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The Only Person I Can Change is Me, Part 2

From the series God's Wisdom for Building Great Relationships

Chip wraps up this series with a look at how to treat what he calls, “Chronic Relatititus.” It’s a condition that presents as frustration with someone whose behavior is driving you nuts, and it just isn’t changing. He explains that through it all, peace CAN rule in your heart. Join Chip to find out how.

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Message Transcript

We are never more like God and we are never more like His Son, Jesus, than when we give people what they don’t deserve. He says that phrase, “You’ll be sons of the Most High.” In other words, people will recognize. I’m with my kids and they act a certain way and, “Oh, you must be Ingram’s boy.” Or, they got all that blonde hair and they say, “Oh, this is one of Theresa’s kids.” Why? There is family resemblance.

You have family resemblance to God when you treat people in a way they don’t deserve.

And then notice He wants to explain how God is kind. He says, “Be merciful,” or literally the phrase is: become or show mercy, “just as your Father is merciful. And do not pass judgment, and you will not be judged. And do not condemn, and you shall not be condemned. Pardon, and you will be pardoned.”
All of a sudden, God, see, I’m saying, you’re saying, “Hey, this is not fair. This is ‘chronic relatatitis’ and this person is a jerk at work and he won’t get off the couch and she’s not very affectionate and this kid has been disrespectful and they don’t deserve it,” on and on and on. And Jesus says, “Do you want to break the system?” Every relationship is a system. There is some sort of feedback relational loop that you develop with people and it’s a system. And you have a system going with them.

And most of us are waiting for this other person to change. “I want them to change.” And so we create ways that we think will help them change. Most of the ways are ineffective and negative. Nag, nag, nag, nag, nag, nag, nag.

Now, that doesn’t work at home and it doesn’t work at work. Or passive/aggressive. I’m going to figure out how to pay you back in subtle ways where it doesn’t come out, but you really pay and I execute vengeance. That’s what unresolved, passive/aggressive behavior does.

And Jesus said, “All those ways aren’t how you build relationships in the kingdom.” You are powerless to change other people. Boy, when you get that, your lightbulbs are going. You are powerless to change your wife, powerless to change your friends, powerless to change your husband, powerless to change your kids, powerless to change your in-laws, powerless to change your boss. You are powerless, in and of yourself, to change anybody.

The principle is: you can only change you. I can only change me. But when I get my – where is most of my focus in relationships? If my wife was just a little more of this or that, boy, that’d be a great marriage. If my husband was a little bit more this or that. If my kids were, if my boss were, if my fellow employees were. You know what? Even that person where I get coffee – if he or she was a little bit more this or that, my whole day would be a lot better. In fact, I’m tired of hearing that guy whine every time I walk in here.

You know what will change that? Not waiting for that person, but you changing. Give, and it will be given unto you. You need time? Give time. You need love? Give love. You need a friend? Be a friend. Give and it will be given unto you.

And then notice the dangers. He goes – the spiritual rational is: be merciful and don’t judge. Because a lot of that too is we don’t know what is going on inside of people, do we? Down deep, do we really know what’s going on inside of that clerk or what is really going on inside even your mate? Or that disrespectful kid?
See, we judge and come to conclusions and we assume our perspective is the perspective. I actually have a little 3x5 card because I am so bad at this. Especially if you have some spiritual gift in the area of discernment, then what you think is you can read people. I know what’s going on. I’m sitting down with my wife. I know exactly what she is thinking.

She actually has a phrase for that when I come out with that tone of voice that knows exactly what she is thinking. She looks at me in her quiet, lovely little blonde hair and steel blue eyes and says, “You can’t read my mind and you don’t know what I’m thinking. So, please don’t interrupt me and really listen to what I am actually saying.”
I know it’s a hard time seeing Theresa do that, believe me. She be sweet on the outside as we used to say growing up, but she is very strong on the inside. And I need that. Because, see, my tendency is to think my perspective is the perspective.

In fact, in major conflicts, I have learned a little rule. Major, major conflicts, whether they be at work or at home or with a neighbor or – and I realize, You know something? This could really go south. The implications are really, really bad on this one.

I start the conversation by saying, “Let’s see if we can’t get all the facts on the table. And what I’d like to do is share my perspective of the truth that is not to be confused with reality.” Okay? “I’m not saying that how I am seeing it is reality. What I am telling you is this is honestly how I see it and I want to get that on the table and I would like you to tell me how you really see it and then let’s see if we can put those together and I won’t assume that how I see it is the way it is. And would you just suspend judgment for just a little while and not assume that your perspective is the perspective?”

Because, otherwise, how do you…? The only response you can have, if your judgment, your condemnation, your evaluation is the way it is, then if the other person disagrees, the only thing you can do is become defensive. And what does that do? That takes the relationship farther and farther apart.

But the second objection is that, Chip, that all sounds really good. It’s very spiritual. I appreciate that. That probably works for you and Theresa. I hope you guys do well with that. But what you don’t really get, see, I have been at this a lot longer time. It’s her pride, it’s her insensitivity, and it’s her baggage. Look, we have actually been to counseling on this one! And we both agree it’s her issues.

