In Defense of Self Esteem and Other Self-Help Needs

I am currently reading one of those books that people read in secret. You know, those books that would make us look bad and weak and inadequate if people saw them on our shelves? The title of the book does little to help my ego: How to Win Friends and Influence People. You are probably already drawing inferences about why I could be reading such a book — and that, right there, is my point.

I have often sat with among friends and spoke ill of self-help books and the people who read them. It is already tempting to start justifying why I am reading and agreeing with Dale Carnegie in How to Win friends and Influence People. I feel that I should at least explain why I am reading a book with such a “self-helpish” title, but I will not do it, because to do that would be to go against the point of this post. So I put my reputation at your mercy.

Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid - Maslow's Theory IllustratedWell, I said that in order to say this: I think the whole notion of “self-esteem” has received an unfairly bad rap from Christians who want to remain faithful to the Bible. Numerous articles and blog posts and even books have been written to explain why “self-esteem” is an unbiblical concept and an unholy pursuit. I, too, have written my share of tweets and Facebook status updates in the past to that effect. But allow me to play the devil’s advocate and tease out something that I think is important about the idea of “self-esteem”. Allow me to defend self-esteem and, hopefully, still remain faithful to God’s Word.

Why would anyone want to read a book about improving your self-esteem and feeling better about yourself? Why would Joel Osteen sell millions of copies for titles such as Your Best Life Now and Become a Better You? Well, the easy answer is that Osteen and other writers like Myles Munroe or Rhonda Byrne (of The Secret ) are responding to a real need in the world.

People are searching for significance, we want to know and feel and believe that we matter. We crave recognition and we cringe at the notion of being forgettable or dispensable. We yearn to know that we count, and we will do anything and go to any length to attain this significance, and that is why for many of us, the first and easiest step would be to bury our faces in a How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (also by Carnegie).

I hear someone like Victoria Osteen advising people to worship God “for yourself”, and I have to admit that I get her. I can see where she is coming from and what she is trying to get at. I don’t know where her heart is, but my best guess is that she genuinely wants to help people. Many of the people who write self-help books also want to help people — and they do it the best way they know how.

Whether or not they also want to make money and become rich is another matter altogether.Just because I want to make money and be rich through journalism doesn’t make my other motives in pursuing this career (e.g. to speak truth to power and keep the government accountable) any less noble.

So, to the extent that there is a real need for personal edification and validation in the world, to the extent that there is a real need to succeed and win and avoid failure in life, to the extent that we are hardwired to want to be respected and “esteemed”, I fully support the notion of self-esteem. You see, the problem is not self-esteem, or our longing for it, the crux of the matter is HOW we go about satisfying this goal.

What’s even more disturbing is when we begin to speak as if the need does not exist, or worse, as if it should not exist. It is one thing to say that self-esteem should not be our ultimate goal or even a primary objective in life. But it is an entirely different thing to say that it doesn’t matter or that it is a wrong goal. There are many things we yearn and long for in this life, and most of these things cannot be attained by directly pursuing them. Things like contentment, or peace.

There are people who pursue contentment by acquiring things, because they think when they have enough things and enough relationships, they will finally be content. I believe the psychological term for this ultimate end is self-actualisation. They will finally be self-satisfied. Such people are pursuing a noble goal, but they are pursuing a misunderstood goal using the wrong means. To help such people, we should not disparage their goals and longings, instead, we should re-route and re-wire how they think about such longings.

I-can-do-this

This is where and how the Word of God helps us. The Bible does not just provide us with principles to apply when we want to achieve our personal goals. The Bible is more radical, it gives us new goals and new ways to think about old goals. The Word of God sets us right by renewing our thinking, and eventually our lives, to God’s will (His means and ends).

So, is self-esteem evil and is it wrong for a Christian to want self-esteem? I would respond by saying those are wrong questions. The questions assume that we are settled on who a Christian is in the first place. We may discover that if we stepped back from the question and explored what it means to be a Christian, we will discover a message that renders the question of self-esteem moot or irrelevant.

