The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Discernment Essentials: How to Benefit from Harshly Worded Messages

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In this post, we’re going to teach you how to digest harshly worded teaching on spiritual matters without getting dragged down by a bunch of false conviction.  False conviction—which Christians often think of as condemnation—is when you think God is expressing negative feelings towards you when He isn’t.  False conviction comes from demons and the folks they target the most with this particular attack strategy are souls who sincerely care about pleasing God.  Because demons want spiritual rebels to stay rebellious, they give them the opposite of condemnation by constantly encouraging them in their ways.  It’s just the souls who really want to please God who get pounded on with false conviction, and if demons see that you’ve got no defenses in this area, they’ll pound you relentlessly.  Whether you consider yourself an actual Christian or not, if you sincerely want to please the Gods who made you, then you’re going to be a prime target for false conviction, and at some point, you’ll need to learn how to defend yourself from it. 

Now there are many ways to identify and defend against false conviction (see Identifying False Conviction: Three Easy Tests).  When discouraging sincere souls is your goal, then material which is strongly worded becomes very useful to you.  On our site, there is an abundance of harshly worded material.  We dish out many rarely taught truths in a very blunt style and we use a lot of harsh language to convey the intensity of God’s feelings about spiritual rebellion.  So our material tends to deliver a double punch to people: first, they’re shocked by how blunt we are, and second, they’re shocked by the essence of what we’re saying because they’ve never heard teaching like that before.  Take prayer, for example.  On our site, we shred the common Christian approach to prayer, and we say that the way Christians address God is grossly irreverent, domineering, manipulative, and insulting.  That’s just not the way you’re used to hearing serious Christians talk, and the fact that so much of our material totally counters mainstream Christian teaching causes many to scratch their heads and wonder who we really are.  How can real Christians be opposed to so many popular Christian doctrines and practices?  We’ve even got the atheists baffled.  They can’t decide if we’re the real deal or if we’re just clever posers.  This is how rare it is for people to come across teaching about God which is actually from God.

When God speaks, He promotes Himself.  He harshly condemns rebellion and He gives the obedient a chance to deepen their commitment to Him by giving them new insights into what He does and doesn’t like.  God doesn’t give a darn about being politically correct.  When He casts a judgement about something, He states it as a fact, not an opinion, because as the Sovereign Creator, God sets the standards that we are all judged by.

Now we’re prophets and preachers, which means we’re folks who God has called to broadcast messages from Him to the world.  Most of the folks you come across in life who claim to be prophets and preachers aren’t doing what prophets and preachers are supposed to do.  When God commands you to speak for Him, you’re supposed to pass on His message in an unadulterated form.  You’re not supposed to pollute it with a bunch of your own human guff.  You’re not supposed to cut out the parts that make you squirm and you’re not supposed to edit God in any way.  Sometimes you’re not going to like what He’s saying or how He’s saying it.  In such moments, it’s your job to suck it up and deliver the message as is.  You don’t get to whine to the world about the toils of speaking for God.  You don’t get to add some little footnote that says, “Sorry if this message offended people—it was Him, not me.”  To serve God well you have to be all in.  There’s no room for fickle loyalty.  If someone has a beef with something God says, they’re going to have a beef with you, because you’re the one who said it.  When the rocks start flying, you don’t duck so that they’ll hit God instead of you.  You  man up and deal with the flak because you’re supposed to be fully devoted to God, not just serving Him part time while you spend the rest of the time sucking up to humans.

