Trapped in a lonely world
We all know one of those people, right? One of those people who always has to be right, who always have to have their own way, who knows everything, who cannot be beaten, who must always win. And that is the kind of person we love to be around, right? Hardly! But are you, am I, one of those kinds of people?
Unfortunately, we all have times when we can’t see anything but ourselves, our desires, our feelings, or our opinions. But the reality is that there are always other people’s interests to consider, always other opinions, always other ways, and not everyone will agree with me. So if I continue to insist that my ego is the only one that matters, others will feel my indignation and pull away from me. I will soon find myself alone in a world that is all about me, because I pushed everyone else out of it.
Living with only myself in mind, leads to a miserable, lonely existence. This is what James meant in James 3:14-16. He said that those with bitterness and selfish ambitions are full of themselves, therefore their view of the truth becomes distorted and false. In James 3:16 (NLT) he summarizes:
“For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.”
We humans are very competitive and crave recognition. But when we strive to win at all cost, no matter how petty the issue, we leave a scorched earth behind us wherever we go. So our very effort to be in control leaves nothing behind us to control. Sad, isn’t it? The harder we try to convince everyone how valuable we are, the less valuable we become in their eyes.
It is a little like the Chinese Finger Trap, that toy where you put one finger in each end of the woven tube, and then try to pull your fingers free. The harder you pull, the tighter the trap clamps shut. The only way out of the dilemma is to surrender the effort, relax your fingers and slide them out. Similarly, the more a person’s ego exerts itself inappropriately, the uglier that person becomes to others, in perception, and often also in reality. By disrespecting others, we lose respect ourselves.
God offers to us a different way of living, as expressed in James 3:13, and James 3:17-18. In verse 13 we read if we are indeed wise and full of understanding, we will demonstrate the wisdom of our viewpoint through activities done with gentleness and exhibiting true wisdom. Life is often exhibited far better through gentle actions which show that we value others, instead of through words that are contradicted by our devaluing behavior towards others. Wisdom values other people, including people who don’t agree with us.
Instead of using man-centered, i.e., ambition-centered wisdom in dealing with others, Christians are encouraged to use the wisdom that God gives to anyone who will ask Him for it (see James 1:5-6). It is a wisdom that comes to us from heaven, not a wisdom that originates in self. In James 3:17-18 James delineates this wisdom: James 3:17–18 (The Message): “Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.
We can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if we do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”
The starting point for godly wisdom and good relationships with others is a good relationship with God. When God is not a part of our lives, then we have only selfish ambition driving our decisions, words and actions. Godly wisdom treats others as people of value and worth. When we do that, we occasionally are surprised to discover that others might actually find it harder to devalue us, and easier to treat us as persons of worth.
When you’re feeling trapped in a lonely world, slow down, regroup, and turn to God for sound wisdom. Admit to God that the world is too big for selfishness to bring it under control, and that you are tired of trying to do that. Ask God for wisdom and character to relate appropriately with other people, and to treat them with gentleness and respect, and commit yourself to use your words and actions to treat others the way God treats you.
Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.