That message is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and this is the message that should define our posture as we explore all subjects regarding human needs and wants and longings in this world. The Word of God is a good place to begin. In fact, it is the only place to begin. And if we trust in the God who authored this word and revealed it to us, we may also discover that this Word is also a good place to stop. Because it is the only place worth staying in.

For the fame of His name

Cornell

PS: This will be among my last posts on Alien Citizens. No, I will not quit blogging, but I am planning to take a slightly different road, which begins by closing shop over here. I will update you all on the great migration. Have a blessed day, friends.

Pat Robertson – A Warning

Over the weekend Kenyans on Twitter went to town with their sarcastic prowess after a clip of Pat Robertson saying one can catch AIDS from towels in Kenya went viral. Mr Robertson was responding to a viewer’s question on last Thursday’s episode of The 700 Club. The anonymous viewer was worried about the Ebola epidemic and wanted to know if the trip would be taking an unnecessary risk.

pat

Photo credit: wpxi.com

Robertson’s response sounded reasonable enough except for a few generalizations and flippant statements. On Ebola, he said “not in Kenya” and every Kenya who was watching “amen”ed to that. Then he added that even though one should not worry about Ebola in Kenya, they should be wary of other diseases such as AIDS, Malaria and stomach bugs.

He advised against eating fresh vegetables and drinking un-sanitized water. Although the 84-year-old Christian conservative said all these things in generalities that may have exaggerated the sanitation situation in Kenya, the one statement that really rubbed Kenyans the wrong way was “… you might get AIDS, the people have AIDS in Kenya, you gotta be careful, I mean, the towels could have AIDS…”

And in their usual #SomeoneTell hash-tag activism, many Kenyans on Twitter had a field day giving Pat Robertson a piece of their mostly sarcastic mind.

I empathize with my countrymen. I really do. It hurts to have my country so grossly misrepresented by someone who has never even set foot on Kenyan soil (I think). It is only reasonable to be particularly sensitive about what Robertson said concerning Kenya.

But one thing that many seem to have missed is that Pat Robertson has been making such ridiculous statements on global TV for decades. We are only more aware of him now because he was talking about Kenya. I bet most Kenyans who probably regularly watch the 700 Club did not flinch when Pat said the following things:

  1. To a caller who said that he is often insulted by his wife, Robertson jokingly advised the man to move to a country such as Saudi Arabia, “where wife-beating is legal”.
  2. On feminism: “Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”
  1. To the question of husbands who cheat on their wives, Robertson casually told a viewer that “males have a tendency to wander a little bit. What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander.”

Robertson has also, on several occasions, described abortion as a “lesbian conspiracy”. But the statement that got him the most heat was what he said in reaction to the 2010 Haitian earthquake:

 “Something happened a long time ago in Haiti… They were under the heel of the French… And they got together and swore a pact to the Devil. They said we will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French. True story. And so the Devil said, “OK, it’s a deal.” And they kicked the French out… ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor.”

In other words, Robertson believed the Haitians had it coming.

So it is now Kenya’s turn, and that’s why we are lining up to take our jab at Mr Robertson. Yet, in light of the man’s record and reputation for being flippant, bigoted and all other words that describe a serious lack of wisdom or discretion, should we really be wasting our breath and time reacting to his latest episode of verbal diarrhea?

Robertson’s age is confusing. At 84, one would naturally expect more mellow, nuanced and generally wise advise coming from the man who has been dishing it out for decades. But he only seems to be getting worse.

Robertson’s context is also more confusing. He is speaking as a Christian leader and his show The 700 Club targets a largely Christian audience (considering it is distributed by Christian Broadcasting Network, which was founded by Robertson). Many of us who lay claim to the same faith find ourselves in a precarious situation when it comes to this man. We are embarrassed by him, and we are naturally quick to disassociate from him.

