Today, I would like to share on the mental pictures we carry of ourselves – our self-images. Many of us have not lived the life God has called us to live, because we think too lowly of ourselves. We think we are not capable. We think we are ugly, too tall, too short, too young, too old, uneducated, come from the wrong background etc. The image we carry of ourselves is negative. So we live defeated lives.
Our problem is that most of us allow other people to draw images for us. People say we are failures, and we see ourselves as failures. People say we are poor, and we look poor in our own eyes. People say we are too young, and we think and act like children. Many pretty young women hear people saying they are ugly, and they believe these lies. So they go out and spend more money buying cosmetics and beauty products to make themselves look beautiful. Most of us conform to other peoples’ images of us.
We hear messages like God does not write anyone off, but do not believe it. We instead choose to believe those who write us off. We hear that each one of us is unique, but we do not believe it. We spend our lives trying to be like other people. We became people-pleasers. We hear that God wants each of us to prosper in all areas of life, but do not believe it because the image we carry of ourselves as poor is too strong. So we live like we have always lived – without any changes in our lives. We live on the shores of life, even though God desires for us to launch out into the deep.
I really trust that today’s message will help you to change the way you see yourself. That you will draw a new mental picture of yourself – the kind of image God wants you to have.
Let me start with a few Bible stories. The first is the Israelites, whose refusal to go and take possession of the Promised Land was based on how strong they imagined their enemies to be, and how weak they thought they were. In Numbers 13:31-33, they said they were not able to defeat the Canaanites because the people were stronger. They also feared the giants and their fortified walls.
The real reason is given in verse 33: “We were in our sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” Were they actually grasshoppers? No. They thought they looked like grasshoppers. The image they drew of themselves was of a grasshopper compared with a full grown man. A man is a thousand times bigger than a grasshopper. If a grasshopper and a man were to fight, it is obvious who would win. There would not be even a fight at all. The man would crush the grasshopper with just two of his fingers. Any attempt by a grasshopper to fight would be futile – not even as painful as a mosquito, whose bite a man can at least feel some pain. A grasshopper? Forget it.
All of us have had “grasshopper images” at times. When we have faced difficulties, we may have felt that those problems are just too much for us. We have felt those problems just about to crush us into pieces.
The grasshopper mentality keeps many of us from taking possession of our Promised Land. We think we are not able. The thought paralyses our legs and hands, so we just do not attempt anything. We become defeated in our minds. We lose on the inside. Loss on the outside follows.
The same mentality affected Moses, Gideon, Saul and Jeremiah. First Moses. We read in Exodus Chapter 3 that God came to Moses, asking him to go down to Egypt and lead the children out from slavery under Pharaoh into freedom. What was Moses’ response? He gave excuses. The first thing he said was, “But who am I to appear before Pharaoh?” Moses asked God. “How can you expect me to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11).
Moses could not imagine himself standing before the Pharaoh. He had grown up in the house of Pharaoh and knew the kind of power he held. He had probably seen people shake in fear before Pharaoh. Now, after 40 years in the wilderness, and especially after what he had done, he could clearly see Pharaoh killing him. He just could not see himself standing before the man. Every time he imagined Pharaoh’s face, he saw death.
And to think about leading the people out of Egypt was out of the question. How could he stand before Pharaoh? How could he stand before the elders of Israel? How could he free millions of people from over 400 years of bondage? He just couldn’t see himself doing it.
God demonstrated His power by several miracles to persuade and convince Moses but he was still reluctant. His excuse was that he could not speak well. “O Lord, I’m just not a good speaker. I never have been, and I’m not now, even after you have spoken to me. I’m clumsy with words.” (Exodus 4:10).
They say one of the things people fear the most is public speaking. Many people would rather die than speak before a group. I can testify to that. I have stood before my classmates and sweated and shaken. I have been so nervous my mind has gone blank. I have opened my mouth to say something and no words have come out. Is there anyone like that here this morning? You need deliverance.
One business leader was asked to make a speech in a meeting. The man could bark orders to his employees and his family, but his greatest fear was to stand before other businessmen and talk. When called upon to give a brief talk, he stood up and just walked out of the meeting. He could not see himself speaking to his colleagues. Later he attended a public speaking school and became a powerful speaker.
Moses just could not see himself speaking before Pharaoh nor the elders and people of Israel. He focused on his physical disability to speak before people. He nearly usurped God’s plan for the Israelites by his continual refusal. How many times have you refused to be used of God because you just thought you were not able to do something? How many excuses have you given God when He had tugged at your heart to go out and do something for His people and for yourself?
Look at the story of Gideon in Judges Chapter 6: 11-15.
Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the oak tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash had been threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!” “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.” Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!” “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”
Gideon focused on his status in the nation of Israel. His idea of a leader was someone who came from the right background. Someone who had leadership qualities in the nation. Someone who could talk well. Someone who could command armies. He could think of people in his family, the tribe of Manasseh and the nation of Israel who were clear leaders, but not himself. He was the least in the family. His tribe had no name. It had never led wars. It was the weakest, so he was weak. People did not see his tribe as one who could lead the nation. And Gideon son of Joash? Forget it.
The Lord had to work on Gideon’s life to help him change his self-image. He said, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.” (Verse 16). “I will fight on your side. You will destroy the Midianites.” Only after Gideon’s self-image changed did he go out and conquer.
What Gideon told the angel of God was what Saul told the prophet Samuel when the prophet announced that he (Saul) was to become king of Israel. “But I’m only from Benjamin, the smallest tribe in Israel, and my family is the least important of all the families of that tribe! Why are you talking like this to me?” (1 Samuel 9:21). Gideon’s tribe was the weakest; Saul’s tribe was the smallest. And his family did not have a name in the tribe of Benjamin. Saul saw himself as good-for-nothing.
How many times has a challenge come to you to go out and do something, and you just thought about yourself as not being capable? I was invited to an international coffee conference in Singapore in 1998. I was to deliver a paper on the PNG coffee industry. I accepted that. But then the organisers came back and asked me to chair one of the meetings. I froze! I could not imagine myself chairing such a meeting of coffee people from all over the world.
I had attended several such meetings before and knew the kind of audience. Mostly they would be elderly people with many years experience than me. I gave several excuses. But the chairman insisted that I take the challenge. I went to Gerard Stapleton, one of our church members then and a colleague. He gave me Philippians 4:13 – a verse I had shared with him and others on many occasions. I thought he would sympathise with me, but he threw the Word of God at me. He gave me a taste of my own medicine, so to speak. I got a bit offended at first, but the more I meditated on the Word, the bolder I became. I could actually see myself doing it.
It was after this positive mental image that I accepted. And the meeting went very well, without the problems I had originally imagined.
Jeremiah gives a record of his conversation with God in Jeremiah Chapter 1.
The Lord gave me a message. He said, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my spokesman to the world.” “O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!” “Don’t say that,” the Lord replied, “for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and take care of you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (Verse 4-8)
Youth and lack of experience was Jeremiah’s image of himself. In his mind, a young man just could not speak for the Lord. How would people take him? Would they take him seriously, or would they dismiss him? If you read verse 9, you will see that God had to physically put His Word in Jeremiah’s mouth.
All these stories have been examples of negative self-images. I would like to look at one positive example from the Bible. It is Caleb’s story in Joshua 14:6-14. Caleb was one of the 12 spies, who together with Joshua reported on the land and urged the people to go forward and take it. The other 10 out-spoke them. But while the 10 died in the wilderness, the two made it under Joshua’s leadership.
After conquering the land, Caleb came to Joshua with a special request. Even though Caleb was now 85 years old, he saw himself as young and strong as he was 45 years earlier when he spied out the land. He was actually telling Joshua, “Give the easy parts to the younger ones; I want the mountain country where the giants live. I’ve waited 45 years to get my hands on these guys.” In his mind, he was a winner and the Anakites were losers. He could see himself slaughtering the giants and taking their land from them. His image was the complete opposite of the Israelites who saw themselves as grasshoppers. He held the image of himself as a winner for 40 years. The passing of years did not change that image. And he went on to possess Hebron.
One factor that may be stopping you from launching out and experiencing change is a negative image of yourself. You think you cannot. You think you are not worthy. You think you are not qualified. You think you are not strong enough. You think you are too young. You think you are too old. You think you are uneducated or not educated enough. You think only men (or women) can do it. You do not even want to try. You become defeated in your mind. You just cannot see yourself changing, living different, and achieving something great for God’s glory and your good.
You need to see yourself as God sees you. You need to let God change your self-image. He changed Moses’ image of himself. Moses went out and led over 3 million from slavery to freedom. God changed Gideon’s image of himself. Gideon went out and defeated the Midianites with just 300 men. God changed Saul’s self-image. He went on to become Israel’s first king. And God changed Jeremiah’s self-image. Jeremiah went on to become one of the boldest prophets in Israel.
Let God change how you see yourself. See yourself through His eyes, not your own or other peoples’ eyes. See yourself as a winner, because that is how God sees and calls you (“more than a conqueror”). See yourself as healed and healthy. See yourself as prosperous. See yourself as a leader (a head and not the tail). See yourself as successful. See yourself as victorious.