One of the most horrible, grotesque things that I see in this world is when someone lives their lives in a straightjacket of the expectations of others. You might think I’m overstating that case a bit. But I’m not. It’s a terrible thing. So can I ask you, what straightjacket are you wearing today?
Don’t Be Squeezed
None of us likes wearing clothes that don’t fit particularly well. It’s a horrible feeling isn’t it? That shirt that’s too tight, or that pair of pants, or in the case of women the skirt that sits awkwardly on you. My personal nemesis has always been the stiff collar with a tie in the middle of summer. I tell you, after thirty years of having to wear a tie and a collar, these days I almost never wear them because I hate that feeling of being uncomfortable.
So what happens with these ill-fitting clothes, because you hate wearing them, is that you can’t wait to get home and rip them off and get into something comfortable.
I think we all relate to that, don’t we? And yet, so many people live their lives in something much worse than ill-fitting clothes – they live their lives in a straightjacket. Why? How? Because they’re somehow trying to be someone who they’re not; they’re trying to do something that they were never made to do.
Interesting to look at the history of the proverbial straightjacket. It actually originated in France back in 1790, invented by an upholsterer named Guilleret for a hospital. It was in the time before psychiatric medications were developed and doctors simply didn’t know how to treat mental disorders like schizophrenia or depression or anxiety disorders, according to Wikipedia anyway.
By the time of the American civil war, the mentally ill were often placed into poorhouses, workhouses and prisons, and forced to live with criminals. And again, they were being restrained by straightjackets.
Now, it’s a terrible picture when you think about it, someone suffering from mental anguish, being restrained in something much, much worse than ill-fitting clothes. And not on a rare exception basis, it was the routine approach for the mentally ill, considered to be more humane than chaining them up.
Now, the main point of what we’re chatting about today isn’t to get a complete history of straightjackets. The reason I’m painting that picture is so that you and I can put ourselves in that picture, moving from the ill-fitting clothes that we’ve all experienced and the discomfort that all brings, to the whole idea – the terrible idea – of living even one day, let alone a whole lifetime in a straightjacket.
It’s pretty obvious that we were made, you and I, to be free, to be able to move freely and to think freely and to act freely. And yet, let me come back to it, so many people are living their lives under some oppressive straightjacket regime because they’re trying to be someone they’re not or do something they were never made to do.
I spent over twenty-five years as a consultant in management and IT and so I’ve worked in hundreds of organisations around the world. And the number of people I saw in the banks and the insurance companies and the government departments and the oil companies and all sorts of different enterprises who were so depressed, so dissatisfied with work, made me realise that this is happening on a mass, global scale.
People are being squeezed into a mould they were never meant to fit in. Now I came to know many of these people in these client organisations over the years, and time and time again, what I saw were people who were doing jobs they were never made to do, jobs they just wouldn’t ever be suited to do.
The Bible has this to say about who you are and where you fit, and I’m reading here from the more obscure J.B Phillips translation, because I love the way in which he renders this verse, Romans chapter 12, verse 2:
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your mind from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, that it meets all of his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.
I’ve had so many people try to do that to me, to squeeze me into another mould. Its like God loves me but they have a plan for my life. My dad, when I was young, wanted me to be a doctor. I wanted to be a lawyer. I’d have been a disaster at both of those, because I hate the sight of blood and I’m not very good with masses of detail that are so important in the legal profession. And over the last twenty years or so, as I’ve preached at churches, several have asked me whether I’d be interested in becoming their pastor, when the truth is, I’m just not pastorally gifted.
Do you know why so many people feel as though they’re failures? It’s because they’re trying to be something and they are trying to do something they were never made to be or to do.
I will never be a great cricketer – I don’t have the hand-eye-ball coordination. I will never be a great basketballer because I’m just too short. In fact, most professions, the vast majority out there, as I look around, I am just not suited to.
So imagine if I chose one of them, and slogged away at it for forty years. What would that do to my self-image? What would that do to my self-esteem? And this, I can tell you, is happening as a mass, global, pandemic.
I was watching the great singer Billy Joel on TV, (by the way, that’s another thing I’d love to be able to do, but I really can’t), and I remembered back to his great song, The Piano Man, that he wrote when he was a poor musician, working in a late night bar somewhere. And you look at a guy like that and you realise – hey, this Billy Joel, there’s someone who has discovered their gig in life. The one thing they were made to do.
God made you to do something, to be someone. It’s a different ‘who’ and a different ‘do’ to anyone else that you know. You’re a unique antique let me tell you, and when you discover your shtick, your gig, your one thing in life that God made for you, it will totally change your ‘self-image’ because all of a sudden you will be able to excel at it.
Just after that bit on not being squeezed into the world’s mould, the Bible goes on to say in Romans chapter 12, verse 6:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.
That’s the answer. Be who God made you to be, and for goodness sakes, get out there and do what God made you to do.
