I live in a granny flat out the back of my sister’s house, so I have the joy of being close by as my baby niece grow up. It’s amazing how fast she is growing and learning. But it’s also funny to see how much she doesn’t yet understand. Recently I watched Bethany wailing because she couldn’t get her dummy in her mouth—but that was because it was blocked by the hand she was sucking on. She reacted instinctively to her frustration and didn’t understand what the problem really was.
Even as adults we often misdiagnose our problems and fail to see what’s really going on. I might think that a ministry problem is purely practical, or that it’s because of this person’s stubbornness or that person’s apathy. But if I was willing to step back and examine myself, I’d see that the main issue was something else altogether.
Earlier this year I was discussing with church friends how we might resolve a particular ministry issue. On reflection, I’m shocked by what came out of my mouth: all manner of bitterness and anger and worry.
The problem seemed straightforward. God had given us this ministry to help people grow into the image of his Son. It was a good thing to be involved in, and a blessing to many. Clearly, the people who were getting in the way of resolving this issue were in the wrong.
I failed to see that God is not primarily concerned with the fruit that the ministry could potentially bear in the future. He cares about my holiness right now—the way that I think and speak about others, the trust and patience I display when things don’t go my way. Realising my sin in these areas and coming to God in repentance does far more than simply turning up to the ministry every week.
In the end, everything turned out fine in that ministry. When I look back on how overwhelmed I got about the issue, I feel a bit silly. But God used it to help me consider other ways I might be misdiagnosing problems in my life. He refreshed my perspective on my own heart. When I’m disappointed because I don’t feel like my friends have shown up for me, maybe I’m idolising human relationships and failing to be thankful for what God has given me in my truest friend, Jesus Christ. When I’m frustrated by health challenges, maybe I need to realise that I’m making productivity and achievement into my core identity.
I’m ashamed by how often I point the finger at others instead of seeing the sin in my own heart. Let’s humbly come to him and ask him to show us where the true problem lies—more often than not the finger will point right back at us. But praise be to God, because the story doesn’t end in our condemnation: “God gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6).