Now in the Bible, we find many examples of folks living out the call to speak for God.  Unfortunately, a lot of the examples we find aren’t showing us the right way to do things.  Moses, for example, had a real problem with fickle devotion.  When Yahweh became so irked by the rebellious mob in the wilderness that He said He wanted to kill them all off right then and there, did Moses side with Yahweh and say, “Whatever You want, I’m with You”?  No.  Moses turned against Yahweh and sided with the humans.  He didn’t just do this once, he did it several times.  When Yahweh would get really mad, Moses would side with the humans against God and then try to find some way to manipulate God into being more gracious.  One time he tried to appeal to Yahweh’s ego, saying that if Yahweh killed off everyone in the desert, the Egyptians would hear about it and mock. Another time, Moses tried to leverage his personal relationship with Yahweh by demanding that God damn him along with the rest of the Israelites if He was really going to massacre them.  In other words, “Choose between them or me.”  Nice.

And then there was Jeremiah—the guy who just couldn’t stop griping about Yahweh’s treatment of the Jews.  You see, as far as Jeremiah was concerned, Yahweh should just lie down in the dirt and let His chosen people wipe their feet all over Him.  Yahweh didn’t get to have boundaries or a limit to His patience.  Even after Yahweh spent years personally educating Jeremiah about just how extensive the rebellion of the Israelites was, Jeremiah still refused to put all of his loyalty onto God’s side.  So when Jeremiah wrote the whine fest known as Lamentations, which is one long gripe about Yahweh dishing out some well-deserved discipline, Jeremiah took several potshots at Yahweh while he cried buckets of tears for his precious countrymen.  This is the problem with the prophets in the Bible: they spend too much time siding with humans and not enough time siding with God.

Then there was Jonah.  While it’s easy to assume that Jonah initially ran away from Nineveh because he was afraid of getting attacked when he walked through the city announcing that his God was going to level the place, this really wasn’t the case.  At the end of the book, Jonah himself says that the reason he ran was because he resented the idea of Yahweh being gracious towards a people who Jonah personally disliked.  In this case, we don’t find Jonah siding with humans against God—instead, we find him turning against God because he doesn’t personally approve of how God operates.  What a twerp.

And then there’s us: the folks behind The Pursuit of God website.  We aren’t playing the games that guys like Moses, Jeremiah and Jonah played.  In our relationships with God, we’re all in, and that means we’re going to relay the messages He gives to us exactly as He gives them without making any edits.  Since we’re living for God, not you, we’re not going to have any sympathy if you come whining to us about how something we wrote offended you.  If you don’t like what God has to say, tough.  He’s God.  You’re just a fleck of a creature, and if you think we’re going to side with you against the Creator of all things, you need to think again.

Now because God knows that we’re not going to compromise His messages, and because there are so few prophets and preachers in this world who are actually doing the calling right, God is going to shuffle a lot of His harsher messages into our laps.  God has a lot of things to say about the rebellious twit which Christians call the Bride of Christ and which we call the Church.  With such a shortage of humans who God can call on to actually convey His true feelings about the shenanigans Christians are up to, He assigns us a lot of the heavily critical messages, which makes our site come across as rather negative to some.  But personally, we love it, because we love hearing God talk about anything for any reason.  Harsh or gentle, it’s always informative when God shares His perspectives with human beings.

Now since God is such a passionate Being, if you want to know Him well, you need to learn how to embrace His passion.  If you mentally tune out whenever God is fired up about something, you’re going to miss out on a ton of key insights that are critical to you treating Him better.  God just isn’t going to invite us close to Him when we’re pulling a Jonah and refusing to accept certain aspects of His complex Personality.  God isn’t just love and grace, He’s also hate and wrath.  He fully approves of all that He is, and if you’re going to ever get comfortable with Him,  you need to learn how to snuggle up to Him when He’s on some zealous rampage and talking about how much He relishes the idea of stomping the life out of human beings.

