Have you ever spent a lot of time, effort and resources working on something that turned out to be a waste of time?
Charles Swindoll says he has a friend who has a plaque on his wall reading: “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”
Swindoll focuses us on the efforts of Jesus to confront the Pharisees and their grace-killing ways (Simple Faith, p. 67). The more he exposed the hypocrisy of the religiously self-righteous the more hostile they became. No one likes to have their inauthenticity uncovered for all to see. We fight to keep the carefully crafted masks and reputations in place to guard our sense of who we want others to imagine us to be.
It’s amazing what sets of our sense of self-righteousness. Things as simple as the diet we are on – the foods we eat or don’t eat; the exercise we do – the lifestyle we choose to rest through or with which we challenge our bodies and minds; the travels we take or don’t take; the money we spend or don’t spend on ourselves; the fashions we would wear or not wear; the activities we deem acceptable to Christians and the activities we deem unacceptable – even if there is no specific scriptural warrant of prohibition; and of course the depth of our prayers, giving, witnessing, Bible reading, church attendance and service.
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 Jesus sets up a higher standard of following for his disciples which takes us beyond the observable outward appearance and deals with the inside reality which only God sees. The true condition of the heart is what sets us apart with God.
Self-righteousness escapes its hiding place in our heart in ways we hardly recognize. It slips out in our speech in the way we quietly address the value, worth or character of another person to someone we consider on our side. It slips out in our attitude on who we would sit beside on the bus or in church; who we would invite to our homes for a meal; who we would help out in a time of crisis. It slips out in our humour and in our stereotypes as we watch the news, people watch in the mall, or determine who would make an appropriate relationship for ourselves or for some significant person in our lives.
The waste of time for us is expecting ourselves to just try harder when we mess up – which we will.
I was in a meeting yesterday where someone mentioned that they came from a family of racists and never realized it until they were confronted. They realized that the best way for them to defeat a racist heart was to build friendships with the people who they knew very little about. They said that made all the difference for them in building an attitude of acceptance, trust and welcoming.
Scriptures slay the self-righteous spirit by declaring that all of us are equally dead in sin without hope on our own. Unless the Spirit of Christ recreates us into new creations we will continue to experience the frustration of pigs trying to learn to sing.
Our church family is embracing the saying PBPWMGINFWMY. Please be patient with me – God is not finished with me yet. We trust that God’s Spirit in his time will mold us into the image of Jesus who alone perfectly embodies the character of God in its fullness.
What are some of the efforts you have spent your time on without significant results? What shadows of self-righteousness tend to sneak up on your heart when you let your guard down? What solutions have you found to deal with the character traits which fall short of what Jesus modeled?