Christians have been labeled many things. One name that bothers me the most, that I believe hinders us with the level of relationship God wants to have with us, is the phrase, “good people.”
Yes, good people. We are, after all, good people. We try, more or less, to make righteous, moral, and guided decisions in day to day life (at least I hope we try). When we fall, we get up. When we’re slapped, we turn the other cheek. When we’re oppressed, we overcome. And for this, we are praised, as good people. But what do we do when we’re praised? Do we: give credit to God? Continue in the work we’ve been doing? Pursue God deeper? Grow spiritually into the next level of relationship that God desires with us?
I should hope so, but I find myself easily failing in this day-to-day.
More likely, we: take credit ourselves, stop what we’re working on to take a “well deserved break,” stop pursuing God and take a “mental rest,” and become stagnant in our overall relationship with God.
Now, this is a very generalized situation, but I believe that there is truth in it and that it is a problem.
I realized that throughout the day, I’m sub-consciously comparing myself to others. “Well, Tom drinks a lot, Trevor messes around with the ladies, and Suzy doesn’t always dot her I’s and cross her T’s.” Looking at the lens from this direction makes it very easy to praise myself for merely not doing those things, but for doing “right” things: treating people with respect when they might not deserve it, loving my neighbor, and understanding that my will is not God’s will. In doing this, praising myself, I stop everything I’m doing. I take that mental break that I tell myself I deserve. I tell myself that I’ve done a good enough job and that should be enough (in more or less words). Though, I cut myself short of the things God wants for me. I stop where I know I could keep going. I fall short of my potential.
Instead of saying, “Hey, these people are all messed up and I’m doing a pretty good job, better than most people,” we should be saying, “Hey, I’m still short of where I want to be, I’d like to have this and this and this done. I’m glad I finally got where I am, but I think I could still do better.” Maybe that’s a little overly-cheesy, but we should really try looking at the lens from the other side, the God side. You’ve probably heard it over and over again throughout your life, but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyways, God is the only judge. He is the only one worth impressing. It doesn’t really matter if you do better than Tom, Trevor, and Suzy: they are all judged individually, without comparison, just like you. What does matter is that you do good by the Lord. That may be different for each individual person, but one necessity remains constant for everyone, your relationship with God.
All in all, we’ve been given life to have a relationship with God. And, in my opinion, which is up to discretion by you, we’ve been given free will, to choose whether or not to have that relationship with God: that is what makes it meaningful to Him, that we chose Him, not that we are some mindless army who loves God out of sheer force. We chose to love God. However, if we consistently look at how others are doing in comparison to us, we will be encouraged. But we will become too encouraged. We will become overly-confident and too satisfied with what God has for us. Dictating our success and finish line by those around us is a terrible idea! If you’ve read any book in the New Testament, you know the prophecies. The world will gradually become more enveloped in sin and darkness. In the final days, there will be few Christians. If you compare yourself to those around you, and stop after barely doing “better” than them, you may still be in the darkness yourself. What you see around you is so insignificant to the overall picture. Don’t make the assumption that just because you’ve satisfied people around you that you’ve satisfied God. That is a common teaching that we don’t consider daily. Instead, continue to pursue God, even after surpassing those around you. If we don’t compare ourselves to others, and decide to live to our fullest potential, I can’t imagine what we might accomplish.
In other words, we need to stop setting the bar so low for ourselves. I think we often forget Philippians 4:13, that we can do all things through Christ. Not just that we can do well in our job, have good relationships with the people around us, and be an encouragement to the nonbelievers; but we can go beyond the goals we set for ourselves, we can actually let God work through us, and we can accomplish things that we’d never see if we were still looking through the negative side of that lens and silently praising ourselves for how accomplished we are for doing the “right thing.”
Yes, you can probably get to heaven without pursuing God to this level. Yes God loves unconditionally, and he won’t love you any less for not having as good a relationship with him as the next person. But think about it: do you really want to cut corners that bad? I mean, when you get to heaven, God will still be there, right? He’ll still want a relationship with you. Why wait until then to start it? What are you gaining by ignoring God right now? I can’t imagine that the idle laziness which comes with self-praise is that good of an investment for our eternal lives.