I have amazing superpowers, and plenty of them. On the freeway, from inside my own car, I can spot idiots by the way they drive. (And believe me, there are loads of idiots!) On social media, I can discern the tone of voice in a Tweet or a Facebook post or in a text. If I’m watching a video, I can go beyond tone of voice and tell you the exact motivation of the person posting. While reading the New York Times I possess all the insight needed to instantly solve all the world’s problems (even though a reporter from the Times has never called me to ask my opinions). My judgment is a supernatural gift . . . or is it?
You get the idea: my superpowers are a dazzling combination of mindreading and deep analysis. I’m a mash-up of Megamind and Freud. Of course, the scripture doesn’t use the word superpower. In fact, it doesn’t look like Jesus is impressed by my powers at all:
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
If you’re into being in control, being a judge is a great deal. Think of a courtroom: judges do not repent, defendants do. The judge sits above the situation. In fact, the judge sits above everyone else in the room! Everyone else in the room wants to win the judge’s attention and approval. Ultimately, the judge gets to decide who gets to say what, and how much they get to say. Argue with the judge you will be met with a contempt of court citation—which you cannot challenge or contest. It is final.
The habitual practice of judgment is an enemy of repentance, and every church planter needs to know how to repent–and do so regularly. As soon as I cast myself in the role of judge, I have excused myself of the need to repent, because after all, it’s all about me. Come to think of it, only three kinds of people wear flowing black robes: graduates (who think they know more than they do), judges (who hold all the cards, and wizards (who, admittedly, are pretty cool—but far less common than the first two).
It doesn’t take long to get used to wearing the robe, holding the gavel, and sitting high above other people. But I do so at my own peril: I quietly have given myself permission to be the lord of all I survey. Sure, Jesus may be “Lord of all,” but I am lord of my realm. I may never express it in these terms, but I become the god of my world—and every day is Judgment Day as I scrutinize the actions of others.
Repentance requires a complete role-reversal. I am the one standing before the judge. Instead of looking down upon others I look up to the seat of judgment—true judgment, fair judgment, God’s kind and loving judgment. In truth, until I place myself in this role there is a part of God’s personality I will never experience. Perhaps the real reason I hesitate to come before the One True Judge is I think he will treat me the way I have treated others. This is why my human judgments are an enemy of repentance: they distort the way I see the One True Judge, and keep me from repenting before Him.
Learning the posture of repentance and disciplining myself to pay careful attention to each word uttered by the One True Judge is a formative experience. To step out of my courtroom and into God’s courtroom is to see myself more clearly, and to position myself for change. The prophet Isaiah had just such a formative experience. In a mystical moment he came before the Creator of all the earth:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:1-7)
What was at first a dreadful sight led Isaiah to understand two key insights about his culture and himself: “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” But instead of experiencing punishment, he experienced cleansing—and a new calling on his life.
Why has it taken me so long to realize that my judgments—made so quickly and with such confidence—block the still, small voice of the Spirit? By disciplining myself to remain open and humble I position myself to hear from God. It’s not that the Spirit isn’t speaking, it’s that I have trained myself to listen to my own voice first.
This is part of what it means to live in the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” But how deeply I have trained myself to rely upon my own insights! The Holy Spirit is always present; I must cultivate a patient and listening heart. Sometimes I will see from Heaven’s perspective, and other times I may hear the gentle whisper, “Repent!”
This article originally appeared here, and is used by permission.