Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Improper Self-image

Exodus 3:11

And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? (Ex. 3:11).

For at least two decades, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists across the world have emphasized self-image. How does a person feel about himself/herself? How does this influence attitudes, behavior, and life-style. And quite frankly, knowledgeable Americans have often become tired of hearing “self-image, self-image, self-image.”

Especially was this self-image craze intensified by books like I’m OK – You’re OK by Thomas A. Harris, with assistance from his wife, Amy. The “renewal” movement in Christian circles placed considerable importance on self-image.

Really, now? How vital is the role of self-image in a person’s life? Thirty and forty years ago, Americans did not think in terms of self-image.

Why bandy it about? Why not plunge directly into the subject as it relates to none other than the premier lawgiver, Moses?

It was “business as usual” on the backside of the desert. Moses led the nomadic life of a shepherd. This day was no different from any other day, so Moses thought. Little did this roving shepherd realize all that was in store for him. It almost reminds me of Walter Cronkite’s intoning, “And this has been a day like any other day, except You Were There!”

Imagine Moses’ absolute amazement as he beheld a bush that continued to burn, yet was not consumed. From the bush came the voice of God Almighty, Jehovah.

It is understandable that human beings, freighted with guilt and sin, tend to cringe before God. What would you do if He spoke to you out of a bush in your back yard? You might scratch your head and begin babbling to yourself.

God spoke, as He had spoken before and as He would speak again. He delivered the command, “Moses, you will go to Pharaoh, and you will say, ‘Let my people go.’” Moses’ initial response was most revealing: “Who am I that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

Who am I? That is an appropriate question for all of us to ask. Moses epitomizes a person who suffers from a poor self-image. Call it what you will—self-image, feelings about oneself, attitude, perspective about life, you name it.

Moses had known rejection. When God called him to a specific mission, Moses’ impulse was to ask, in self-deprecation, “Who me? Who am I?” I do not believe, either, that it was a false modesty. Moses was petrified with a sense of unworthiness. Think, for instance, of Isaiah when he was in the Temple, and he saw “the Lord high and lifted up.” What was his response to that encounter with the God of glory? “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips. And I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isa. 6:5, NASB)

Even though awe, wonder, and maybe even fright were normal responses from people like Abraham, Moses, and Isaiah, all of them grappled with a common human condition. They felt inferior, not only to God but also to man.

Moses’ inferiority complex was understandable. He was a Hebrew and had undergone persecution and ostracism because of his lineage. In Exodus 1, the Hebrews had multiplied thick and fast, and the midwives were doing a “land-office business.” The new Pharaoh was deathly afraid of the Hebrews’ becoming predominant. He appointed taskmasters over them to place them under hard labor. Pharaoh’s plan was genocide—to enslave the Hebrews until they broke and finally died under the strain.

But listen to Exodus 1:12: “But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out, so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel” (NASB). The more they were put down, the more they prospered. When you come down to it – because of his background and his lineage—there was no reason for Moses to have an inferiority complex. The Hebrews were winners. No matter what happened to them, they snapped back. They were resilient.

Pharaoh had commanded the Hebrew midwives to let male babies die in childbirth, but they did not abide by his macabre orders. Exodus 1:20-21 states: “And it came about because the midwives feared God, that He established households for them. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, ‘Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive.’” (NASB).

Into that situation of doom, Moses was born. Fearing for his life, his mother put him in a wicker basket and set the basket afloat in the reeds (we used to call them “bullrushes”) along the banks of the Nile. Every faithful Sunday School child is familiar with the story of Moses as a baby—found by Pharaoh’s daughter, reared by her in the court of Pharaoh. She actually named him Moses which means “drawn out of the water.”

When Moses grew up he became painfully aware of the plight of his people. One day he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. Moses made sure the coast was clear and then struck down his Egyptian taskmaster, killing him. Moses buried the Egyptian’s body in the sand. His was not a premeditated act of murder—he was only trying to rescue one of his brethren. He saw two of his Hebrew brethren fighting the following day and tried to break it up. To Moses’ chagrin he became aware that his murder of the Egyptian must have been found out, for the “offender” in the fight answered: “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and mused, “Surely the matter has become known” (Ex. 2:14).

