Getting Over Yourself
Rev. Tony Cooke
D. L. Moody once quipped, “I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man I have ever met.” Probably many of us share that sentiment. As much as we may tend to point fingers of frustration toward other people and at outside circumstances, the reality is that we, our very selves, are the main challenge that can trip us up in life. Chuck Ford, a friend of mine who pastors in Mississippi, wisely said “God is never my problem. The devil is rarely my problem. Sometimes others are my problem. Mostly I’m my problem.”
Maybe you’ve heard someone jokingly say, “I’m going to Home Depot to buy a ladder so I can get over myself.” We all wish it was that easy, don’t we? As humans, we typically recognize we can be better than we are, feel better than we feel, and do better than we do. I recently read that in 2019, there were 85,253 different self-help books available. I also checked Amazon, and found out that they have more than 70,000 titles available under “self-help.” What do these staggering numbers communicate? I believe it speaks to the need that people know — deep down inside — that we can be better.
While I’m not against anything that truly helps people, I think there is something higher than simply “helping ourselves.” Practical advice can be good, but I believe that the revealed truth of God and the power of the Holy Spirit are the key influences that will bring needed growth, maturity, and transformation to our lives. Whether it is a significant dysfunction, or a minor quirk or issue, God wants to help us be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).
If we are by ourselves all the time — isolated from others — we likely may not notice or be aware of certain issues in our lives that would show up if we were regularly working with others. Maybe you can think of someone you interact with frequently, and something about them just irritates you. Before you go too far with that, realize that others may find something about you that is equally bothersome to them. Involvement with others brings “stuff” to the surface, in their lives and in yours. These can be opportunities for on-going frustration, but they can also be opportunities for growth and change.
This reminds me of a minister with dyslexia who was writing the word “united” but ended up instead with the word “untied.” He was a bit surprised when he realized that the only difference between being “united” and “untied’ is the placement of the “i.” If your “i” — your sense of self — is healthy, you can contribute to the unity of the team. However, an unhealthy “i” can push the team toward becoming untied.
We often hear people speak of “ego,” and usually it’s in reference to a person who comes across as having an inflated ego — someone who seems to be full of himself or herself. The Latin word “ego” simply meant, “I.” It didn’t have a negative connotation but was just a reference to oneself. However, because of the fallen nature and unrenewed minds, we typically think of “ego” being expressed in an unhealthy way. A minister friend said that EGO can be an acrostic that stands for “Edging God Out.” In other words, when our ego is unhealthy, we can be so full of ourselves that we make no room for God.
In the context of teamwork and partnership, is our sense of self helping us or hurting us? Does our character, our attitudes, and our level of maturity enhance our productivity and our relationships, or are they hindrances? Based on your sense of self, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I serve effectively?
- Do I make the team better?
- Do I help leadership effectively?
Can you objectively consider how well you function with others? If a team member were to honestly evaluate you, would they possibly say something like, “So-and-so is a good person, but their ________________ makes them difficult to work with at times.”
How might you fill in the above blank about yourself? If something readily comes to mind, that might be an area you need to ask God to help you with. What is it that people would identify as an area that makes you less-than-enjoyable to work with? Would it be:
- …your procrastination makes you difficult to work with?
- …your moodiness makes you difficult to work with?
- …your unpreparedness makes you difficult to work with?
- …your poor communication skills make you difficult to work with?
- …your lack of follow-through makes you difficult to work with?
- …your bad attitude makes you difficult to work with?
If we can “get over ourselves” and develop genuine Christlikeness in our lives, we can experience greater wholeness and fulfillment, and be more useful in the hands of God. Lynn A. Miller once commented, “Stewardship is the act of organizing your life so that God can spend you.” When I hear that type of statement, it moves me to ask God to help me get my act together better so he can work through me more effectively. I sincerely desire that God will work through me. I don’t want him to have to work around me, or worse yet, in spite of me.
Doing word searches in several English translations, I found five positive usages involving the word “self” throughout the New Testament:
- the new self
Keep in mind that “you” are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul even tells us to “Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:24 NLT).
