and ask if I could pray a blessing over it (even though we both knew he had broken something of mine). When I went down there and asked him if I could pray, he mumbled that I could do whatever I wanted. So I prayed God’s blessing on his business. I left that place a free man.

8. Forgive and Release. When you have done some of the exercises above, then meditate on this question: Do I feel free now to forgive them? If you don’t, do some more exercises. But keep testing the water of your soul until the release comes.

9. Set boundaries that are safe and healthy. If a person keeps on hurting you, and if there is something you can do to prevent that hurt from happening, do so. The best medicine, after all, is preventative medicine. I have a friend whose husband had cheated on her four times. At one point, as she concluded he was going to keep doing this, she asked him to move out and get his own apartment. She told him not to tell her about any of his extra-marital relationships. In the end, she fought through her personal offense and decided not to divorce him. She often had him over for family dinners with her and the children.

So why did she ask him to move out? He had truly broken the marriage bonds between them and she didn’t want to keep hating him. If he stayed in the house while continuing to trample their marriage vows, the pain would not end. She truly forgave him, but she put a boundary so she didn’t have to keep looking at his offense.

The woman I mentioned at the beginning of the article did several of the exercises written here. What finally helped was going to God and asking how He saw her sister. God showed this woman that the sister was jealous because the mother favored the older sister. She got revenge by criticizing her sister in public. My client realized she had carried all this pain for years and had no idea what her mother’s favoritism must have done to her sister. Within a year, they had reconciled and now have a healthy adult relationship.

This works wonders if you’ll allow it.

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Stealing From the Victim

February 6, 2013

This first part is borrowed from a story by Bill Lokey:

 

nepalIt is said there was an ancient custom in Nepal that if a man loses something precious to him the rest of the tribe comes together, enters his home and takes something else from him as well. Through centuries this custom was lost to most and thought of as cruel and barbaric to others who did not understand its origin. One day a man, who was an old resident from that tribe, white haired but full of wisdom was found and asked about the strange custom. He said his ancestors many generations ago had been true to pass down the secret of their tradition and its blessing through their family and he explained the mystery as follows.

“Take this small piece of bread in one hand and this grain in the other. Hold them out to be seen. If suddenly the precious grain is stripped from the one hand, the other hand clenches tightly around the bread to make sure he does not lose it. There stands the man cursing this one hand that has lost his treasure bringing shame upon his whole family while his other hand grips the bread tightly to ensure he keeps what little he has left. With clenched fist he threatens anyone who would get close enough to take away what is rightfully his. What does he look like now? A man staring through eyes of suspicion at anyone who approaches him. A man cursing his misfortune, his shriveled hand, and the many others he has learned to blame. This man crushes the hope of others in need and mutilates the bread in that same fist. The blessing to this ancient custom can only now be understood.

When a precious loss occurs, the other hand clings to what is left and the heart becomes either lifeless or closed. When the tribe and their chief came to his house and emptied the other hand the man fell to the ground in anguish with open hands … open hands now able to receive … to receive from all the other tribe members who had experienced loss before him. While the man with open hands, on his knees, blinded with tears was without strength the fellow tribe people passed by filling his hands with baskets of bread, grain, jars of oil, tools for repairing, stones for a fireplace, carved shingles for a roof, and a place in their midst to call home. Yes what he had was taken away so he had room in his hands and his heart to receive abundance.”

I want you to notice something from this story. There are several elements that we must grapple with when we have lost something valuable:

1. We do tend to cling tighter to what remains and often form unhealthy relationships with people and things that are left.

2. Others get bothered by our clinging, for it changes the relationship they had chosen to have with us.

3. It will take a loving community to rip the thing out of our hands that we are clinging to. It also takes a community to replace some of the grief and pain we have lost.

Are you part of a community like that?

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Visiting Jealousy

April 30, 2012

It was ninth grade assembly and all the awards had been handed out. I watched with subdued anger as many of my friends received accolades of various sorts. All I got was out of sorts. I honestly thought I deserved to be rewarded for something. But I wasn’t acknowledged for anything.

Years later, after many points of soulful reflection, I realize the reason I was left out of the award parade. I hadn’t worked hard enough to achieve anything. I did nothing of consequence that should be honored or recognized. I see now that the anger was fueled by an expectation of wanting what I had not earned. I was jealous of how so many others were being singled out for honor while I was passed over. I look back on it now and realize how stupid it all was: But I can still access that feeling of jealousy and in some ways, I can taste the bitter realization of mediocrity.

I can still be jealous as easily as that day. I have chosen to adopt three professions at the same time, and so it is possible to be acknowledge any number of ways. I am a counselor, a writer and a pastor. In each of these roles, I have won some awards and, at times, a certain notoriety. You would think this would insulate me from becoming jealous. But, instead of ridding this insidious root from the garden of my thoughts, the more people reward me, the more I want it. I still cringe when colleagues achieve something I do not. I still feel some pain of regret that I have not risen to the height someone else looks down from.

Fortunately, I can usually slough off these jealous feelings within a short time. I no longer waste much emotional energy moaning over what others have done. And, I have come to grips with the knowledge that if I too put in the work they put in, I can achieve something of what they have done. That usually settles the issue for me. I don’t want to work as hard as some others, so it helps me be more content in achieving less.

As Fulton Sheen so eloquently noticed, “Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius”.

But how then does that explain God’s jealousy? James 4:6 says clearly “Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?” In 21 places in the Bible, we are told that God is jealous for his people. That raises so many questions for us:

  • Does God have a jealous streak and does this mean we are greater than God if we don’t get jealous?
  • Does this mean it is all right to be jealous if God gets that way?
  • Are there different types of jealousy?
  • If there are different types, are there some types that we can indulge in and not others?
  • Is God allowed to be jealous even if we are not?
  • Are we indeed not allowed to be jealous?

Without doing a deep study into the words used in the Bible which we translate jealousy, I think we can reasonably conclude there are different types of jealousy. What is it that God gets jealous of? In the Old Testament, he is clearly jealous of those times when his people followed after idols and other gods. He is jealous when they devoted their lives to pursuits that leaves God out of it. And in the James passage quoted above, it says in the verse before, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?” The jealousy that God allows for himself (and perhaps for us as well) is a jealousy where the person who is in a covenant relationship chooses to leave that relationship to follow someone else. In our case, that would be felt by a spouse, a parent or a child. A spouse may be jealous of their partner that leaves them for another person. A parent can be jealous of a child who gives themselves over to drugs and a child may see a workaholic parent and wish that they were more important that the job.

Jealousy is mainly a problem when two things occur. First, where we seek to utilize external control methods to restrain another. God is our example here. He does not stop us from following other gods. He grieves over it and gets angry, but he gives us free choice in the matter. When we seek to use external control methods (like force, manipulation, deceit) to force a person to stay in relationship with us, we violate their most sacred right: The right to call the shots for their own life. The second problem occurs when we will not let go of the pain of jealousy. When the jealousy becomes our food on a daily basis, we have given too much power to jealousy. We must instead think of ways we can be ready if they should choose to return to the covenant relationship.

 

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