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It is common sense to protect yourself from the adverse things in this world that could tempt you to sin. The individual tempted to drink too much alcohol would be foolish not to set-up parameters in his life to keep from getting drunk. The person who has a history of any type of addiction would practice discernment to stay out of their specific trap of habituation (Galatians 6:1).
Caring people who don’t want to habituate themselves in sin will think this way. For the Christian, it is biblical common sense to keep yourself unspotted from the world (James 1:26-27). A few years ago, I was reading a devotion from Oswald Chambers that talked about guarding your mind against your strengths. He said it this way: “An unguarded strength is a double weakness.”
His words stopped me in my tracks. I had been spending most of my time guarding the “front door of my heart,” never realizing that there was another kind of sin that could come through the back door. Here are three illustrations that make this point about how your strengths can demoralize and paralyze you.
A 12-year girl is super-intelligent; it’s her strength. Her parents do not realize that she uses this good quality as a way of gaining acceptance and stroking her cravings for significance. As you might imagine in a family dynamic like this, her dad is not an encourager, which feeds her feelings of insecurity.
When she was younger, she realized that God had given her a special gift. It was her intellect. This little girl is brilliant, and it did not take long in K-5 before she was aware of how easy it was for her to get good grades. And with those grades came the accolades and positive encouragement from her teachers. There seemed to be nothing wrong with her formula: good grades equal applause.
What her family did not see was how her intellect became her form of idol worship. She silently fed her craving for acceptance by making good grades, which prompted all sorts of positive comments. In this case, her most significant strength became her greatest weakness.
There was a successful businessman who could never please his dad. Today, this son is a wealthy, workaholic salesman. He discovered in his early twenties that he could draw people around him with his charisma. Everybody who meets him loves him.
What nobody knows is that he’s a historical people-pleaser. He hides his insecurity behind a charismatic facade. The acceptance of his fan club fills a deep void in his life that dates back to his childhood. The sadness of a never-affirming dad vaporizes by turning on his charm.
His friends see him as the model for success. What they don’t perceive is how all the “winning” has made him a loser with the Lord. His spiritual diet is socially hanging with the guys at the Bible study, but he never contributes anything of substance. His family suffers as his strengths smother out the hope of him ever thinking about someone other than himself.
Everyone says that Mable has the gift of mercy. She always pulls for the underdog, and when there is a person in need, she never says “No” to the opportunity. There is no question that Mable is a caring and giving person. But the darker side of her life reveals the story of “mercy run amuck.”
Always helping others masks her deep insecurities from a life of tragedy. Because of all the heartbreak from her past, she cannot bear to see another person suffering. Her undiscerning friends say that she has the “gift of mercy,” but it’s not entirely true. Yes, she has genuine compassion, but the dirty little secret is that the fear of man has captivated her heart (Proverbs 29:25).
Mable refuses to say “no” to any cry for mercy because she does not want anyone to think poorly of her. She has an octane-infused approval drive that requires positive reviews. Sadly, no one will speak into her life because, to them, it does not make sense that serving others could have traces of sin in it. Mable’s genuine strength of mercy is also a soul-diminishing weakness.
All three of these illustrations describe individuals who have good gifts from the Lord. God has blessed them with the combination of a personality and gift-mixes that enables them to do good things in redemptive ways. To be smart, charismatic, or merciful are valuable assets in any Christian’s life.
Then there is the doctrine of sin, always lingering in the shadows of our souls, hoping to corrupt every good gift from the Lord. You and I are no different from my three fictional characters. God has blessed you, too. What is one of your God-given strengths? What is that thing that comes naturally to you?
The solution is not to hide your strength by putting it away because your motivations might not be pure when you use it. Your initial response should be self-awareness, knowing that anyone has the potential of taking their strength and turning it in such a way that it feeds the little bit of narcissism that is in all of us.
The over-introspective will zoom-in on their motivations and tie souls into knots. Don’t do that. These folks tend to bounce from one polar opposite to the other. On one side is this illusion that you can do something with pure motives. It is not a valid position to take as a fallen human being. Broken people are not purely pure, even in any way, including their motivations.
The opposite reaction is a paralysis that leans toward giving up. “If I can’t do it with pure motives, I’m not going to do it.” That response is not right, either. You must live somewhere in the middle, knowing that your heart will never be perfect in what you do, but you must keep on serving God with the strengths that He has given to you.
Doing wrong by not using your gifts is not the right response to keep from doing wrong by operating with imperfect motivations. Two wrongs do not make a right. If God has given you the ability to do well in His world, the last thing you want to do is hide your strength under a basket (Matthew 5:15).
Typically what happens with folks, like my three smart, successful, and merciful people, is that their lives have ongoing soul trouble. They are never comfortable in their “own skin.” An internal awkwardness of the soul is one of the indicators to measure how you’re doing in life. If you don’t have soul peace, something is wrong.
As you might intuit, my three friends don’t have that kind of shalom, and the reason is apparent. They have God-given strengths, and though they might not be aware of how they are abusing their good qualities, they are, and their souls have low-grade angst, always churning below the surface of their lives.
Typically, this type of person may blame the adverse shaping influences on why they are this way. For example, the smart girl could accuse her father of “making her this way.” That attitude would be unfortunate. There is a more straightforward answer: all three of my fictional friends are proud, and their most significant opposition is that the Lord is against them (James 4:6).
I’m not letting their adverse shaping influencers off the hook because they are guilty of not being the right kind of people for these complicated souls. At some point, the Christian has to move beyond being the perennial victim for the things that have happened to them. The “accent mark” must shift from “what they did to me” to “how am I to respond with Christlike humility before the Lord?”
Without making excuses or justifying bad behavior, we have to index forward and figure out how what others may have meant for evil is the Lord superintending for our good. The perpetual victim is in a prison of pride while the maturing believer is leaning into grace-empowered humility.
Freedom from the bondage of manipulating our strengths to feed our egos starts with humility. It recognizes that apart from the grace of God, anyone can turn anything into an opportunity for self-glory. From the position of a humble heart, you’re willing to accept the possibility that you might not see how you can fall into this trap. At that point, you’re ready to talk about how your unguarded strength might be a double weakness.
Are you ready to talk? What is one of your strengths? The best way to identify it is by recalling how folks talk about your good qualities. If someone is always saying you’re a merciful person, for example, then that would be a strength of yours. Perhaps you can think about how you want folks to know you. Our smart fictional young lady wants people to know her as being intelligent. How do you want people to know you?
Typically we want others to know us for something that we can do in reality. For example, I don’t want anyone to know me for my singing voice because that is not flattering. The tendency is to manage the strength that you have, and the temptation is to over-inflate it so you can keep the accolades coming. Hence, my question, what is your strength?
Now that you have identified it, have you ever used it to manipulate a response? A preacher can do this by asking someone what they “got out of the sermon.” The preacher knows the congregant liked it, which guarantees that the response will be favorable. Another example is how the attractive girl will accentuate her appearance to catch the eyes of others. One more example is the person who never asks for forgiveness; they won’t admit wrong.