So, when Pharaoh heard of the killing, he sought to have Moses killed. Moses became a fugitive and settled in the barren desert land of Midian, now called Jordan. There Moses was offered hospitality by Reuel (Jethro) and was given one of Reuel’s seven daughters, Zipporah, in marriage. They had a son and named him Gershom.

Then the stage is set in the Scriptures.

Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them (Ex. 2:23-25, NASB).

So, Moses had no concrete reason to feel inferior. God had intervened for him repeatedly. And now God had spoken miraculously through the burning bush—burning yet not being consumed! Moses would overcome, but he had to grapple with his identity and had to answer the question: “Who am I?”

Many people, even professing Christians, spend their whole lifetimes posturing from a low self-image. I am not so idealistic as to think that: in the reading of this brief chapter, a lifetime of building a low self-image can be translated into a positive, proper self-image—the image God wants us to have. But I am emboldened with enough faith to believe that, from this chapter, one can find direction in developing new thought patters that can literally transform one’s own self-image.

Proverbs 23:7 succinctly states the case: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” I do not necessarily agree with every positive-thinking kick which comes along—unless, of course, it is rooted and grounded in the Word of God. But there is power in positive thinking, provided that positive thinking is linked with the possibilities in the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, Moses had to ascertain who he was—not merely a Midianite shepherd, not simply a tongue-tied, timid Hebrew. Moses had to recognize that the power of the Almighty was upon him, that Jehovah God had called him to a special commission, and that God would stand with him in carrying out that monumental task of leading the children of Israel out of bondage in the land of Egypt.

Today there is considerable emphasis on “imaging.” How do you perceive yourself? Who are you? What are you doing? It’s OK to sing “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal,” if you add, “I’m gonna be a diamond someday.” There is nothing wrong with being a chunk of coal if you trust God to make and mold you into that classy diamond. To use that hackneyed, but true, expression: “God ain’t through with me yet.” He is at work in our lives, pressuring these chunks until they are transformed. Moses and you and I are diamonds in the rough.

In order to work on a proper self-image, we must observe the real self. How do we image ourselves? Many of us image ourselves physically. Others, emotionally. A few of us image ourselves spiritually. Most people never realize their value. It is heartbreaking to hear a child of the King moan, “Oh, I’m nothing. I’m no count. I’ll never amount to a hill of beans.” That’s tragic.

Many view themselves primarily from a physical standpoint. Why? Because they are prone to think in physical terms instead of spiritual. Too few of us see ourselves for who we really are—that is, from a spiritual standpoint. The pathway to proper self-image is begun when we realize who we are in actuality.

Paul wrote: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).  We are made up of three parts (and I realize there is debate on this matter): spirit, soul, and body. We generally reverse the order in conversation. Most of us say “body, soul and spirit.” This is because subconsciously we are more body-conscious, and this is a portion of our problem with self-image. The natural, earthly matters mean more to many of us than the spiritual aspects of life.

Think about it. Many of us are obsessed with our bodies. Each day we spend immeasurably more time preparing our bodies than our spirits. Would you believe it? I have heard of men who will spend forty-five minutes every morning washing, drying, styling, combing, and spraying their hair—and expend no energy in the spirit life. Many women will spend far longer selecting a jogging outfit than they do praying and reading the Bible. We shower and shave. We exercise and energize. We prepare physically but not spiritually. As a pastor I have noticed through the years that many people weep over bodies but not over the spirits of those persons who have gone on. Why? Because we do not have the proper images of ourselves.

Still others of us are more mind- or emotion-conscious than we are spirit-conscious. Moses asked a thought-provoking question, “Who am I?” Let’s pause at this juncture and think on that question fraught with eternal meaning. We are spirit-beings. When the Bible declares that God made man in His image, it means that God is a spirit and “they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (see Gen. 1:26-27; John 4:24).