The problems don’t come from our spirit — from our identity in Christ. Rather, the problems come from the flesh and the unrenewed mind. How many of you know that we are all a work in progress? One person said, “God loves me just the way I am, but he loves me too much to let me stay this way.” This is why we have to watch out for some of the problems that can still exist and be expressed from our soul.
Using the same translations as I used above, I found the following negative usages involving the word “self” in the New Testament.
|the old self
Wow! Those are a lot of potential pitfalls! May I encourage you to review this list and ask yourself, “If I was going to have an area of struggle, where would it be?” I don’t think everyone necessarily struggles with all the same issues. For example, one person might struggle most with a sense of self-pity, while another is more challenged by the temptation toward self-exaltation.
Practical Considerations in “Getting Over Yourself.”
Do a Little Introspection
Socrates, the Greek philosopher said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I say we should engage in a “little” introspection because I don’t think we are always supposed to be gazing inwardly. However, the Bible does promote a certain type of self-examination. For example:
“You should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28 NLT).
“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5 NLT).
The Message version renders that same verse as “Give yourselves regular checkups.”
There is a problem in being oblivious to oneself and one’s issues. There is also a concern in being obsessed with oneself; that can lead to what has been called “the paralysis of analysis.” David invited God to help him and to reveal anything in his life that needed to change.
Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
So, what does healthy introspection look like? It doesn’t just involve an inward look, but it involves an upward look and an outward look as well. Isaiah gives us a great example of this. He saw God, he saw himself, and he saw others — in that order.
In Isaiah 6:1-4, Isaiah saw the Lord, and he was glorious! Having seen God, Isaiah then saw himself (6:5-7), and his first impression was most humbling. He recognized that he was a sinful man with filthy lips. Acknowledging this, the angel touched a hot coal to his lips and cleansed him. Then (6:8), Isaiah heard the call to go to the people with a divinely granted message.
Isaiah’s introspection was not just a wallowing in self-abasement. He saw himself in the light of God’s word and truth, and he then allowed the power of God to make a change in his life. Having seen God for who he is, and having seen himself for who he was (and allowing God to change him), he then looked to reaching out to and helping others.
Check Your Motives
“The LORD’s light penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive” (Proverbs 20:27, NLT).
“Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4 NLT).
The Message version rendering of the above refers to “mixed motives” and “hidden agendas.”
Most Christians would say they are living for the glory of God, but it’s important to do a serious “motive check” from time to time. We can easily slip into having motives that more self-oriented than God-oriented.
For example, when Lisa and I made our first ministry trip in the summer of 1980, I was shown the files of the numerous sermons our host had preached over many years. He was a prolific teacher, and he literally had volumes of extensive notes on just about any Bible topic you could imagine. I was intimidated and felt I had to measure up to his quality and expertise.
Instead of humbly being led by the Spirit and sharing a simple message that would edify the people, I tried (unsuccessfully) to write a lofty, impressive message that would cause the people to think I was as equally gifted as their seasoned pastor. As you can imagine, my first sermon flopped.
I would have likely said that I was ministering for the glory of God, but in fact, I really wanted the people to think well of me. God wanted to bless the people (with himself), but I was wanting to impress the people (with me). Let’s make sure we all minister because we love God and love people.
Examine Your Ambition
This point, I believe, is closely related to the material on motives. God told Jeremiah, “Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it!” (Jeremiah 45:5 NLT). The key here is for yourself. Noah’s descendants got into trouble when they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world” (Genesis 11:4 NLT).
They wanted to be famous! They wanted to build something great for themselves! Where was God’s glory and honor in all of this? It was not in their agenda. In his class book, Spiritual Leadership, Oswald Sanders points out that “Ambition comes from a Latin word meaning ‘campaigning for promotion.’” Interestingly, the phrase “selfish ambition” is used four times in the New Testament (NLT).
God wants people who are motivated and ambitious, but for his glory and honor — for the advancement of his kingdom. If you are lazy, lackadaisical, and unmotivated, you need to get a fire lit under you — you need to have some godly ambition, some godly motivation. But again, we need to keep it holy! A. W. Tozer said, “Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to excite little notice.” Let’s promote Christ passionately and energetically, but for his sake, not for ours.