Now if Christians weren’t so unfamiliar with their Bibles, they’d find our material less shocking, because the same Gods who give us our messages spend a lot of time chewing people out in the Bible. In Revelation 19, we find this fascinating description of “sweet Jesus, meek and mild”:

The armies of Heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed Him on white horses. From His mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On His robe and on His thigh He has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, shouting to the vultures flying high in the sky: “Come! Gather together for the great banquet Yahweh has prepared. Come and eat the flesh of kings, generals, and strong warriors; of horses and their riders; and of all humanity, both free and slave, small and great.” (Rev. 19:14-18)

So here we have Jesus stomping the life out of humans in the winepress of God’s wrath.  Then we’ve got Yahweh presiding over a massive feast of human flesh which vultures are invited to gorge themselves on. Nice.  And how reminiscent of good old Isaiah 63—a passage in which we find Yahweh doing such vigorous stomping of humans that His clothes become saturated with their blood.

“I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with Me. I trampled them in My anger and trod them down in My wrath; their blood spattered My garments, and stained all My clothing.” (Isa. 63:3)

You see, the Gods who created all of us aren’t just rainbows and smiles.  They’ve got a terrifying, bloodthirsty, vengeful side as well.  If you want to know Them well, you need to get acquainted with all of Their traits, not just the parts that make you personally comfortable.  And yet souls who sincerely care about pleasing God tend to distance themselves whenever God starts venting His negative feelings about something.  Why is this?  The common reason is fear.  Souls who care the most about pleasing God are the most distressed at the thought that He might be personally upset with them.  They then make the very wrong assumption that if God sounds angry about something, He must be angry at them personally, and this makes them feel guilty, sad, and discouraged about ever pleasing Him.  This is the negative pattern that you’ll learn to break out of using the discernment skills we are now going to discuss.

STEP 1: UNDERSTAND HOW GOD JUDGES YOU

Whether you’re on the internet, sitting in church, watching television, or listening to the radio, before you even start digesting a message about God, you need to have an accurate understanding of how He assesses whether you are currently pleasing Him or not. It is your soul attitude towards God right now that determines whether He is pleased or displeased with you right now.  Your soul attitude towards God can be determined by how you would honestly answer the question: “How much do I care about pleasing God?  How important is His opinion to me?”  Think about this for a moment and then decide which of the following four choices best describes where you’re currently at.

A. Pleasing God is extremely important to me. I want Him to have His way in my life above all things.

B. Pleasing God matters to me, but I have to admit there are other things that matter more.

C. I know pleasing God is supposed to matter to me, but it just doesn’t.

D. I couldn’t care less about God being pleased with me.

If you chose A, you’re in the ideal place, but A is also a rare answer among those of us who are being honest.  B, C, and D are the answers most of us can relate to, and all of these answers reflect a need for more growth. But here’s where we come to the good news.  Once we realize that we’re not where we ought to be because God really isn’t our top priority in life, then we can still please Him as much as an “A” person by sincerely asking Him to make us all that He wants us to be.  If your honest truth is that you just don’t care about God’s opinion right now, there’s nothing you can do to instantly morph into someone who is obsessed with pleasing God.  The most you can do is acknowledge that where you’re at today isn’t where God says He wants you to be, and ask Him to fix the problem. He’s the only One who can. You can’t.  And yet by asking God to make you all that He wants you to be, you are giving Him all you’ve got.  You’re also recognizing that you’re dependent on God to fix you—you can’t become spiritually mature on your own.  You need His help.  You need Him to give you resources that you don’t have right now.

Sometimes the best prayer we can pray is, “God, help me to even want to want You.”  This is the ideal prayer for those of you who identified with the options C and D in our list of answers.  When you just don’t care about pleasing God, you need Him to help you to even start caring.  The point is that no matter which of the four answers you chose, you can get into a good place with God by asking Him to make you all that He wants you to be.

STEP 2: UNDERSTAND WHO GOD GETS MAD AT

This second step is critical when you’re dealing with harshly worded messages from God.  The fact that God sounds angry does not mean that He’s directing that anger at you personally.  If you’re going to get to know God well, you need to learn to stay in the room when He’s expressing His anger about something.  If instead you always run and hide or cower in some corner, then you’ll miss out on some useful insights which could help you know God better.