Something Remarkable About You
The whole point of what we’ve been chatting about so far in this series of messages that I’ve called ‘So … How’s Your Self-Esteem Looking?’ is that we can make two equal and opposite mistakes in life when it comes to how we see ourselves and where we think we fit in, in the scheme of things.
Some people suffer terribly from low self-esteem. I’m worthless. I’m not good at anything. I’ll never fit in. There’s no hope for me. Life is just one big long blaaaaah.
Plenty of people are living like that, whether they realise it or not. And that self-image clouds their whole life. It robs them of joy in anything and everything.
At the very opposite end of that scale is pride, hubris, that sense of superiority where no one is as good as me. I have to tell you, that’s just as destructive, because it robs you of just as many things as low self-esteem does.
And in fact for much of my life, I had a touch of both. I covered up my deep insecurities, by putting on a front of bravado and self-confidence that had a lot of people fooled … or maybe not!
There’s good self-confidence and there’s bad self-confidence, isn’t there? Good self-confidence is a quiet, humble confidence in who you are, with a genuine acceptance of who you aren’t; your own limitations. That’s good. Being around people who are like that is in fact lot of fun. Bad self-confidence, well, we know all about that too, don’t we? People who just roll over the top of others.
How do you get all this right? Let’s say that God created you to be the person that you are, and in fact, the person who you aren’t as well, if that makes sense. And let’s say, like many people, you haven’t really figured out a healthy self-image for yourself yet, one that makes you really happy with who it is that God made you to be and not to be.
So where do you begin? Where do you get that sort of a self-image?
Well, before the break we were chatting about the fact that instead of letting the world squeeze you into its mould, the one that will forever leave you with a distorted image of your self–worth, instead of that, do something else.
Let’s have another listen to it. Romans chapter 12, verses 1 to 8, and this is the Apostle Paul writing to the Church in Rome, and again I’m reading from the J.B Phillips translation. Paul says this:
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your mind from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.
As your spiritual leader I give you this piece of advice to each one of you. Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or of your importance, but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of the faith that God has given to you all.For just as you have many members in one physical body and all those members differ in their functions, so we, though many in number, compose one body in Christ and are all members of one another.
Through the grace of God we have different gifts. If our gift is preaching, let us preach to the limit of our vision. If it is serving others then let us consecrate ourselves onto service; if it is teaching let us give all we have to our teaching; and if our gift be the stimulating of the faith of others let us set ourselves to it. Let the man who is called to give, give freely; let the man who wields authority think of his responsibility; and let the man who feels sympathy for his fellows act cheerfully.
So there it is, don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself; don’t think of yourself more highly than you should. But instead, have a sane, rational estimate of your capabilities in the light of … what? … in the light of the faith that God has given you. That’s good advice. The question is how do you do that? And Paul immediately goes on to tell us how.
He says we’re all part of the one body with different gifts, different functions. Just as the different parts of your body – your eyes and your nose and your pancreas – just as they all have different functions, so those who believe in Jesus are the same, we also have different functions; we’re made differently. So … Romans chapter 12, verse 6:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace that’s given to us, let us use them.
The exciting thing about this is that right here, God’s telling us through the Apostle Paul, how to get this thing right. It’s the link between the theory and the practice. God’s given you this gift now use it in the context of God’s family in which He has placed you.
That’s why being part of the Body of Christ, part of the Church, isn’t some optional extra. It’s vitally important. Because it’s in the context of God’s community that we get to find out who we are and what we were made to do, and sometimes, by trial and error, what we weren’t made to do.
I said at the beginning of today’s message that there’s something remarkable about you that you need to know. And that remarkable thing is this: the moment you believe in Jesus, you’re part of God’s family. You’re not your own. You’re part of the community, that body of Christ, through which Christ lives out His love into this lost and hurting world.
Don’t have a wrong self-image, says Paul. Instead, start using your natural, God-given talents as part of the body of Christ and if you’re a nose, be happy with being a nose. If you’re an ear, be happy with that. Be the greatest nose ever! Be the best ear ever! Be a great pancreas! Do you get it?
If you’re a great concert pianist, let’s say, it means nothing if you’re playing to an empty theatre, doesn’t it? Play to a full theatre. Take your God-given gift and be a blessing to others, let God’s blessing flow through your gift into the lives of the people around you, because they need what you have, they need who you are. They can’t do what you can do; they can’t be who you can be. Who you are and what you can do is God’s gift to them, through you.
And as you get on and enjoy being a nose or an ear or a pancreas or whatever you happen to be in the body of Christ, your sense of self-image, your sense of self-worth will become completely and radically transformed. That’s what God is saying to you and me through this passage today.
People don’t believe me when I tell them that I used to be an incredibly insecure person. I mean, terribly insecure, chronically insecure all of the time. Concerned about what people were thinking of me and how they saw me and what they thought of what I said. I mean, what if my voice sounded funny to them, I mean it did when I listened to it from a recording.
What if they didn’t like the fact that I was grossly overweight, and I used to be a very big boy! What if they thought what I was saying was just downright stupid?
