The hardest form of truth – being honest with yourself

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From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 10 – How we can develop ‘the love of the truth’ and the character quality , and habit, of truthfulness?

It is very rare to find people who are willing to be brutally honest with themselves. Most people cannot even see the issue here. The point is that the person to whom we lie the most is ourselves. Our own hearts lie to us and we justify ourselves automatically:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:9 (NASB)

All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight,
But the LORD weighs the motives.

Proverbs 16:2 (NIV)

We are highly skilled at telling lies to ourselves and believing them, when even the most naive person, if he was standing nearby, would recognise it as a lie. We operate a hypocritical double standard. We judge ourselves, and our own motives, and actions extremely generously, without any inner debate or questioning of ourselves. Therefore, we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, and are quick to justify our actions and excuse our failures. We frequently block out, and therefore do not hear, any thought which contradicts, or even questions, our own actions or attitudes.

It is exceptionally rare for a person who has been in a conflict or argument to sit down and say privately to themselves “Now let’s examine my own actions and attitudes here. Am I out of order myself? How must my actions and words appear to others?” Those are obvious questions and we ought to ask them of ourselves daily. But we very rarely do so, if ever. If we did ask such questions we would then come to see ourselves as others see us. That would be a major revelation. It would also transform the way we live.

These points are completely obvious. We can see them clearly in the lives of the people around us, just not in ourselves. Even if we can see it in principle, and recognise the concept in abstract terms, we do not carry it over and continue to see this when we are actually in the heat of a conflict situation. Even those who can see that this point applies to them struggle to actually put it into practice while in an argument or crisis.

At such times, even if we know these things are true, we will tend to ‘revert to type’ and behave in a self-deluding way. This is an area where enormous personal growth is available to us if we can learn to cross examine ourselves. That is especially true if we can learn to do this even in the middle of a tense situation, where we are in an argument with another person, or even being mistreated by them.

This blindness about our own faults also arises within family life, and between husband and wife. It happens in the workplace too. In each of these contexts, we are required to live at close quarters with other people. Their ways and attitudes may, therefore, get on our nerves. But we are usually blind to our own faults and selfish ways, because what we do seems so normal and so obviously right. That is why we need to begin to ask ourselves searching questions about how we must seem to other people and whether there is anything unfair, selfish or annoying in what we say or do.

But to learn to ask ourselves obvious questions like that is like learning to speak in a foreign language. It is alien to us because it runs entirely against the grain of our sinful nature. To begin to operate that way will require us to do what is contrary to our nature and the opposite of the habits we have learned. Likewise, at work, if your boss criticises or challenges you, instead of assuming that such a criticism is obviously unfounded, unfair, ridiculous etc, stop and ask yourself: “How do my actions appear to other people? What can be done to improve my style, manner, technique, method etc?”

Also, it’s essential to ask God to help you to see what others can see in you and in your behavior. If not you are bound to fail because being honest and objective about yourself is extremely hard to do, even with God’s help, let alone without it. In such situations pray something like this:

“Lord, please help me not to react hastily or selfishly, or to do what my flesh nature wants. Help me to calm down and humble myself. Help me to see this situation, and my part in it, as you see it and as others see it. Help me to be objective, fair, honest, unbiased and rational, even when evaluating my own actions. Please also open my eyes to see anything bad about myself that I’m currently blind to.”

That is an unusual prayer. God doesn’t get many prayers as sincere as that, so it will touch His heart. It is the sort of prayer that He delights to answer. God will pour out self-knowledge to a person who asks for it genuinely, and is not just seeking justification and vindication, but to truly see themselves as they really are. That’s the key. Your prayer must be sincere.

Have you ever been in a situation where a friend or colleague asks you what you think of the rights and wrongs of a conflict they are engaged in? Have you ever tried to answer them, only to discover that they were not seeking an honest answer, but just your support and affirmation?

Your prayer must not be like that. Don’t just ask God so that He can agree with you and take your side. Ask God with a real willingness to be corrected, and even to be rebuked. The more honest and open you are, the more gracious and polite He can afford to be. If you don’t approach it that way then you leave God with only two options:

a) to leave you in ignorance and self-delusion or

b) to get some other person to speak to you. However, they are not going to be anywhere near as gracious as God would be in the way they tell you about your faults.

Though you may not realise it at the time, if you are in a position where you are not listening to God, then it is much better for you if He chooses option (b) above. Therefore He will make sure to send people into your life who will tackle you and tell you the truth about yourself. It was a revelation to me when I began to realise that such people, though they didn’t know it, were all working for God. They were giving me some very blunt messages that I needed to hear.

As I look back at over 30 years as a Christian, I can see many such people whom God clearly sent my way to point out my faults and failings. God often uses bosses for this. They are one of His favourite types of ‘sub-contractor’ or ‘agent’ that He engages to do such tasks for Him. God uses our bosses to correct us because they have the right, and the need, to tackle us. It is also because we are obliged to listen to them and cannot ignore them.

God will also use older Christians, and parents, even non-Christian parents. We need to become willing and even eager to listen to all such people. In fact we need to go to them and seek out their honest views and to reassure them that we really do want them to be frank. You need to emphasise that. If not, people will tend to go easy on you for fear of causing offence. So, go looking for constructive feedback and criticism. Ask for it. Then it makes it so much easier for God’s ‘messengers’ to speak the truth to you.

As well as that, go straight to God and ask Him to speak to you directly, not just through other people. If you ask for that He will correct you in all sorts of ways that are far easier to take than being corrected or rebuked by others. God will speak to you through:

a) the Bible – as you read it certain passages or words will ‘leap out at you’. Some character in the Bible will be acting in a certain way and the Holy Spirit will whisper the thought into your head “He’s making the same mistake you make” or “His attitude is wrong, but so is yours”.

b) other people saying things in passing – even where they aren’t speaking directly to you. God will cause certain words or phrases to resonate with you. It could be something in a book or on the TV or radio. God will “make it go fluorescent” or somehow make it resonate in your mind as being applicable to you.c) speaking directly into your mind or your spirit – this is similar to what has been said above. You may be just getting on with your work when God will plant a thought in your mind. It will contain some truth about you, your motives, or your shortcomings.

Whenever God chooses to speak to you, and whatever method He uses, the crucial thing is to be open to it. Don’t brush Him aside or forget what He says. Be teachable and willing to listen. He will then speak to you more clearly and more often.

However, the moment you start to become willing to listen to God’s voice the demons who hang around with you will seek to join in. They too will seek to plant thoughts in your mind. The only difference is that the thoughts that they put into your head are lies. So, you’ll need to learn to discern the difference between God’s authentic voice and the false whisperings of demons.

That requires you to be alert to weigh up the tone and content of whatever thought comes in to your mind. Is it constructive, wholesome, consistent with Scripture, and in line with all of God’s ways and principles? If so, it will probably be God’s voice. But if it is destructive, condemning, contrary to Scripture or clashes with one or more biblical principles, then it is demonic.

Once you start to analyse your own thoughts in this way it will become progressively easier to tell the difference. It’s largely common sense. For example, if someone claiming to be from your bank rang up asking you to reveal your personal PIN number, you’d quickly realise something was wrong. At least you should realise it. Some don’t, and just hand over the information.

Learning the real truth about yourself is bound to be a long and uncomfortable process of discovery. Coming to terms with what sort of person you really are, “warts and all”, is a vital first stage to the project of changing. That’s what God is really after. It requires this rare quality of being honest with yourself, no matter where that takes you, or what it costs. Make that your aim and cooperate with God as He seeks to build that level of honesty in you.

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