I don’t intend to dwell much on this issue, but I felt I should point out one lesson that stood out with this incident: Pat Robertson is what happens when we rely on the wisdom of man rather than God. Robertson seemed to have weaved his way into the trust of millions of people who regularly watch his show. He gets thousands of letters seeking advise on various topics about the Christian life and ministry. But the one thing that stands out in more than 90 per cent of Robertson’s responses is that they are just that: Robertson’s responses.

He seems to be his own authority. His answers are based on his own judgment, experience and personal opinions. Very rarely does he quote the Bible or even attempt to wrestle with what God says about an issue over what Robertson thinks about it. It is simply assumed that he has earned the authority to give answers without even doing a little research on the issues involved. “I don’t know” is seldom an option. His conspiracy theories go without question.

So what do I think of Pat Robertson in light of all this? Well, the only word that comes to mind is “warning”. Yes, Pat Robertson should be a warning to all of us on the folly of relying on ourselves and our theories and philosophies instead of God’s Word.

Consider yourself warned.

“Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.” Proverbs 28:26

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” Proverbs 3:5-7

The Paradox of Christianity

The paradox of Christianity is that we stand tallest on our knees, and we see farthest with our eyes closed. We find our independence in depending on another and we realize our uniqueness by imitating another, Jesus Christ.

The paradox of Christianity is that we are more than conquerors and slaves at the same time. We claim victory because we have been defeated. We are conquerors because we have been conquered. We are victors because we have accepted defeat.

316The paradox of Christianity is that we are always for war and against war. We fight and resist the devil, while at the same time fleeing and avoiding the sin. We struggle with all of our strength, while confessing that the strength is not ours.

The paradox of Christianity is that we are called to love the sinner and hate the sin. We are to strongly oppose the lies while tightly embracing the liars. We love our enemies.

The paradox of Christianity is that we are always rich and poor. Our Father owns cattle on a thousand hills but we consider ourselves beggars in His kitchen of grace.

The paradox of Christianity is that we are always happy and Continue reading

Take Full Possession of My Heart

This was a prayer of the renowned 18th century evangelist, John Wesley. It is also my prayer and, hopefully, will be yours too:

TAKE FULL POSSESSION OF MY HEART

O merciful God,
whatever You may deny me,
do not deny me this love.

Save me from the idolatry of loving the world,
or any of the things of the world.

Let me never love any creature
but for Your sake and in subordination to Your love.

Take full possession of my heart;
raise there Your throne
and command there as You do in heaven.

Being created by You, let me live to You;
being created for You,
let me ever act for Your glory;
being redeemed by You,
let me render to You what is Yours
and let my spirit ever cleave to You alone.

– John Wesley

Great Reads (19 Oct 13)

Hello fellow Aliens!

I decided to change the name “Blog Break” to “Great Reads” to ease understanding for first-time visitors. It’s not a major change, but it’s a helpful one, I think. The following are some of the great reads that I had to bookmark for re-reading, because they were worth it — at least to me.

  1. OUR DISORDERED DESIRE TO ENTER THE “INNER RING”. Art Lindsey: “One of the most memorable of C. S. Lewis’s essays is entitled “The Inner Ring.” It describes our common desire to be accepted within the “inner ring” of whatever group matters to us at the time… This desire to be on the inside of whatever group you aspire to join can affect your relationships at work, in the community, and in the church.”
  2. STOP QUOTING BIBLE VERSES AT ME. Emily Timbol: “What should be most important to us, is not having a handy verse ready to quote, but the character of Christ within us, shining through. We need to read and know the Bible, in order to honor and obey God. To share the gospel, we have to know the gospel.”
  3. WHAT YOUNG CHRISTIANS CAN LEARN FROM THE ELDERLY. Elizabeth Marten: “Young people, myself included, want to appear independent. We are good at convincing others (and ourselves) that we are making do on our own. But the truth is that we’re often lonely. In our efforts to remain independent, we have forgotten how to be dependent on a community.”
  4. 20 TIPS FOR PERSONAL DEVOTIONS IN THE DIGITAL AGE. David Murray: “… Take guilt to God… Don’t share your daily devotions in social media… Establish regular time and place… Journal… ” and more.
  5. WHY DO WE SAY “GOD TOLD ME”? Nancy Guthrie: “When someone begins a sentence with “God told me . . .” I have to admit a silent alarm goes off somewhere inside me—unless the phrase is followed by a verse of Scripture. I know that many see this as the way the Christian life is supposed to work—that if we are really in fellowship with God we will be able to sense him speaking to us through an inner voice. But I’m not so sure.”