In the Bible, we find a lot of anger being expressed by both Jesus and Yahweh.  In the Old Testament, Yahweh spends a lot of time ripping into people who are giving Him a bunch of snarky attitude.  In the Gospel books, we frequently find Jesus biting people’s heads off, and in Revelation, we find both Yahweh and Jesus taking turns blasting various groups with anger.  But who exactly is it that our Gods get ticked at?  Only souls who are currently defying Them.

Now while God always has an accurate understanding of your soul’s attitude towards Him, it’s easy for you to lose touch with this information, which is why Step 1 of this particular discernment strategy had to do with you taking the time to honestly assess your general soul attitude towards God.  A very common reason why obedient souls find God’s wrath so intimidating is that they keep assuming He’s mad at them personally when He’s not.  They assume this because they keep losing sight of what their own attitudes towards God are, then they have a poor understanding about who God gets mad at.  You see, God never lumps the obedient in with the rebels.  When He gives a speech in which He’s only addressing rebels, then the fact that He doesn’t specifically mention the obedient often causes obedient souls to assume God has forgotten about them.  But no, He hasn’t.

The Old Testament prophetic books are a great resource when it comes to getting better at dealing with God’s angry side.  In the book of Jeremiah, for example, we find Yahweh doing a whole lot of angry raging at His chosen people.  He talks of being disgusted with them, of hating them, and of cutting them off.  But even though Yahweh frequently refers to His people as a single unit in these speeches, is He really directing His anger at both the rebellious and the obedient?  No, He’s not.  God only gets mad at souls who are currently defying Him.  In Jeremiah’s time, that was most of the folks in Israel, but it wasn’t all of them.  There was still a small remnant of folks who really did care about pleasing God, and you’ll find Yahweh occasionally stopping to address those groups.  One great example of this is found in Jeremiah 39 when Yahweh sends His prophet to privately address a man named Ebed-Melek.  Ebed-Melek worked in the royal palace in Jerusalem.  The king who was in charge in those days was a rebellious punk—so much so that one time he had Jeremiah thrown into a muddy well where he was certain to drown.  When a man hates God, he naturally hates the humans who remind him of God.  Well, Ebed-Melek sincerely cared about pleasing Yahweh, so he was very upset when the nasty king tried to kill God’s prophet.  Ebed-Melek felt convicted to rescue Jeremiah, even though he knew he could get killed for doing so.  After the rescue plan succeeded, Yahweh sent Jeremiah to Ebed-Melek with this message:

“This is what the Sovereign Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: I will do to this city everything I have threatened. I will send disaster, not prosperity. You will see its destruction, but I will rescue you from those you fear so much. Because you trusted Me, I will give you your life as a reward. I will rescue you and keep you safe. I, Yahweh, have spoken!” (Jer. 39:15-18)

Because most Israelites were defying Yahweh at this time, Yahweh wasn’t going to hold off on destroying Jerusalem over a few obedient souls.  But notice how He makes a point of reminding Ebed-Melek that his obedience to Yahweh hadn’t gone unnoticed.  Instead, Yahweh says that He’ll protect Ebed-Melek when Jerusalem is attacked and destroyed by the terrifying army which is currently parked right outside the city walls.  This is the same God who Ebed-Melek has heard shouting out His disgust for His chosen people day after day through the mouth of Jeremiah.  Were those angry, public messages directed at Ebed-Melek?  No, they were only being directed at the folks who were entrenched in spiritual rebellion.  Individuals like Ebed-Melek were pleasing to Yahweh, just as Joshua and Caleb pleased Yahweh when they returned from scouting out the Promised Land and encouraged the Israelites to go in.  The fact that the ten other spies who had returned with Joshua and Caleb all insulted Yahweh and discouraged everyone from obeying God didn’t cause Yahweh to lump Joshua and Caleb in with the rebels.  When Yahweh then became angry and unleashed a nasty plague, He only killed the ten defiant spies—not the two who obeyed Him.  And even though Joshua and Caleb were stuck having to wander in the desert for forty years while Yahweh killed off the whole generation of folks who had refused to enter the Promised Land, they knew God wasn’t angry with them personally, nor did they get killed along with the rebels (see The Last Straw: Israel Refuses to Enter the Promised Land).

