I always viewed myself as open to listening new ideas (regardless of whether they are true or not) and I thought I had a soft heart that was always responsive to the Spirit in knowing what was true and what was not. However, as I have sought to become sanctified, I have been shown how that was not the case and was something that I needed to change.
As I reflected on what my reactions are when I am presented with a new idea, I could see that at times I would feel uncomfortable and other times I would feel offended. These feelings meant that I was not as open as I viewed myself and this made it hard for the Spirit to communicate truth to me when I was so wrapped up in how I felt.
I think it is typical that we view ourselves in flattering ways. We see ourselves as open-minded and seekers of truth, but when something contradicts what we believe or how we see ourselves, we experience a negative reaction. This negative reaction can vary from person to person. Consider when a new idea is presented to you, how do you feel? Let's say someone tells you something that contradicts your beliefs (religious or not) or let's say someone tells you something about yourself, perhaps that you are dishonest or malicious? How do you feel in those situations?
- out of control
- scared or fearful
- prideful that you "know better"
- sick on your stomach
- desire to cry or scream
As I sought to become more open to truth I could see that I was beginning to change. When someone presented something I didn't believe, I no longer felt uncomfortable or threatened by it. However, it wasn't long before the Lord showed me that I still felt hurt and offended when someone said something negative about me, such as "You are a respecter of persons!" I always wanted to cry. I want to run away and hide. When I began to see that my responses were not open, I determined to change. I decided that I would begin by not reacting to what I heard, although my heart still hurt. Over time, I could see that my heart hurt less and less. I'm still may not respond perfectly but I am trying to become more objective and less emotional when I hear something that is hard to hear.
There are many examples in the scriptures of the responses people gave when hearing truth. These truths were rarely flattering and as a result, most accounts describe people being offended because of what they were hearing. They were not open. They did not have soft hearts.
When Stephen recounted the history of Israel and rebuked the Jews for their apostasy, they did not respond well: "When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth." (Acts 7:54) We might not gnash our teeth today, but we often still feel cut to the heart and feel offended or threatened by what we hear.
In Matthew 15 we learn of a Canaanite woman who wanted Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus essentially called her a dog and said he wouldn't help her because of where she was from. You would think that she should have been offended by this, but she wasn't. She continued to beg Jesus for help (Matthew 15:22-28). Her humility is contrasted to the Pharisees who were deeply offended by the things Jesus taught which threatened their beliefs (Matthew 15:12).
On the day of Pentecost when many of the followers of Jesus were baptized by fire, others watching mocked. Peter berated them and taught them about Jesus. It is interesting looking at their response: When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? (Acts 2:37) They weren't offended. Instead the Spirit pierced their hearts and they were humble enough to ask what they ought to do.
Regardless of how information (especially truth) is presented, we ought not ever be offended. There is never a reason to be offended because of the truth. The person speaking to us could seem angry and hateful, but how we respond to the message determines so much more about us than it does them. In fact, the degree of our offense reveals the amount of pride in our hearts, no matter how sharply the truth contradicts our preconceived notions.
The closer you come to God, the more He reveals your sins and weaknesses. In the past 6 months God has told me so many things about myself of which I was completely unaware. Sometimes these things come through other people, sometimes through the whispering of the Spirit, and other times through a dream. In the end, it is God who is giving me truth to see myself as I really am. It is no wonder that Christ is called "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense" (1 Peter 2:8). God will tell us things that are very hard to hear. But, each experience I have had has provided me an opportunity to not be offended. If we become offended, God cannot continue to reveal more of our hidden sins and weaknesses. Without knowing these things, we cannot become pure in heart. Without becoming pure in heart, we cannot see God (Matthew 5:8).