Occasionally God interrupts my morning quiet time routine. These are exciting times and more often than not, I love to engage with Him in this. Today He presented a near-forgotten memory to my mind and asked me to ‘wrestle’ with Him over it. Bible down and prayer begins.
When I was a teenager and up till the age of 21, I used to ask this question very frequently: “How can I improve?”. I’d ask it after I’d lead a youth group session for my Church. I’d ask it after leading worship or preaching. I’d ask it of my mentor whenever I’d lead a Bible study for the student group. I loved asking the question, and the feedback was so helpful and usually gave me insight for things I could actually improve.
Then one day, after a weekend away with new people, I asked it of my travel companions on the journey home…. I can remember what happened next, and it still makes me squirm!
There was a pretty long awkward silence, and one of my new-friends said ‘Paul, no offence, but that sounds like a pretty insecure question.’
I was mortified and backpaddled and defended and “clarified” myself and said lots of things to cover-up and refine the question I had asked so that it meant something different. But it was too late. I was exposed.
At the very least I was exposed to myself.
So I stopped asking the question. Completely. I stopped asking, because obviously I’m not an insecure person, I don’t need to ask this anymore.
Four and half years later, God interrupts my Bible reading to flash this all in my mind again and asks me to deal with it with Him. My good Father reaches out to teach me and conform me even more into the Man after His heart who walks with His character and likeness.
Here’s what I learned.
- There were (at least) two motives behind my asking that question. I wanted to learn, I wanted to improve and I wanted to grow. I knew that it was right to give God my best and I wanted to, I wanted to be teachable and wanted to improve. I was fortunate to spend a lot of time around mentors and leaders who invested in me, and could offer wisdom, insights and expertise and I was eager to extract as much as possible from them. But there was another motive at work: I wanted approval, I wanted acceptance, I wanted to be seen a certain way. Obviously, I wanted the person I was asking to turn round and say “Improve?! Impossible, you did a fantastic job, better than me in fact, you are an amazing speaker/worship-leader/group discussion facilitator etc etc…” . I wanted this kind of approval. But not only this type… – In some twisted and “insecure” way I wanted the approval of being seen as a “self-aware” guy, who could take criticism (who even asked for it!), who was seeking to learn and grow.
- There is an appropriate way to react when your motives are exposed, and I didn’t cotton on. My reaction was to stop asking the question “how can I improve?”, obviously with muddy-motives let’s stop all-together. Instead I think there is an alternative way to respond.
- Thank God for using other people to expose hidden motives and areas of growth. Don’t lash out or, what I did, hide away. But thank God that He was using other people to sharpen.
- Then face and evaluate the motives exposed. (They are probably there if you’re tempted to lash out or deny it strongly!) It might be that you need to repent from them. It might be that God wants to work on that area in your life right then and there, let Him speak truth into your life.
- Then strive to move forward. This may look different depending on what the motives were. I once heard someone say “Your motives will never be completely pure, so don’t necessarily let them make the final decision” (take that with a pinch of salt). Striving to move forward will either look like:
- Ditch the activity
- Continue with the activity, but ask God to challenge and refine you so that the motive is cleared.
In my situation, I’ve decided that I will start asking the question again at appropriate times when I actually want to learn. But ask God to keep checking my heart and asking Him to bring healing to the insecurities.