Read an Excerpt
pure living in a polluted world
By Craig Groeschel
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2012 Craig Groeschel
All rights reserved.
Telling Ourselves the Truth
The ingenuity of self-deception is inexhaustible. —Hannah Moore
As a pastor, I rarely confess to watching American Idol, since it sounds kind of ... idolatrous. Nevertheless, I've been known to catch a few weeks each season (or maybe all of them, but who's counting?). My favorites are the first few shows as the panel travels around the country for auditions. If you don't believe people are easily self-deceived, you only have to watch these tryouts to change your mind. It's difficult to comprehend how many horrifically bad singers truly believe they deserve to be the next vocal superstar!
While we often laugh (or cringe, if you're more compassionate than I am) and wonder how a person can be so out of touch with reality, so unaware of their utter lack of talent, I'm afraid I actually understand their problem. You see, I have another confession to share with you, one that I'm even more embarrassed to disclose. Growing up, I not only loved to sing, but I thought I was a great singer. I'd wail out "You Ain't Nothin' but a Hound Dog" or "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" at the top of my lungs, convinced that it was only a matter of time before I was discovered. Holding my invisible microphone, I'd shake my hips like Elvis, pout my lips like Mick Jagger, and snarl like Billy Idol. No wonder I sounded like a wounded animal!
Convinced of my future stardom, in the fifth grade I auditioned for our grade school choir. The choir consisted of fifty singers; fifty-two kids were trying out. Obviously, two unfortunate wannabes would not make the cut. I figured the odds were clearly stacked in my favor. This was my big chance to let others in on the secret talent that would make me a household name someday.
Yes, you are absolutely correct about what happened at the auditions. I was one of the two that went home crying because I didn't make the stupid choir! So each time I see some poor clueless young man or woman singing off-key on Idol, surprised at Randy Jackson's "That's enough, Dawg," it's easy for me to understand their self-deception. What's more challenging for me to understand is how their friends and family support and perpetuate their delusion. Those poor mothers making obscene gestures at the judges for not recognizing their baby's amazing vocal talent!
As we see ourselves through the lens of our experiences, beliefs, and perspectives, we all have our blind spots. As the Bible describes the problem, "The heart is deceitful above all things" (Jer. 17:9). No matter how objective we hope to be, our viewpoint is always distorted to some—sometimes large—degree. Here's the challenge. The longer we view ourselves through a distorted lens, the more likely we are to believe a distorted truth. The longer we lie to ourselves, deceive ourselves, or remain in denial about the truth, the more likely we are to base our decisions and actions on this false belief system.
Flattery Will Get You Somewhere
If you're like most people, when you read about self-deception, it's easy to think of a few people who fall into that category, but chances are that in your mind, you are not one of them. The reason is clear. We don't know what we don't know about ourselves. And often we don't want to know. I believe God put this book into your hands because he loves you so much, he wants to help show you anything in your life that is polluting his plan for you, including your shortcomings and the defenses you may be placing around them.
Since we see ourselves from only one perspective, it's incredibly difficult to get an accurate picture of ourselves. In order to see into our blind spots, we must use different mirrors held at different angles. I'd like to provide you with some of these mirrors in order to expose the toxic behaviors that tend to sneak up on all of us. They're often present on a daily basis, and even though we can't see them, they can accumulate inside us and poison the well of our souls.
Why can't we see our self-generated toxins? David answers this question in Psalm 36:2–3 when he describes a deceived sinner: "In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin. The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful; they fail to act wisely or do good" (emphasis mine). Notice how David puts it, that some people "flatter themselves too much." They lie to themselves and don't even know it. And they've become so skilled at self-deception that they cannot detect or confess their sins. Basically, we manufacture our own poison and administer regular doses to ourselves.
Chances are good you know someone like this. Perhaps you have a friend who gossips all the time. He says boastfully, "I don't gossip; I'm just telling you so you can pray for them." You and everyone else know he's a gossip. Or maybe you have a family member who is off-the-charts rude. Yet she would tell you, "I'm not trying to be offensive; I just tell it like it is." Odds are you know someone who has a drinking problem. Yet this person denies having any problem and adamantly believes he can quit at any time. You might have a friend who thinks he's God's gift to women, but you and everyone else know he's an arrogant, womanizing, self-centered jerk. You possibly work for a woman who thinks she's a great leader at the office, but everyone else knows that she is a micromanaging, overbearing, control freak. Why don't these people see it in themselves?