God never loses track of the souls who are loyal to Him.  The fact that He doesn’t spend a section of every speech commenting on His pleasure with obedient souls doesn’t mean that pleasure isn’t real.  For you, the goal is to remain confident in your personal standing with God while you listen to what He has to say.  If you know that you’re not trying to defy Him, then you can know He’s not angry with you personally, no matter how angry He might be talking.  And once you stop stressing over God being mad at you, you can listen to what He’s saying and glean any insights that might benefit you in your own walk with Him.

STEP 3: SEPARATE ACTIONS FROM ATTITUDES & IDENTIFY THE PREFERENCES BEHIND THE COMPLAINTS

If your friend Tom gets really upset over the fact that a waitress brought him a tuna fish sandwich, what does that tell you about Tom’s food preferences?  You learn that he hates tuna fish.  Tom isn’t directing his anger at you—he’s angry at the waitress who took down the wrong order.  But by listening to what Tom is saying to her, you learn something about your friend that you didn’t know.  This is what you want to learn to do when you come across a message in which God is expressing His anger about something specific.  Let’s use some of our own material as an example here.

In many of our articles about prayer, we harshly criticize the language that Christians use—all of that “do this, do that” talk which comes down to us telling God Almighty what He ought to be doing.  Since God wants submission from us, it’s simply not appropriate for us to be telling Him what to do all the time.  And since God is infinitely wiser than we are, it’s quite disrespectful for us to be constantly criticizing His choices.  Suppose your friend comes down with cancer.  She instantly hops on the internet and starts trying to solicit prayers from her Christian friends.  She wants everyone to join her in pleading for God to make the tumor go away.  Is this an honoring way to talk to God?  No, it’s not. No one is showing any respect for God’s wisdom or goodness.  No one is even attempting to trust that God has some positive purpose for creating this cancerous tumor in the first place.  Instead, everyone’s jumping on God’s case like He’s made some blunder which He now needs to hurry up and fix.

Now what we just said can be boiled down to two concepts: wrong actions and wrong attitudes.  God doesn’t like it when we talk to Him using language that makes it sound like we’re His supervisors.  He also dislikes the soul attitudes of domination and doubt.  But here’s the critical point that you need to understand: wrong actions can be done apart from wrong soul attitudes.  In other words, you can be talking to God in a way that is technically quite disrespectful while inside you really are trying to please Him.  Sincere Christians do wrong actions with right motivations all the time. This is the Catholic priest who practices idolatry by constantly praying to Mary, but he does so because he honestly thinks this is what God wants him to do.  This is the worship leader who encourages the congregation to sing some snarkily worded song to the Holy Spirit because he honestly thinks God finds the song pleasing and he really doesn’t see anything wrong with it.  This is the pastor who preaches that anyone having homosexual relations is on their way to Hell because this is what he honestly believes God says.  This is the person who writes to us accusing us of being the messengers of Satan because they are sincerely trying to defend the honor of God and they think we’re intentionally slandering Him.  Wrong actions that are motivated by right soul attitudes abound among Christians.  So do wrong actions motivated by wrong soul attitudes, as well as right actions motivated by wrong soul attitudes.  The point is that you can’t just lump actions in with soul attitudes and treat them as one and the same because they are not.  Maria is fighting hard to defend a woman’s right to abort her child because she really doesn’t understand God’s view of abortion and she’s sincerely trying to help the downtrodden, which is what she thinks God wants.  Meanwhile, Rebecca is accusing all who participate in abortions as being the enemies of God because she doesn’t know better than to confuse actions with attitudes and she’s really trying to promote God’s values.  Wrong actions, right attitudes—it happens all the time.

