Living the Christian life demands that we develop right attitudes and motivations. Here are some attitudes that we should definitely not develop.
Has anyone ever accused you of being in a "bad attitude"? What, exactly, is a "bad attitude"? It's easy, of course, to tell when others are not rightly motivated — not thinking as true Christians should — isn't it? After all, you can hear their nasty remarks. You can see the wrong things they do and the selfishness they display. You may wonder, How can anyone be so bad? Good question! But how about you? Aren't you, at least and maybe more than occasionally, in a similar frame of mind? Do you abhor your own behavior as much as you do others'? Do you always recognize when you are in a bad attitude? Are you deeply, honestly aware of it? Perhaps you mislead someone — or maybe cloud the issue or exaggerate the facts. Or you are harsh toward a friend. Or you turn down an opportunity to help. Are you converted enough to repent of your mistake, to try to repair the damage and to do what you are supposed to do? Some people are only in a good attitude when everything goes well with them — when their needs are fulfilled to their own satisfaction. But is there any merit in that? Can you still be in a good attitude when you are sick or when you lose a job or when people spread false rumors about you? Can you still fully live the Christian way when things get really tough? Attitude spells success or failure, depending on whether the attitude is good or bad. A good attitude can mean a happy home, a pleasant job situation, genuine friends — certainly a closer relationship with God. But a bad attitude can result in a broken home, unhappy surroundings, frustrations and loneliness! For the true Christian, having the right attitude is all-important. God judges us according to our attitudes! Having the right attitude is our key to God's Kingdom.
After God's heart
Consider the criterion God used to choose David to be king over Israel. When God told Samuel to go to the house of Jesse to find out which of Jesse's sons God would select to replace King Saul, Samuel first looked — as we all do — at the sons' appearances. "But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart'" (verse 7). And God chose David. But why? What made David, and not his brothers, a man after God's own heart? The Bible clearly reveals the answer in one single verse: "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will" (Acts 13:22). Notice it! David was a man after God's own heart because he was ready and willing to fulfill all God's will. Not his will, but God's. Despite his many sins — and none of us is without sin — David's heart was right. This mental frame of wanting to obey and serve God is the essence of a right attitude — and it's the opposite of a bad attitude. When you are wrong, are you willing to admit it? The hardest thing for any human being to do is admit that he is wrong. But a willingness to see and correct error is an important part of a right attitude. Christ gave a striking example to illustrate the importance of correcting wrong: "A man had two sons," Christ said, in parable, "and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go, work today in my vineyard.' He answered and said, 'I will not,' but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, 'I go, sir,' but he did not go" (Matt. 21:28-30). Which one of the two sons resembles you? The decisions you make may not always be wise, but after thinking things over and examining the facts, are you Christian enough to change your mind and do what you should have done in the first place? If you are not willing to recognize your mistakes and change, then Christ will give you the same answer He gave those who heard this parable, saying, "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you" (verse 31). Let's briefly examine four major aspects of wrong attitudes. We all have wrong attitudes from time to time, and we need to overcome them. When we do, we will have made a giant step toward the Kingdom of God.
1. Constantly finding fault
Some people constantly look for faults in their neighbors. They criticize and condemn, making themselves judges. This always wanting-to-find-fault attitude makes them feel superior — fills them with self-righteousness. Do you realize that you can never enter God's Kingdom until you get rid of this attitude? Christ said: "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?" (Matt. 7:1-3). Satan was the first to develop and exercise this fault-finding attitude. As the archangel Lucifer, before he became Satan, he found fault with God's government and began to want to take God's place (Isa. 14:12-14, Ezek. 28:12-15). He influenced a third of all the angels to develop this same rebellious attitude toward God, convincing them to join him in an unsuccessful attempt to knock God off His throne (Rev. 12:3-4). Then, after God created the first man and woman, Satan convinced Eve that God was wrong to forbid Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The couple believed Satan and disobeyed God. Consequently, they were afraid when they heard the sound of their Creator's voice in the garden of Eden. They hid themselves. When God asked them why, Adam answered, "I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself' (Gen. 3:10). "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?" asked God (verse 11). Adam's answer is typical of one who wants to justify himself by accusing someone else. He didn't think that he should be blamed for his disobedience. According to Adam, it was the woman's fault! "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and late," he told God (verse 12). Did Eve, then, accept any blame? No. Her answer was just as self-justifying and accusatory as Adam's: She, too, put the blame on someone else, saying, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate" (verse 13). All things considered, Adam probably thought that the fault for the whole incident was God's, since God made the serpent who, in turn, deceived the woman who convinced Adam to eat the fruit. This reasoning, strange but familiar to us all, is called human logic: It enables us to blame others for our own shortcomings or wrongdoings. Rather than admitting and correcting our mistakes, we declare ourselves innocent and expect others to repent of having been instrumental in our misbehavior. Before it's too late, we need to get rid of this always-wanting-to-find-fault attitude.