Recently at church I asked our congregation, "How many of you battle with self-deception?" A few people in the crowd raised their hands. Then I asked, "How many of you know someone who is very self-deceived?" You guessed it. Almost everyone knew someone else who's guilty of self-deception.
Chances are you do too. You probably know someone who thinks more highly of themselves than they should. Or you might have a relative who thinks he's funny, but everyone else thinks he's annoying. You likely know someone who has a problem but will deny it until the cows come home. It's hard to be objective about ourselves.
I laughed as I explained to our church that we have a statistical problem. Almost no one in our church believes that they are self-deceived, and yet almost everyone knows someone who is. Why? Because we have an unlimited capacity to deceive ourselves. As we lie to ourselves ("I'm a great singer"), we start to believe our lies. The more we tell the lies, the more we believe they are truth.
Before long, we wholeheartedly embrace a distorted reality skillfully created by a willed ignorance. We deny, suppress, or minimize what is true. By default, we assert, adorn, and elevate what is false. When we finally see the truth, we think the truth is a lie.
We could say it this way: those who don't know, don't know that they don't know. If you are deceived, chances are pretty good you don't know that you believe something untrue—otherwise you wouldn't be deceived. If we never identify the lies and replace them with truth, we'll forever crave a healthy life on a diet of poison and always wonder why we are sick.
So how do we begin identifying our self-told lies and replacing them with truth? Through the process of ruthless self-examination. After my kids spend a long day playing in the woods, I always have them check themselves for ticks. They loathe this somewhat embarrassing self-examination since it requires them to go over every square inch of their bodies slowly and carefully. But they know that catching a tick early can keep them from getting seriously ill.
Similarly, I'd encourage you to do a thorough internal self-examination. Just as those pesky bloodsuckers jump on you when you enter their environment, spiritual toxins infuse your thinking as you wade through our culture. Take an honest look at the way you live, how you think, and who or what influences you the most. Work hard to be brutally honest.
Examine your life for toxic behaviors—anything you do that cripples your spiritual effectiveness or distracts you from your eternal mission. Look within for toxic emotions—any deep feelings that lead you away from God's truth. Take an honest look at any unhealthy consumptions—the media you consume, the sites you surf, the people you spend the most time around. The first step to defeating an enemy is to recognize your opponent. Though your enemy might be invisible, God can give you eyes to see.
Let me warn you, though. The closer you get to uncovering a toxic killer in your life, the harder your enemy will fight to keep his grip. If you are like me, you might even unknowingly betray yourself and fight against the change. Denial is often our first line of defense. We're skilled at taking responsibility for little and justifying much.
Be careful when you hear yourself think or utter these phrases or something similar:
I don't have a problem with this.
It's really no big deal. This is one way I cope with everything.
I'm not as bad as most people.
I can quit anytime I want to.
This is just the way I am.
Those who are most defensive are often the most unknowingly guilty. It's been said that the more convinced you are that you're right, the more likely you are wrong. If you fight back against those trying to help you, chances are you are fighting to keep your own lies intact. If someone who loves you tries to show you a dangerous pattern in your life, you might be 100 percent convinced they are wrong when the truth is they are 100 percent correct.
Peter, in the New Testament, is a perfect example. When Jesus explained that some of the disciples would fall away and deny him, Peter was convinced that he never would. With unshakable confidence, Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will" (Matt. 26:33, emphasis mine). Can you hear his self-deceived confidence?
As he flattered himself, Peter was unaware of his toxic self-deception. In the very next verse, we find Jesus explaining that before the rooster crows, Peter will deny Jesus three times. But Peter stood his ground and declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you" (Matt. 26:35, emphasis mine). Sure enough, before the day ended, not one, not two, but—count 'em—three different times Peter denied even knowing who Jesus was.
If someone has been trying to show you something about yourself and you continue to fight it, maybe it's time to acknowledge that you might be deceived. Your spouse might be convinced you have a problem with painkillers or alcohol or another drug, but you stand your ground and say that you don't. Someone might have told you that you're addicted to video games or social media, but you don't believe it. Maybe several loved ones have told you that you are a workaholic, but you don't stop working to listen. If you find yourself resisting or fighting back, be careful. Those who are most convinced are often the most deceived. Be careful not to flatter yourself so much that you cannot detect or hate your own sin.
