The enemy is a master at taking good things and perverting them into something harmful. He can turn obedience into legalism and the blood of Jesus into greasy grace if we listen to his lies. This week, God showed me a lie that I had swallowed whole. As these things do, it came from a very good place. I wanted to live in such a way that pleases God. But the enemy turned my quick glance of self-examination into an obsessive gaze into the pool of my humanity. I didn’t realize that what I was doing was wrong and that there is even a name for it: “morbid introspection.”
My Tip Off Was the Spirit of Slumber
Falling asleep in your prayer closet can be a result of not getting enough sleep in the natural. It can also be an attack of the enemy. Friday, I couldn’t even stay up to read the Bible past 8:00 PM, and Saturday afternoon, I was again close to dozing when I was just trying to pray. As I considered the matter, praying through and asking God to speak to me about my late lack of discernment and general sense of weariness, it hit me. I was fighting a spirit of slumber. After doing a little research and prayerfully thinking back on the week, I was amazed to discover that my very own words had opened the door to it.
“Tired” of My Humanity
There is a song on the radio now by Zach Williams called “Less Like Me.’ It’s a song about how we miss the mark sometimes, how we don’t always have the fruits of the Spirit like we should. How even on our best days, we aren’t perfect like Jesus. It’s kind of been a theme song for me lately. I would sing it loud, lamenting that I’m not as much like Jesus as I would like to be. In fact, when I looked at myself closely, I started to find lots of things that were wrong with me.
And the more I looked, the more I found. I started feel like I couldn’t get anything right. Then I began to think things like, “I’m tired of being bad.” “I’m tired of always messing up.” “I’m tired of getting it wrong all the time.” I kept begging God to make me better, more like Him, but I just ended up feeling frustrated and hopeless. As hard as I tried to be “good,” I just wasn’t. I still said things I shouldn’t have, felt lazy instead of helpful, and fought thoughts that were everything God told us not to think. It became almost a “religious OCD.” A vague but persistent sense of moral failure followed me around asking questions like, “Shouldn’t you be better than this by now?” Or “Why can’t you ever get it right?”
Examine Yourself, But Don’t Obsess: An Analogy
Now 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless indeed you are disqualified.” It’s a good thing to look at ourselves often to make sure that we are living our lives in accordance with the Word of God. It’s even better to pray and ask God to show us what He sees so that we can correct any behaviors that are displeasing to Him. But once we complete our examination, we must get our eyes off ourselves and back onto God where they belong. After all, even our very best is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). It’s only the blood of Jesus that makes us perfect in the eyes of God. HE is our righteousness.
I thought of someone in a theater eating a chili dog while watching a live performance. Where should the person’s eyes be focused? On the stage, of course. Occasionally, he could look down to see if there were any chili drips or drink splashes, but having once determined that he was clean (or having cleaned any spot), his eyes should return to the stage. It would be silly for him to sit in the theater focusing all his attention on himself while a wonderful performance played in front of him.
It’s the same with us. Jesus should be our focus. It is His sacrifice and atonement, His righteousness, and His strong hand that leads us and guides us in sanctification. When we fall short, we repent, and Jesus is faithful to forgive us. But focusing too long on ourselves just leaves us feeling depressed and hopeless. This side of Heaven, there will always be things about us that can be improved — and we should allow God to tell us what they are in His time. But finding our righteousness in anything other than Jesus is an impossibility that just leaves us…tired.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Now introspection, like retrospection, is a useful thing in a measure; but it can readily be overdone, and then it breeds morbid emotions, and creates despair…Too many wound themselves by studying themselves.” Morbid introspection occurs when the devil convinces us to take our eyes off Jesus and put them onto ourselves to find righteousness. But you can’t pray hard enough, read the Bible long enough, or behave well enough to satisfy the voice of condemnation once you let it in. Your only hope is to turn your gaze away from yourself and onto Jesus. It is His sacrifice alone that makes us acceptable in the sight of God.
PS. In another amazing testimony of the great grace and kindness of God, this week He already gave me a new favorite song. It’s called “Thank You Jesus for the Blood Applied,” by Charity Gale. I was already singing it and loving it before I realized that it would be my new theme song.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the mailing list on the upper right corner (or at the bottom on a phone). If you like timely articles, try The Fruit of the Spirit During Times of Crisis. In that one, I chronicle my friend Jason’s time in China as the Coronavirus was just beginning. Or, Instead of Fear, Choose Faith in God’s Promises. In that one, we look at the 5 basic kinds of fear. There are promises from the Bible that speak to each one. Also, check out my YouTube Channel where I read my blogs out loud. I also have a separate playlist of hymns from our talented, anointed worship leader Hannah.