Have a blessed reading time. 🙂

How Well Do You Know Your Bible?

The temptation of Jesus. It is a familiar story and many of us have memorized the scenes. In the first scene, we find Jesus in the wilderness, thirsty and hungry from a forty-day fast. The tempter’s words could never be more opportune:

“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (Matthew 4:3)

And Jesus’ response could never be more … is it kosher to say … cliche?

“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

The second temptation is equally punctual. Jesus was the son of God. He called the creator of the universe Dad. God could easily command heaven and earth to bend and break to the convenience of His son. The tempter knows this. And since it was apparent Jesus was evading his temptations by quoting scripture, the tempter also has a couple of verses of his own. He tells Jesus:

“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:6)

Jesus, of course, still manages to outsmart the tempter by quoting a countering passage:

“It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:7)

reading bbThe point here is clear. Knowing God’s Word will help you in your time of need. Jesus did not have to invoke or invent any tricks to get himself out of temptations. He did not even utilize the authority he had as God. He could have easily commanded the tempter to depart, but He didn’t. Instead, He chose to rest in the written Word, and that was enough.

Jesus knew His Bible.

How about you? I know that the question may sound a bit unfair – comparing you to Jesus, whose other title happens to be THE WORD – but you get the point. It is important to spend time reading and ingesting the Word of God. When the Bible tells us that God will always provide a way of escape from our temptations (1 Cor 10:13), His Word is usually the primary way of escape.

Our knowledge of the Word of God depends on how much time we spend with the Word of God. However, this must not be confused with how much of the Bible we have photographically memorized.

If you have ever taken part in any Bible trivia competition or game, you can already guess the frustration I am alluding to. How am I supposed to remember the names of the two guys that Paul handed over to Satan to be taught a lesson? Who in the world is Mephibosheth and what does the name of John and James’ mum have to do with anything? It can be quite frustrating … and greatly discouraging.

Let’s just admit it, majority of Bible trivia live up to their name: they are trivial. Continue reading

What Gossip Does

Ray Ortlund on the juicy grapes from the vine called gossip:

Gossip is our dark moral fervor eagerly seeking gratification.

Gossip makes us feel important and needed as we declare our judgments.

It makes us feel included to know the inside scoop.

It makes us feel powerful to cut someone else down to size, especially someone we are jealous of.

It makes us feel righteous, even responsible, to pronounce someone else guilty.

Gossip can feel good in multiple ways. But it is of the flesh, not of the Spirit.

Gossip is a sin rarely disciplined but often more socially destructive than the sensational sins.

Gossip leaves a wide trail of devastation wherever and however it goes – word of mouth, email, blogging, YouTube.

It erodes trust and destroys morale.

It creates a social environment of suspicion where everyone must wonder what is being said behind their backs and whether appearances of friendship are sincere.

It ruins hard-won reputations with cowardly but effective weapons of misrepresentation.

It manipulates people into taking sides when no such action is necessary or beneficial.

It unleashes the dark powers of psychological transference, doing violence to the gossiper, to the one receiving the gossip and to the person being spoken against.

It makes the Body of Christ look like the Body of Antichrist – destroyers rather than healers.

It exhausts the energies we would otherwise devote to positive witness.

It robs our Lord of the Church he deserves.

It exposes the hostility in our hearts and discredits the gospel in the eyes of the world. Then we wonder why we don’t see more conversions, why “the ground is so hard.”