No Laughing Matter
Since it is hauntingly easy to deceive ourselves, we need outside help to become more objective about our blind spots. And if our shields are up and our defenses are operating at full force, we may not be hearing what those around us are saying. Sometimes if we really want to change, we must ask God to show us what's true about how we're thinking, talking, and living.
In my early years at our church, people complained to me regularly that I was being unnecessarily crude when I preached. To them, some of my illustrations and humor crossed the line of what's appropriate. I told myself that they were just being prudish and didn't understand my sense of humor and strategy.
Though more people complained, I stood my ground. After all, if they had known me before I was a Christian, they'd be blown away by how much I'd improved. Besides, my slightly off-color humor was connecting with unchurched people, men and women visiting our church for the first time. I couldn't help it if these other "legalistic" people didn't have the freedom that I enjoyed.
Many of our church's most faithful leaders set up meeting after meeting to talk to me about my "problem." To be honest, I was growing weary of their incessant complaints. They just weren't as evangelistic as I was and obviously didn't have a good sense of humor. At the end of what seemed like the hundredth meeting about my jokes, an exceptionally wise older gentleman asked me to pray. "Since you're convinced you're not doing anything wrong," he continued sincerely, "would you ask God to show you if he would have you change?" Just to get this guy off my back, I reluctantly agreed to pray, although I knew it wouldn't change my stance.
Not wanting to break my word, a few days later I half-heartedly prayed something like, "God, I know all these people are wrong, but if there is something you need to show me about cleaning up my act, please do."
Be careful what you pray for.
The very next Sunday, my oldest daughter, Catie, who was seven at the time, came to "big church" and sat with my wife, Amy, while I preached. I glanced at my innocent daughter, smiling attentively and holding her Precious Moments Bible proudly in its pink case. Right as I was about to begin with a colorful joke, I hesitated. In one sweeping moment, God showed me clearly. I had been crude.
When I was about to say something that was truly funny but not totally clean, I realized that I wouldn't want my seven-year-old daughter saying the very phrase I was about to say while preaching. In fact, if I heard her say the words that I was about to say, I'd correct her and tell her it wasn't appropriate.
If I don't want my daughter telling this joke, why should I?
For so long, I had been blind to my toxic words and risqué humor. All along I thought I was funny and reaching people who normally didn't go to church. Even when I was convinced my method was solid, everyone else knew I was behaving immaturely at best and sinfully at worst.
Since we can't change what we can't identify, ask God to show you any areas of your life that may be harmful to you, offensive to the people around you, or displeasing to God himself.
Talk to Me
God speaks to us in many ways. He speaks through his Word. He speaks through circumstances. He speaks through his Spirit. And he speaks through people. As you seek God, listen carefully to what he might say to you through the people around you. Proverbs 15:31–32 says, "He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding" (NIV 1984 ed., emphasis mine).
I love the phrase "life-giving rebuke." Occasionally, God will send someone to communicate a strong and important message through a life-giving rebuke. It's important to note, not all rebukes are life-giving and helpful. Certainly you've been broadsided by some life-taking rebukes. You know, when some jerk criticizes or belittles you in a hurtful way or over something insignificant that allows the jerk to look better than you. Instead of making things better, they make things worse.
But there are times that a loving person gives a life-giving rebuke. They care about you enough to confront you lovingly. Like the church members who tried to help me see how my crude humor was hurting the church, loving people may take some risks to help you see the truth. When they do, listen.
For several years, loved ones tried to help me with another one of my blind spots. As a pastor, I prided myself in relating well with other people— showing grace, kindness, and patience. Though I was convinced I was good at interacting socially, several close people told me that I wasn't as good as I thought.
Amy was among several who expressed that I really needed to improve my people skills. She explained soberly that I often looked distracted, rushed, or bored when talking to people in the lobby after church. I replied truthfully that I often did feel distracted, rushed, or bored, but only because there were so many other people to talk to, and I had lots to do—and to top it off, some people were boring! They blab on and on and on and on. To me, if I wasn't good with people, it was someone else's fault.
After years of listening to me defend myself, Amy and a couple of her friends showed me what I do when talking to people. With a playful spirit, they acted like they were me talking to someone else. They showed me how my body language communicated disinterest, as I'd look around the room or act distracted. They demonstrated how I'd often turn slightly away from the person talking to me.
Excerpted from Soul Detox by Craig Groeschel. Copyright © 2012 Craig Groeschel. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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