So how does God respond to this situation?  Since He judges souls only by their attitudes towards Him, He is pleased with souls who are sincerely trying to do right even though they’re really doing wrong.  But at some point, God will begin to correct the wrong behaviors by giving those souls further education about His preferences.

Maybe you’re one of the folks who’s trying to pray away your friend’s tumor.  After you read one of our articles that explains why God finds your language to be bossy and inappropriate, you might feel God convicting you to change your ways.  But is He convicting you in anger?  No, because He knows that you mean well and that you don’t know any better than to talk to Him the way you do.  In fact, your excellent soul attitude is why God is rewarding you with new insights about how you can treat Him better.  Because He knows you care about treating Him well, He’s teaching you new ways that you can do that.  He’s giving you a present—a gift.  He’s not whacking you across the face.  Now His tone might sound whacking, because He’s using the same article to both reward you and spank some rebel who is all off on trying to dominate Him through bossy prayers.  Here’s where you need to ask God to help you receive His insights with the correct tone.  When you know that your soul attitude is pleasing to God, then you know that it’s not Him talking when you hear a bunch of harsh condemnation in your head.  That’s just demons messing with you.  They want you to be so discouraged by the idea of God being mad at you that you reject the fabulous new insights He’s teaching you.  But you can learn to see through this very common trick and start embracing the insights without also absorbing a bunch of criticism that isn’t directed at you.

God doesn’t get mad with souls who sincerely care about pleasing Him.  But He gets quite irked with hardened rebels who are refusing to repent.  You need to leave room for God to yell at someone else while He’s also casting some useful insights in your direction.  You don’t want to say, “I’m not going to listen to anything You say unless You speak to me in honeyed tones,” because that’s you trying to control God’s style and limit who He can be.  It doesn’t work like that.

God doesn’t change His style to please humans—instead, He teaches you how to get better at discerning when He’s talking to you and when He isn’t.  When God is addressing a world that is full of billions of souls, most of whom are rebelling against Him, you should expect many of those messages to have a harsh tone to them.  After all, God is displeased with most of the world’s population, and since that is the case, why would most of His public messages be filled with cheer and compliments?  God talking to you personally is different than Him talking to the whole world.  This is why it’s so important that you ask God to help you learn anything He wants to teach you when you come across a message from Him that is being put out in a public way.  As you digest the message, God will remind you of the principles we’ve been discussing here and help you separate the positive insights He wants you to learn from the anger He is directing only at those who are rebelling against Him.

STEP 4: WHEN YOU GET UPSET, STOP TO IDENTIFY EXACTLY WHAT YOU’RE UPSET ABOUT

It takes a lot of time and practice to get good at spiritual discernment.  Anytime you end up feeling discouraged and hopeless about ever succeeding with God, that’s an indication that you’re missing a critical discernment step.  To figure out what it is, take the time to identify exactly what it is you’re so upset by.  Let’s run through some examples to see how this works.  And by the way, the exercise we’re going to demonstrate here is an excellent skill to be armed with when you’re dealing with shady shepherds who claim to be teaching for God while they’re really just dumping condemnation on people’s heads.

After listening to a sermon about how much God hates abortion, Emma feels very upset.  But why?  Emma needs to try to say or write out a sentence that specifically pinpoints why she’s suddenly feeling so spiritually down.  When Emma first tries to do this, here’s what she comes up with:

I’m upset because I now understand that God hates abortion.  But I’ve had two abortions in my life, and I can’t change that, so now I feel like God is angry with me and there’s nothing I can do to fix it.

Can you see where Emma is going wrong here?  Let’s break it down.