Who am I? I am a spirit. I have a soul. I live in a body. If we fed our spirits half as much as our bodies, we would begin to recognize how indescribably valuable we are to God, and consequently a proper self-image would emerge. We lavish ourselves with food, with pleasure, with entertainment, with music, television, and reading. We neglect the spirit. All that can truly feed the spirit is the Word of God and the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

The market is surfeited with books and tapes on self-image. Many of these deal basically with the physical side—how to dress for success, how to obtain power, how to lose weight, even how to slim your tummy. Dress in stylish clothes, even if those “stylish” clothes make you look like a scarecrow or a clown! Make up correctly. Drive an “in” car. Live in a ritzy condo or town house. Those externals will last for a little while, but they do nothing to build a permanent self-image.

Ho hum. Many other books endeavor to deal with self-image only from the soulish realm. We hear all kinds of advice. “Get hold of your emotions, and don’t cry in public.” “Learn to laugh and influence others.” Ad infinitum. But the truth is we will never have a permanent, positive self-image until we recognize that all of this only touches the outer self. A proper self-image comes from within, and within is the spirit. “Who am I?” I am a spirit. Therefore, I find my real self in the spiritual realm.

Consequently, we are confronted in century twenty with the same question which hounded Moses on the desert: “Who am I?” Let’s note first:

An Explanation

Now I recognize that Christians through the centuries have wrestled with the composition of man. Certain thinkers claim that man is soul alone, an indivisible entity, a monad. But the Bible speaks about man being a trichotomy. He is in three parts—spirit, soul, and body. Now I recognize that theologians can discuss and debate the nature of man until the Second Coming. I fully believe from my study of God’s Word that we are made up of the outer court (body), the holy place (soul), and the holy of holies (spirit).

We are all too aware of the body. It is visible. We pet and pamper it. Many abuse it with alcohol, drugs, and other immortality. We paint it . . . and tan it. We tone it . . . and attempt to firm it up. We measure it and weigh it. I well remember Stuart Hamblin’s hit song, “This Old House.” The body is the house God has given us to live in while we sojourn here on planet earth. This aspect of our being deteriorates and disintegrates. It is in the process of decay. One day this body will return to dust.

The soul, I believe, is the seat of our emotions. The soul is not the innermost being. Rather, it is the realm of our emotions.

I repeat: the spirit—the holy of holies—is the innermost being. I equate the spirit with the heart throughout the Bible. “For with the heart man believeth . . .” (see Rom. 10:10). The spirit is that part of us which is going to live as long as God lives—which means your spirit will never die!

Today there are many advocates of the evolutionary process. In other words, man evolved from lower forms. These evolutionists state that man is another animal—more highly developed and more rational, but nonetheless an animal. If such were true, however, there wouldn’t be any more wrong with killing a man and eating him than there would be in killing a cow and eating it! What makes a man different is his spirit. It is that part of him which can communicate with God. Animals do not have spirits. There is not a God-like quality in them.

In order to foster the right self-image I need to see that the real me is my spirit. Remember, I am a spirit. I have a soul—I live in my body. With the spirit we contact the spiritual realm. With the soul we contact the emotional realm. With the body we contact the physical realm. The problem is that many are miserable because they look for happiness and peace in the physical realm, in the area of the body. Others seek it in the area of the emotions—the soulish realm. But it is found only in the spirit.

People feel that they can discover happiness through sex or food or even such endeavors a body building, along with aerobics and “pumping iron.” Others are miserable in the soulish realm because they look for happiness through aesthetics—music, poetry, prose, intellectual pursuits. But the deepest happiness comes in the spiritual realm. We must ask, “Who am I?” We discover the answer from the Word of God. The real me is a spirit, and the spirit is the only realm where I can find permanent peace and divine direction.