We need the right kind of ambition. Paul said that his “ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard” (Romans 15:20 NLT). In this instance, the word ambition means “a constant aim toward a point of honor.” What burnt in the missionary hearts of the eighteenth-century Moravians is reflected in the statement of their founder, Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, “I have but one passion: It is he; it is he alone.”
Have a Positive Sense of Self Without Being Self-Absorbed.
Edwin Louis Cole even remarked, “The counterfeit trinity is me, myself, and I.” Such an observation is true when our sense of self is totally out of whack… when it is completely under the control and influence of the flesh.
You can love yourself without being self-centered or self-absorbed. You can love yourself because God loves you, and if you don’t love yourself (in the right way), you are not in agreement with God. I like what one little boy said, “I’m special, cause God don’t make no junk.”
The balance we seek here relates to embracing the idea that “I am who God says I am” without thinking more of yourself than you ought, or thinking less of others than you should. Yes, God loves you, but the world doesn’t revolve around you.
Someone once noted, “When you’re twenty, you care what everyone thinks, when you’re forty you stop caring what everyone thinks, when you’re sixty, you realize no one was ever thinking about you in the first place.” Along similar lines, D. L. Moody stated, “Moses spent forty years thinking he was somebody; forty years learning he was nobody; and forty years discovering what God can do with a nobody.”
Know that you are totally accepted and absolutely beloved in Christ. When you are fully convinced of and resting in that, you don’t have to constantly struggle in the flesh to find value, acceptance, and affirmation. You don’t have to be driven by insecurity and inferiority, always trying to push yourself ahead to be noticed so that you can feel good about yourself. Because you are resting in God’s love, you are able to relax and love others.
Differentiate Between True and False Humility.
Have you ever played the self-deprecation game? You know, the one where you put yourself down, but in reality, you are fishing for a compliment. It works like this. Let’s say I’ve just preached, and I’m feeling a little insecure about how I did. I really want someone to compliment me so I’ll feel better about myself, so I say to someone, “Man, I just don’t think I did very good in delivering that sermon.”
Deep inside, I’m not wanting them to agree with me. As a matter of fact, I’d probably not like it at all if they said, “Yeah Tony, I know what you’re saying. That really wasn’t a very good message.” No! I want them to disagree with me. I want them to say, “What do you mean, Tony? That was a really good message.” In that whole exchange, I may be acting humble by saying I didn’t think I did a good job, but in reality my pride is really wanting to be stroked.
False humility is acting humble so others will think highly of us. True humility is when we’re not really focused on ourselves at all. Here are some remarkable statements by others that deal with true versus false humility.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less. Humble people are so focused on serving others, they don’t think of themselves.”
– Rick Warren
“The victorious Christian neither exalts nor downgrades himself. His interests have shifted from self to Christ.”
– A. W. Tozer
“Humility is not denying the power you have. It is realizing that the power comes through you, not from you.”
– Fred Smith
“Humility is to make a right estimate of oneself. It is no humility for a man to think less of himself than he ought.”
– Charles H. Spurgeon
“Humility is not simply an absence of pride; it is the realistic recognition of the grace of God.”
– Alistair Begg
“Humility is self-forgetfulness.”
– C.S. Lewis
“Humility never means denying the value of what we do. It does, however, mean keeping the things we do in proper perspective. Humility never claims to have done nothing. Instead, it is a realization that all we have done has been done in God’s strength and by God’s grace.”
– Dean Shriver
Be OK With Anonymity
Jesus dealt a lot with this. He talked about doing things anonymously — in secret — as opposed to doing things in order to be noticed by others (Matthew 6:1-18). He also said that when we do things as unto the Lord, the Father will reward us. Our fulfilment and satisfaction need to come from doing things for God’s glory and for the benefit of others; not for the accolades and the praises of men. Ministry is an expression of God’s love through us, not as a means to get our ego needs fulfilled.
How anonymous are you willing to be? Consider these statements from great preachers of the past.
“Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.”
– Count Nikolaus Zinzendorf
Before Charles Spurgeon died, he left instructions that the only thing that was to be on his grave marker were his initials, “C. H. S.”
“Let the name of Whitefield perish, but Christ be glorified.”