2. Being unwilling to forgive
Do you easily forgive others'? For instance, if there is a misunderstanding between you and another member of your family, are you willing to recognize your faults and to forgive his? Suppose one of your friends does you wrong and, afterward, tells you he really is sorry. Would you forgive him, or would you hold a grudge against him? Most of us don't have a forgiving attitude. We want to get even with people, vindicate ourselves, prove our own righteousness. But one thing is sure: If we don't forgive our neighbor, God will not forgive us our sins. In the model prayer Christ gave, He taught us to ask God to "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matt. 6:12). Christ added: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (verses 14-15). God is love. He is always willing to forgive us if we truly repent of our sins. He wants us to develop this same forgiving attitude. Remember Christ's answer when Peter asked Him how often he should forgive his brother? Was it seven times? "Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven'" (Matt. 18:22). Afterward, Christ spoke of a servant who owed a considerable amount of money to his master. His master, filled with compassion and showing mercy, forgave him — and canceled the debt. Shortly thereafter, the same servant was unwilling to write off a small debt someone else owed him. He "went out... and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all'" (verses 23-29). But he would not. He threw his fellow servant into prison. Upon hearing this his own master called him and said: "You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?" (verses 32- 33). Of what value are these parables if we don't learn the lessons they contain for our growth? What would your attitude be if you were arrested on false accusations and sentenced to die? Suppose your persecutors even mocked you and spat on you. Would your attitude be one of forgiving those who falsely condemned you? This actually happened to Stephen. He was arrested, persecuted and falsely accused. His attackers cast him out of the city and stoned him. But he knelt and "cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not charge them with this sin.' And when he had said this, he fell asleep [died]" (Acts 7:60). A true Christian should have this type of forgiving attitude at all times. This is the attitude Christ Himself had toward His own murderers! He said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). When you repent, God completely forgives and forgets your sins. You cannot enter God's Kingdom unless you learn to forgive your brother's sins.
3. Feeling sorry for yourself
Some people are perpetual mourners — they can't stop feeling sorry for themselves. Suffering from self-pity, they consider themselves victims of circumstance. They seem to be burdened with questions like, "Why me?" and "Why did it have to happen to me?" Somehow everything always seems to go wrong for them, and they convince themselves that they have no reason to be happy. Are you like this? Think of all the seriously handicapped people on earth who have succeeded despite adverse circumstances. These people have worked hard in order to, in many cases, achieve simple things that those of us who are more fortunate take for granted. But whatever their trials, they had one thing in common: They never pitied themselves — never let themselves be discouraged or overcome by their physical handicaps. They didn't waste time complaining about their misfortune. Are you like this? Think: If people in the world — without God's Spirit — can succeed despite their handicaps, how much more reason do you and I — we who have God's Spirit of power — have to succeed? God loves you even if you are crippled or handicapped. Those are only temporary physical hindrances. He will never forsake you. Therefore, be courageous and grateful for what you have. Stop complaining about what you don't have! Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Greatness was never attained through self-pity. No one will enter God's Kingdom until he learns to appreciate life. The apostle Paul suffered more than most people. He endured hardship, persecution and all kinds of false accusations. He would have had good reasons, humanly, to pity himself. After all, before his conversion, he was a well-respected, powerful individual, filled with zeal for a task he did (Phil. 3:4-6). When he became a Christian, Paul just about lost everything he had, including his friends in the world. For a long time even those in the Church doubted his conversion and turned away from him. Also, he continually suffered from a thorn in the flesh — some physical handicap (II Cor. 12:7). Wouldn't you think that Paul had enough reasons to complain and to pity himself? But he didn't. Instead, he wrote for our instruction: "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again r will say, rejoice!" (Phil. 4:4). When you rejoice in the Lord you cannot pity yourself — rejoicing and pitying are opposites. How did Paul endure suffering and still remain in a good attitude? What formula did he use? Under God's inspiration, he reveals it to us: "Whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things" (Phil. 4:8). The greatest curse in life is when you are cut off from God — when you are left without His Spirit. But there is no reason for you to be cut off from God. You are not alone. If you are a true Christian, you have His Spirit. Therefore, whatever your problems, you — a begotten child of God — must never feel sorry for yourself, never pity yourself (I John 3:22). You will always have the courage to go forward in life in the right attitude.
4. Feeling "holier than thou"
Some people suffer from an inferiority complex; others have a vain sense of superiority. How about you? If you pity yourself, it may be that you suffer from an inferiority complex. On the other hand, if you think of yourself as being better than others — if you are boastful — then you are manifesting a "holier-than-thou" attitude. Examine yourself! Do you think of yourself as better than others — a little more right — more generous — more Christian? When you are proven right and someone else is shown to be wrong about something, do you feel superior to them as a human being? "Whoever desires to be first among you," said Christ, "let him be your slave" (Matt. 20:27). The book of Proverbs gives us many admonitions regarding vanity, conceit and self-righteousness. For instance, we read in Proverbs 26:12: "Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him." Or, "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, But the Lord weighs the hearts" (Prov. 21:2). In other words, you might think that you have more going for you than someone else. You might consider yourself a better person — perhaps a more valuable helper! But whatever your achievements, however great they may be — if you have conceit in your heart you are in the wrong attitude. And unless you repent of that wrong attitude with all your heart, you will never enter the Kingdom of God. "Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips" (Prov. 27:2). Read the parable Christ gave about the prayers of a publican and a Pharisee. The Pharisee, disdaining the publican next to him, had nothing but good to say about his own attitude, his praiseworthy deeds and his willingness to sacrifice. But the publican, realizing how insignificant he was before God, would not even raise his eyes while praying (Luke 18:9- 14). God accepted the publican, but not the Pharisee! Are you a Pharisee or a publican? Where is your greatness? What do you have that you have not received from God? Every blessing comes from God. All the glory is His (II Cor. 10:17-18). If you want to be a Christian after God's own heart, then you must get rid of conceit and boastfulness. You must serve in all humility, counting others better than yourself (Phil. 2:3). You must help without seeking glory. God is not a respecter of persons. He loves us all and wants us all to be great. But remember: The greatest among us is the humblest of all — and the servant of all! In this area, as well as in the case of everyone of God's commandments, we need to strive mightily to have right attitudes pleasing to God. Start the change now — don't put it off! Your attitude is the key to making you a Christian after God's own heart — and will unlock before you the door to the Kingdom of God!