What must we do, then? We must learn to let the new man on the inside of us dominate. When we receive the Lord Jesus Christ and are converted, we turn from a life that has been governed by the physical and/or the mental. Part of us has been dead. Now, in Christ, we are alive spiritually and we need to let the spirit within, activated by the Holy Spirit, dominate. Then and only then can we have the correct self-image. “Who am I?” I am a spirit. I have a soul, and I live in a body. There is not only an explanation, but there is:

An Illustration

In Luke 16 Jesus presents a vivid illustration of man being spirit, soul, and body. Jesus declares:

And there was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores. And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass that the beggar died and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried: And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torment and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things; but now he is comforted, and thou are tormented (vv. 19-25).

The beggar died, but he was carried into Abraham’s bosom. His body was laid in the grave, but he was in the bosom of Abraham, the Hebrew representation of heaven. How? He was a spirit!

And we study the plight of the rich man—he was in hades, hell. His spirit and soul were still intact after death. He could still remember; he still had emotion; he was tormented in the flames. He was concerned for his five brothers. When a person dies, he awaits the resurrection of the body. The unsaved like the rich man will be resurrected to corruption. The saved like Lazarus will be resurrected to glorification. In that state prior to the resurrection, the spirit and soul of a person are intact.

Our only means of knowing God is through the spirit. We cannot have a spiritual relationship with Him through human knowledge. To remind you of Jesus’ words to the woman at the well, “God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit, and in truth.” Naturally, without a relationship of the spirit, man cannot have an intimate knowledge of God. “For the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can they know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Only through man’s spirit, aided by the Holy Spirit of God, can he have a saving standing with God.

“Who am I?” I am a spirit. I have a soul. I live in a body. Finally, I want you to note:

An Application

If all this is true, then one must be in touch with God through one’s spirit—as one is energized by the Holy Spirit.  I cannot depend on the physical or the emotional aspects in order to have a proper self-image. To have a truly correct image of myself, I must be led and motivated by the Holy Spirit. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom 8:14).

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But it’s true. A person must first be converted to the Lord Jesus Christ. Until then a person is only half alive, and there is no possibility of having the highest self-image of oneself without being in the spiritual realm. You see, a person is not OK until he is OK with Christ. Regardless of what others think, that person is A-OK, because he is OK with God. Then, the self-image, worked upon by the Holy Spirit, begins to shape up to the expectancy of God. So many feel low-down, no count, dirty, filthy, and miserable because of guilt. That guilt is the result of unforgiven, unforsaken, unconfessed sin within the life.

Preston Bailey wrote: “To banish fear you must look within your mind, find the cause of your fear and worry and lack of self-confidence. Then you must train your mental habits to a new point of view. This means substituting faith for fear, a courageous outlook for a lack of self-assurance, a positive attitude toward life for a negative. Fear becomes ingrown only when the fear-bringing situation is not examined and penetrated.

We must be sure of who we are in order to overcome the onslaught of the evil one, the devil. There are three areas of temptation outlined in the Bible. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16).  The appeals of this wicked world system entice through the temptations of the soul and the body. The body can become boss, and then preoccupation with sex or weight or pastimes dominates us. And the devil is not satisfied to tempt our bodies and souls. He loves to work on one’s spirit.

“The devil made me do it.” No, he didn’t really. You and I cooperated with him. We are prone to blame the devil for what actually belongs to our flesh. We simply let the body rule us.  Many of us do not want to accept the responsibility if we can blame it on demons.

How are we to overcome? How are we to build a proper self-image? If the temptation comes from the world, it attacks the soul. Consequently we have to overcome through faith. First John 5:4 states it plainly: “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Ah, there’s the key. Faith.

How appropriate are the inspiring words of John Greenleaf Whittier:

Nothing before, nothing behind;

The steps of faith

Fall on the seeming void, and find

The Rock beneath.

If the temptation comes from the flesh, it is against the body. We overcome here through fleeing. First Corinthians 6:18, for instance, admonishes: “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.” We are not to fight this temptation—we are to flee it! Run for cover beneath the shadow of the Almighty.

If the temptation comes from the devil, it is certainly against the spirit. Here we are not to faith it or to flee it—we are to fight it. Paul aptly wrote: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12).

And James gave this command: “Submit yourselves to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (4:7). You are not supposed to run from the devil—he is supposed to run from you! The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s exalted son, has already conquered the devil!