First, what does Emma’s statement reveal about her interest in pleasing God?  Is she talking like someone who doesn’t care a wit about what God thinks?  No, she obviously cares very much, which is why she’s so upset at the thought of Him being mad at her.  As she studies what she wrote, Emma needs to recognize that she’s expressing a sincere desire to please God.  Then she needs to remember that her soul attitude is what God is judging her by.  So is God pleased with Emma or not?  Yes He is, because she really cares about pleasing Him.  Once Emma locks in on her personal standing with God, she can see that she’s wrong to assume God is angry with her.  But she’s also gained some new information about God: that He doesn’t want people to abort their babies.  This is news to Emma.  She didn’t know God didn’t approve of abortion back when she got hers.  So what’s really going on here is that God has given Emma a new insight about His personal preferences.  In other words, Emma cares about pleasing God, and now God has taught her something new about Him.  Is this a cause for sorrow?  No, it’s a cause for joy.  Now that she’s identified the error in her logic, Emma can rewrite her summary like this:

I know I’m pleasing God because I sincerely care about pleasing Him.  Now He’s taught me something new about Himself: that He doesn’t want humans to abort their babies.  He’s not saying this to criticize what I’ve done in the past, but to educate me so I can better align with His preferences in the future.  God is inviting me closer to Him by teaching me new things, and that makes me happy.  I’m looking forward to learning the next new thing.

See the difference in attitude?  Once Emma correctly interprets what God is doing with her, it changes her whole response.  She goes from feeling discouraged to feeling encouraged.

Let’s do another example.  After listening to a passionate sermon in church about the Great Commission, Rick feels like a guilty slacker because he can’t remember the last time he talked about Jesus with anyone.  As Rick dashes off to the restroom to avoid having to sign a commitment card that’s being passed around, he needs to get specific about why he’s so upset.  Here’s what he comes up with:

I hate witnessing to people because I never know what to say and it feels so awkward.  But since God has commanded us all to “go out and make disciples,” He must be angry with me for never talking about my faith with others.  I’ll never be able to get into a good place with God until I morph into some verse quoting extrovert.

See if you can pinpoint what’s wrong with Rick’s logic here.  And then let’s break it down.

First, Rick needs to recognize that the reason he’s so upset by the thought of failing God is because he really cares about pleasing Him.  Then he needs to remember what it is God judges him by.  In Rick’s statement, he’s assuming that God is displeased with him for two reasons: Rick’s lack of actions as well as his basic personality.  Is this correct?  No.  God judges Rick by his soul response to God, not by the manner in which he socializes with other humans.  Since Rick sincerely cares about pleasing God, he needs to stand on that and realize that God is already pleased with him.  Once he has a grip on that, he needs to figure out what to do with the information he’s been presented with during the sermon.  Let’s now eavesdrop on what Rick is thinking.

I know God is pleased with me because He knows I really do care about pleasing Him.  Pastor Joe is saying that God is displeased with those who don’t witness to people on a regular basis.  But I know that’s not true, because God judges us by our attitudes towards Him, not our actions.  A person can share the Gospel for a lot of wrong reasons—to show off, to brag at Bible study, or to impress Pastor Joe.  The actions alone don’t please God—He wants us to do them with the right attitude.  I certainly want to please God, but I hate witnessing, and the only time I think about doing it, I know my motivations are wrong.  Sometimes I just want to get Pastor Joe off my back.  Sometimes I’m trying to impress God with my works instead of remembering that what He really cares about is my soul’s response to Him.  I’m not going to do any witnessing until I can do it with the right motivation—out of desire to please God, nothing else.  I’m going to trust that God will clearly convict me when He wants me to talk about Him with someone.  When God says it’s time, I’ll be glad to do it. But I’m not going to let humans guilt me into doing things with wrong motivations. 

Rick is really showing signs of maturity here.  Pastor Joe has put out a pretty lousy sermon, but God has used it to help Rick grow more confident in the truth.  When you’re practicing good discernment skills, both good and bad messages will end up benefiting you because God will show you how to sift out the good and ditch the bad.