– George Whitefield
F.D.R. once said that what he wanted on his staff were, “young men with a passion for anonymity.”
“There is no limit to what we can accomplish if no one cares who gets the credit.”
– Ronald Reagan
Own Your Attitude.
Paul tells believers, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5 NLT). I really don’t think he meant that as a suggestion or as an ideal. We really are supposed to have the same kind of attitude that Jesus had. I believe we can choose to have a godly attitude. We may be tempted otherwise, but I believe that what Viktor Frankl, the survivor of a Nazi Concentration Camp said, is true: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
Instead of blaming circumstances or other people as a justification for complaining, etc., why don’t we determine to be thankful in all things. There are situations and circumstances in life that we can’t control, but here are seven things we really can manage. I can control:
- My attitude
- What I focus on
- What I tell myself; my inner-monologue
- My sense of self-esteem
- My work ethic
- My words and actions
- How I treat others
I’m not saying we won’t face challenges or obstacles in these areas, but with God’s help, we can manage those areas of our lives, and do it to the glory of God.
Consider Your Expectations
I am an optimist, and I like what the great missionary, William Carey said: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”
Still, I think many times we get frustrated because we have unrealistic expectations. Hyper-idealism trips us up. When we expect perfection from others, the difference between our expectations and reality equals our measure of disappointment and frustration. In such cases, we can never enjoy the good because we only expect the great.
Are you willing to let people make mistakes, and to learn and grow from their mistakes? Do you realize that some things take time? Do you realize that many things in life involve a process, and that things don’t always happen as immediately as you’d like them to? Are you expecting others to make you happy? These are just a few of the questions that would help indicate whether your expectations are realistic or unrealistic.
Say “No” to Comparison
What is it about human nature that makes us so prone to compare ourselves with others? It seems that comparison is usually based on insecurity, and will typically produce either pride or inferiority.
I remember hearing a person relate a story from his childhood. He had just gotten a new bicycle for Christmas, and he was so happy. He was elated until he saw his neighbor who had also just gotten a new bicycle, and his neighbor’s new bike was a little nicer than his. There went his joy.
When it comes to spiritual things, we all have different gifts and assignments. No two churches are exactly alike, nor are they supposed to be. God wants us to be secure in who we are and in what he’s called us to do. Further, we should celebrate everyone else’s gift and assignment whether it appears “better” than ours or “not as significant.”
The Dallas Cowboys have never felt threatened by the Boston Celtics. Why? They’re not playing the same sport; they’re not playing the same game. You are not competing against any other Christian or any other church. Your job is just to be the best you can be for God, not to out-do any other Christian or any other church.
Deal Well with Praise and Criticism
It is good to not be overly-affected by praise or criticism. We all appreciate a sincere compliment, but some people are just saying something positive as a formality; others are flatterers. On the other hand, some people will criticize you just because they have a critical nature. Their caustic remarks to you will be more of a reflection of who they are than something you did or didn’t do.
Ultimately, we must live for God’s approval, not the approval of man. If peoples’ praises can go to your head today, their criticisms can go to your heart tomorrow. Remember, the cries of “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” were quickly followed by shouts of “Crucify him, crucify him!”
If you ever visit the grave of George Whitefield in Newburyport, MA, you will see a plaque with an unusual inscription. Some heralded Whitefield as a great evangelist (which he was), but other viciously attacked him with vile slander. The plaque beside his burial place contains a statement he made: “I am content to wait till the day of judgement for the clearing up of my character. And after I am dead I desire no other epitaph than this, ‘Here lies G. W. What sort of man he was the great will discover.’”
On the practical side, I remember hearing a well-known preacher say that when he is criticized, the first thing he does is examine it to see if there is something he should change. If there is something helpful in the criticism, he accepts it and seeks to improve from it. Other than that, he moves on and doesn’t let it drag him down.
“Getting Over Ourselves” is a way of describing the process whereby we renew our minds, grow into Christlikeness, and manifest the fruit of the Spirit. For Paul, spiritual growth and development was intentional (Philippians 3:12-14). President Harry Truman once remarked, “In reading about the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves . . . self-discipline with all of them came first.” May God help all of “get over ourselves,” work well with others, and be highly productive for him.