A Good Fight Against Prejudice
I am beginning to realize more keenly that I have been trained to depend on fault-finding and a critical attitude as my primary defense against being deceived by other religions and false doctrines. Fear of being deceived, of being drawn away from 'the truth' has long been touted as a reason to encourage prejudices against anyone not of my denomination. It seemed to be considered as something of a safeguard to protect us who believed in the only 'truth' as we always have felt we were defined our subculture.
This is not to say that everyone belonging to my church felt or feels this way. I simply reflect the particular mentality of those I grew up around which in those days were the vast majority in my church if I am not mistaken. That mentality is still quite alive and well, but it is also not exclusive to my particular church. I have seen this same attitude and defensiveness and fear in people from other groups and other cultures as well all around the world.
But in my case I am starting to see how much I have often viewed anyone connected to any other church with suspicion, at least when it comes to matters of spirituality. There was always this inner warning voice reminding me that I could be sucked into deception without even knowing it was happening to me. It was assumed that my only defense was to maintain a safe distance from people who subscribed to different beliefs if I wanted my soul to be safe. My heart has never been able to relax very much around 'outsiders' and it even struggles to believe that anyone outside my denomination could truly be part of the body of Christ.
Now please note that I specifically said my heart feels that way, not my conscious belief system that I choose to follow based on decisions and beliefs more settled in my mind. There are a great many things that my heart feels and believes that are not necessarily true but still feel true because it has not yet aligned with all that my head has been learning. There is always that dichotomy in the life of a growing believer and it takes personal experience and the work of the Spirit of God to alter the deeply held beliefs that govern the heart level and feelings inside. Meantime I can keep learning and choosing to do what I know is right based on what God has been revealing to me in my recent past.
But seeing this in my past, is it any surprise that I now find myself caught in a trap of automatically feeling critical and negative around other people? Even people within my own church are subject to being carefully screened as I try to process everything they say or do measured against my internal standards and opinions about what is correct or what is deception. All of this kind of attitude towards others is really a judgmental spirit and is fed by roots of bitterness hiding deep inside that have still yet to be exterminated.
I am glad that I am seeing this, not because I think it is right or something to be proud of but because awareness is a necessary first step to liberation. Yes, there are real dangers of being deceived and I need to heed the warnings of God in order to remain under His protection. But the spirit of judgment and criticism and fault-finding is a counterfeit way of protecting my heart and mind. That is not the way God uses to keep me in the truth, for the truth is not a set of facts and formulas but is a Person. Therefore, the best way to stay safely 'in the truth' is to give my primary attention to knowing Jesus intimately and soaking in His presence, not in seeking to detect every possible mistake or deceptive teaching or judging others by how they dress, speak or even agree with my views.
Again, I am brought back to the fundamental test that Jesus has been teaching me is the most important above all others – the condition of my spirit. That test is likewise to be applied to those around me and is not something easily discerned at times. If my own spirit is not right with God, then no matter how religious or righteous I may be feeling at the time, I will not have the discernment of heaven to know who can be trusted and who I should be more cautious around. Only as I myself am humble and teachable and in process under the accountability of the Spirit of God in my life and submissive to His Word can I hear the affirmations or warnings that can only accurately come from the One who can see the heart of every person.
That Spirit convicts me when I find myself viewing others through the lenses of judgment when that is not my place or job to do.
The Spirit convicts me when I find myself assessing other people's attitudes based on negative assumptions of my own.
The Spirit convicts me when I jump to conclusions that generally view others with suspicion instead of with grace. I then find myself at serious odds with the description of love as laid out in 1 Corinthians 13.
Love is never tired of waiting;
love is kind;
love has no envy;
love has no high opinion of itself,
love has no pride;
Love's ways are ever fair,
it takes no thought for itself;
it is not quickly made angry,
it takes no account of evil;
It takes no pleasure in wrongdoing,
but has joy in what is true;
Love has the power of undergoing all things,
having faith in all things,
hoping all things.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7 BBE)
The good news is that God is changing me. When this all came to my attention this morning I was sitting in another denomination's church enjoying the sermon and applying to myself these things as God was convicting me of them. I wrote this down on the back of one of their envelopes I found in the pew in front of me. I stopped at two more churches before I got back home and likewise felt God speaking various things to me in each place.
This does not mean that I am ready to start church hopping and abandon all my beliefs to be open for whoever wants to influence and sway me in their direction. It means that I am becoming confident enough in the power of God to keep me close to Him as I immerse myself in His Word each day that I can begin to open up my heart more freely to others who truly are seeking to know God wherever they find themselves at this point in their life. It means that I am becoming more willing to look for opportunities to connect with individuals who are truly seekers after God no matter where they are or what they currently profess. It means that I am willing to confess that I have a great deal more to learn about 'truth' right along with everyone else and that my beliefs and opinions must be just as open to challenge and changing as I want my friends to be willing to do.
And that takes me right back to where God always takes a person who is honestly wanting to know Him and maintain a saving relationship with Him – the condition of their own spirit. God is showing me the faults in my own heart as a glorious opportunity to allow Him to change them into strengths by His transforming grace and love. I don't know how He is going to do that but I can trust His heart and His abilities to finish what He has started in my life.