Let’s run through one more example.  Jason reads an article from our website about prayer warriors.  In that article, we say that God strongly dislikes the whole prayer warrior package, because it comes down to Christians bossing God about and trying to make Him serve them.  Before he came across our article, Jason considered himself to be a powerful prayer warrior.  He’s big on intercession, he leads the prayer team at his church, he manages the prayer chain, and he is always exalting the power of prayer on his Facebook page.  But after reading our article, Jason finds himself crashing down into guilt and shame and he feels like God is shoving him away in disgust.  But then he remembers that any conclusion that makes him feel discouraged in his walk with God is wrong, so he takes the time to pinpoint exactly why he is so upset.  Here’s what he comes up with:

I’m suddenly seeing prayer warriors in a really negative light.  I can see that the way we talk to God really is quite bossy and directive, and I can understand why that is really disrespectful.  But I never meant to be insulting God when I prayed like that—I really thought that’s what He wanted.  Now I feel like all of my good intentions have been rejected by God and He’s angry with me for speaking to Him the way that I have.

So what’s wrong with Jason’s logic here?  Is God really rejecting his good intentions?  Not at all.  God judges Jason by Jason’s soul response to God.  Jason really cares about pleasing God, so he can know that God isn’t mad at him.  Instead, God is rewarding Jason’s sincere heart by suddenly showing him how he can really improve the way he talks to God in his prayers.  This is a really positive moment—it’s time to celebrate, not get all depressed.  After he thinks about it, Jason comes up with this new, better interpretation of what God is saying to him through our article:

God knows how much I want to honor and please Him, and because of that, He is very pleased with me.  Now He’s inviting me even closer to Him by teaching me all of these new insights about how I can drastically improve the way I talk to Him.  This is exciting, and now I can see there are a lot of changes I need to make about how I run the prayer ministry at church and how I promote prayer on my Facebook page.  But I’m thrilled at God opening my eyes to understand these new principles, because now I can go on to the next level with Him.

See the difference?  Same article, same blunt delivery style, and yet when Jason gets things properly sorted with God, he ends up feeling inspired, not discouraged, in his personal relationship with God.

When God is teaching you through other people’s material, He’s going to emphasize encouragement and hope in your relationship with Him.  He’s going to be showing you how you can move even closer to Him—He’s not going to be shoving you away or telling you to just give it up.  Not every message you come across is going to have something in it for you, and when that’s the case, move on.  But don’t let blunt tones or negative subject matter make you unreceptive to what God might want to teach you.  Fabulous insights often come to us in some very unexpected ways. The more you practice applying good discernment skills, the better you’ll get at gleaning the treasures out of the harshest of God’s messages.  It’s good discernment skills that get us over feeling intimidated by those passages in the Bible where God is raging at people for various things.  And once we start really listening to God’s angry speeches, we learn many fabulous new insights about His preferences, passions, and His great love for human beings.

MORE DISCERNMENT PRINCIPLES:
Conviction Q&A
Understanding Conviction: Invitations to Engage
Practicing Discernment: The Structure of Beliefs
How to Tell When God is Speaking to You Through Someone Else
Shady Shepherd Tactics: Gaining Rank

PRACTICE DISCERNMENT WITH SCRIPTURE PASSAGES:
Understanding Moses: Identifying Soul Attitudes in Deuteronomy 8
Understanding Yahweh’s Wrath: Judah’s Alliance with Egypt (Isaiah 30:1-17)
Amos 2-4: Yahweh’s Wrath in Context
Jeremiah 2-3: Yahweh Justifies His Wrath

PRACTICE DISCERNMENT WITH WORSHIP SONG LYRICS:
Horrible Repentance Songs: SOUL ON FIRE by Third Day
Bossing God to Music: YOU SAID by Hillsong
Confession Worship Songs: The Heart of Worship

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