Those were all the doubts bouncing around in my head and my heart, and I got to tell you, it’s a terrible way to live your life. Anybody who has experienced that feeling of insecurity, or is still living in that place right at the moment, is right now nodding their heads, because they know, you know, exactly what I’m talking about.
But the reason that people would never have believed that I, of all people, was suffering from chronic, deep-rooted insecurity, as I said earlier, I was able to put on a very convincing façade of confidence.
I’m a fairly strong character and I’m reasonably articulate and I find it very quick and easy to collect my thoughts and to express them coherently. So you combine those two abilities, those natural gifts, and you can see how easy it was for me to build that over-confident façade.
Of course, it didn’t fool mature people, wise people. You can always tell when it’s an act, when you have to keep promoting yourself, and telling other people how good you are, lots of people will see through that. But others are intimidated by it and they back off, although they never love you and respect you for it.
The reason that I’m being so blatantly transparent here is that I don’t want you to think for one moment just because I’m the smooth voice on the radio, that I’ve had a perfect life. I’m talking about overcoming insecurity here as a first-hand practitioner and not a theoretician. That’s my point.
Today, it’s entirely different for me, completely. When something happens that would in the past have caused me to feel insecure, criticism for instance, or that feeling of inadequacy when I compared myself with other people, or perhaps someone knows more about a particular subject than I do, when those things happen, these days I’m completely at ease. There is not a single twinge of insecurity that sweeps through me.
This one single transformation in my life is one of the things that I am most thankful to Jesus for. And right now, I want to tell you how it happened, because it was all about what He did for me, not about what I did for myself, please understand that. It’s all about Jesus.
You hear about people who have emotional problems like this going to see a therapist, or they ‘go into therapy’ we sometimes hear it said. And there’s a role for counselling and therapy. But my therapy came in the form of rehabilitation that was fed to me directly from God’s Word.
The single, most powerful, most incredibly mind-blowing transformation that I have ever experienced in my life, has come from quietly, every day reading God’s Word, praying about it, thinking about it and then letting the Holy Spirit write it on my heart so that I can live it out.
That’s how therapy becomes rehabilitation the word becomes deed, because that’s what God does. You start by crawling, then by limping and then you slowly graduate to walking and one day, you find yourself running. That’s how God seems to work. Yes okay, there’s the odd lightning bolt out of the sky that zaps you with power, but there are also weeks and months and years of quietly just living out God’s Word as a form of powerful rehabilitation.
So what part of God’s Word impacted me and set me free from the deep insecurities that I’d lived with all my life? Well, here it is. It follows on where we left off before the break where we were talking about living out the unique gift that God has given each one of us, Romans chapter 12, verses 9 to 21. Just quietly drink this passage of scripture in and let the Holy Spirit have a powerful effect in you as He speaks to your heart:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’, says the Lord. No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Do you see how there is nothing spectacular here, God is just quietly talking about humbly using your special, God-given gift and the ability to bless others and going and doing it, nothing spectacular, just quietly, day after day after day.
All different ways of doing that, outdo each other in showing honour, be patient through suffering, keep on persevering in prayer, generously contribute, hospitality to strangers, the list goes on. Day after day, just, it’s so simple, it’s too simple, it’s too obvious.
And yet what happens, is that as we exercise our gifts over and over and over again, to bless others, just by doing good, just by what we’ve read here, the Holy Spirit flows out through us, the blessing of God flows out through us, and as well as blessing all those other people out there, God blesses us by validating who we are, who He made us to be and what He made us to do and the stuff we are good at. He validates that, as we use His gifts that He’s given us, in action. He uses us; He works through us.
You see, there’s the rehab, there’s the transformation right there. And there is a whole new sense of self-worth and self-esteem and self-image being rebuilt from the ground up by God!
Isn’t that just beautiful? Isn’t that completely wonderful? Do you see how God’s Word here powerfully translates into simple actions that bless others and transform us? Only God can do that. Only when we accept Jesus into our lives and God’s forgiveness flows, and the Holy Spirit power flows, can that transformation take place.
I feel like I’m jumping out of my skin at the moment, at the sheer privilege to be able to share this beautiful truth with you today. The wonder of God’s plan for your life – do you have any idea how much He loves you, do you have any idea how great God’s plans are for you?
God does not want you to live in chronic insecurity. God does not want you to suffer from pride or from low self-esteem or, as I did, from both at the same time. God wants to set you free from all of that, to humbly, yet powerfully live out the life of blessings that He has planned for you.
Yes, through a whole bunch of trials and temptations that will come your way, I mean, the devil is not going to leave you alone when you start living out this life, be sure of that. In fact, the mere fact that he comes after you with his legions of demons is a sure sign that you’re on the right path.
Your God wants you to know that the image in which He created you, is His image; and the hash that you’ve made of things through your sin is wiped away through your faith in the fact that Jesus paid the price for you on that Cross; and that His power, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, is at work in you now, to restore you back into that original image.
And the more you see that image appearing in you, the more you will delight in who He made you to be and the more that deep insecurity is going to flee from you. Trust me. I know.
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