Now how are we to move forward? One must be tuned to his spirit and not to the body or even his soul. We must not make decisions in life on the basis of the physical or the soulish. We should never decide because “we feel like it.” We should make our decisions from the spirit through the Holy Spirit. How are we to be led by the Spirit?

It is so rudimentary, so elementary—and we have heard it again and again. Withdraw with the Word. Feast on it. Meditate on it. Drink it in. Remember the prayer of the psalmist to God: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Ps. 119:11). “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105). Cherish the Word. Let it speak. Pray as though everything depended on it. Hear Paul as he wrote to his beloved brethren at Philippi:

Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil.4:6).

And it wouldn’t hurt most of us to fast for a period—a day, two, three. Remember that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Search deep inside and ask the Holy Spirit to purge your spirit—and your body and your soul—from every sin and negative influence of the devil. After all, the devil wants you to have a bad self-image, Christian. He can render your testimony ineffective if you spend a goodly portion of your time feeling bad about yourself and lamenting, “I’m no good. I’m so dirty and filthy. I’ve always hated myself.” That’s the devil’s lie. He wants you, Christian, to live as though you had never been converted, never been saved—as though you have never had an encounter with the beautiful Lord Jesus Christ. Remember this: the devil—Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub—wants you to have an abysmally low view of yourself.

Spend more time with the spirit than you do with the body. Budget your time. All of us should devote more energy and time to the spirit than to the body. Spiritual exercise is necessary, or you will lose “tone” in the spirit life. You will become flabby and weak.

“Who am I?” I am a spirit. I have a soul. I live in a body. How do I image myself? I am indescribably valuable to God. You and I are worth more than a king’s ransom to God. Only when you realize your worth to God can you begin to build a positive self-image. Hear me. Through Christ, you can begin to become the beautiful you God intends.

Many will never develop a decent self-image until they come alive spiritually. If you have never received Christ, your self-image will always be faulty and tarnished. You will be in the pits in this life—and in “the pit” in eternity! Come to Jesus for “His cleansing power.” Turn over your negative life to His positive, saving grace. Let Him transform you and translate you into “the kingdom of his dear Son.” See yourself as one for whom Christ came and died to redeem, and self-image will begin to develop.

After an interlude, back to Moses. It is hardly essential for me to mention that backward, timid Moses became the leader of a mighty nation, guiding them out of Egyptian bondage and then to the Promised Land, even though he himself “saw it afar.” Moses realized that God had a mission for him. This was the same man who stammered and stumbled, mumbled and moped. The same man who asked, “Who am I?” And he meant, “Who, little old me?” Who was on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus (besides Peter, James, and John, of course)? Moses and Elijah, and they were transfigured along with our glorious Lord Jesus.

Moses finally began to realize he was the servant and emancipator of God. Only he could do exactly what God wanted. And he didn’t have to do it all by himself. God gave him Aaron who was fluent and could help serve as Moses’ occasional spokesman.

Do you feel worthless? Pitiful? Of no account? Many do. But you must determine right now who you are. Many Christian psychologists will follow this line of thinking with clients who are ambivalent. They will ask, “Now, what do you want to be? Better still, who do you want to be? Do you want to be the flirtatious ‘dirty ole man’ or ‘the servant of God’?” Or “do you want to be ‘the social climber’ or ‘the soul-winner’?” In other words, who are you?

You will never move toward a proper self-image as long as you trust in the physical realm. In the final analysis, neither money nor status are the determining factors in self-image. The quality and worth of the person are. You must move to the core of the matter—the spirit deep within, the holy of holies in your life. You will never have a permanent, positive self-image until you move past the outer realm and plunge into the real you—the spiritual part.

All of this is bound up in becoming “the express image” of the Master. Only then will you have a winning self-image. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

We have come once again to the end of a volume. It could be the beginning of a whole new way of life . . . tracing the rainbow through the rain.

Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain

ON A PERSONAL NOTE:

Be sure to follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Learn more about Mission:Dignity.