Q & A: “How do our struggles and barriers become idols?” (and some words on self-pity)

Pastor Rick.
Thank You for the Sermon this morning.
I hate to concentrate on one comment you made,
but I found it most interesting.
You said “Do we look at our struggles as barriers and
make them our idols?”
It was such interesting comment that I can’t get it out of my head.
Could you expand on that or tell me the title of a book that will
expand on that thought?

Yes, I was elaborating on how Jesus was not the least bit interested in being the object of the lamenting and mourning of the women in the crowd who were following Jesus on his way to the cross.

Luke 23:27–31 (ESV) — 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

I said that Jesus was not full of self-pity nor was interested in receiving such pity. He was collected and secure in His Father’s will, knowing that the cross was but a stop on the way to glory. Cross before glory. If anyone had the right to complain about being mistreated, it was Jesus, and yet He wasn’t much interested in murmuring and complaining. Instead He wept for others who chose to walk in unbelief and darkness.

The point of application came when I said that there’s much to learn from Jesus. I asked about what we weep over, suggesting that we often weep over and are paralyzed over things that ought not consume so much attention. In this sense, we can let our hardships in this life become idols. Self-pity is a manifestation of thinking we deserve better. Worse it, it begs for pity from others as a way of seeking affirmation. But you will never receive true peace and vindication from the pity of others — it will actually worsen your condition by drawing more attention to hardship and your status as a victim. Let me be clear, sympathy and empathy are something different; pity, however, is feeling sorry for someone as an end in itself.

Anxiety is a more subtle form of idolatry, because it often manifests itself as reasonable concern and worry. It also seems incredibly insensitive to challenge someone to stop making such a big deal of something when they are emotionally attached in a way that will only hear your words as unsympathetic. But we hopefully call our kids out on this — I hope. When our children are feeling sorry for themselves and are wanting to highlight their misery — I call it selfishness. Selfishness is a manifestation of idolatrous pride. Sometimes this self-pity is designed to deter people’s joys over something worthy of celebration, crying out “Hey, look at me moping over here, all unhappy. You’re all being insensitive being all happy around me when I’m struggling with _______.” Sure, we need to be sensitive around folks who are undergoing very real suffering, but the secure person will be the first to laugh and rejoice, to deflect attention away from their own plight, to give permission, as it were, to everyone else that it’s fitting to rejoice, that life is more than my plight.

We can also make so much of our situation that we fail to trust God. This is clearly idolatry. Jesus trusted the Father through the greatest trial anyone will ever face. Jesus learned obedience through faith in the Father’s plan — and so should we. We need to get over ourselves, stop defining ourselves by our issues and such. We don’t gain this confidence by looking within ourselves, nor by looking at the problem, but by looking to Christ and His victory over darkness in His life and ministry, especially as it’s highlighted during the passion week and crucifixion. If Jesus overcame for us, what do need to be anxious over? If God is for us, who can be against us?

© 2014, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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