Or it’s his passive/aggressive or angry outbursts. I’m the one in the family that, or in the in-laws – we walk with God, see? You don’t understand. You probably - you just – total misperception. You don’t understand. We are the spiritual people in this “chronic relatatitis” and they are the pagan, immature, not walking with God, arrogant, insensitive, got the big problems people. So I understand all this stuff about giving what they don’t deserve and I’ll try that just a little bit more but…

Okay, so just before you go there, see, what comes before the verse really has a lot to say about that verse. But you can’t stop there because what comes right after the verse often has just as much to say.

So, we are told to do this outrageous behavior of showing mercy, of loving our enemies, of giving with no expectation of return, of…

And if we give, by the way, did you notice this is a promise? This is from the lips of Jesus. This is a promise. This isn’t like a Chip-ism. This isn’t a principle that someone has developed from the Bible. From the very lips of Jesus, it’s a promise. “Give,” and by the way, did you notice it’s not a financial passage? Everyone uses this for finances because it applies. This is not a financial passage. This is a relational passage.

Jesus just talked to them about: “Blessed are, blessed are, blessed are, blessed are, blessed are,” and then He just talked about how to treat people in ways that they should never deserve and then He says, “Give, and it will be given unto you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over back into your lap.”

Well, let’s just go one more verse or two or three or four and let’s look at verse 39 to see out of this radical promise He makes about relationships. He says, “And He also told them a parable.” Notice that little phrase, “and He also.”

Anytime the author, empowered by the Holy Spirit is connecting what He is saying now with what He just said, there’s a good probability that what He now has just said ties in to what He previously said.

And so, He also told them a parable. “A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit? A pupil is not above his teacher, but everyone after he has been fully trained will be like his teacher. And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see,” notice, it’s not just that you have it, you don’t see it. “You do not see the log that is in your own eye. You hypocrite, first,” circle the word first in your Bible. This is what gets left out when this is taught.

“First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Often, this is taught like, “Oh, never judge anyone. You should never evaluate anything. Oh, you have got issues of yourself. Who are you to speak into...?”

This doesn’t say you don’t speak into other people’s lives. This says just look at yourself first! Look at what your issues are, look at what you need to change, look at what God wants to say to you and then once you do that, okay, now you have a little clearer vision.

Out of kindness and love and, by the way, a sense of, Oh, wow, God – once I see what I have done and how insensitive I have been to you and other things I have done in my life. What do I want? Mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy, please don’t hold that against me. I’m really, really sorry, God, I’m sure, oh, please, please, please!
When you really get that, guess how you’re going to start treating other people: Oh, God, God, God, I want, I really don’t want to treat them like You treat me, but this seems really clear. If I don’t, I’m in big trouble. So, I want to give away mercy, treat people, and withhold what is justly due. And I want to extend grace because that’s what You have done. Because I saw the log and I thought they were arrogant until I looked in my heart. I thought they were insensitive. And they are in this relationship, but I have been insensitive to You. And I’ve got a disrespectful child, but, boy, Lord, I never really thought that my own childhood and my own attitude toward my parents could have any relationship to what I am producing.

And you see what He is saying? Deal with your own stuff first. And then notice He actually is going to tell us how to go about it. He says, “For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor on the other hand a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its fruit, for men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from briar bushes.”
And His point is: whatever the roots are, whatever the genuine roots are, that’s going to come out in the fruit, in the behavior, in the actions. And then what He is saying is, so, you get the log out, you need to look at your own issues, look at the root of your own issues and you deal with that and then the kind of fruit that will come out in your life, now you’re the kind of person that can love and look in and help others.

And then just in case you’re thinking to yourself, Well, how can you really know the fruit in your own life? Look at verse 45. He just, out of the blue, after He talks about the fruit and trees and the parallels, “The good man, out of the good treasure,” literally, out of his treasury. It’s almost like there’s a treasury down in your heart. “The good man, out of the good treasury of his heart brings forth what is good. And the evil man, out of the evil treasure, brings forth what is evil. For his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”

And so what I realized is is that not only do I need to give what I want most in a relationship, but I am never more like God when I give people what they don’t deserve. And it’s not fair. It’s supernatural. But the other thing is the problem is not the other person. That’s my perception of the problem. I am not saying the other person doesn’t have significant problems. But what I am saying is, the problem and the relational system is I need to go first and say, God, what is it about how I respond?

By the way, the things that you’re most defensive about, the things that bug you the most, the things that just are your buttons, I just hate to tell you this, often those are the very things that you’re in violation of with other people.

Really arrogant people don’t like other arrogant people. Really insensitive people are really blown away by insensitive people. You understand what I’m saying?

Often, the very things that bug you about people, that might be one of those little indications that, in the root, down deep somewhere, behind all your defense mechanisms and all mine, maybe there’s something about this relationship God wants me to learn to look inside of my heart first.

And then you say, Well, how do you know what’s there? Start listening to your speech. My speech will reveal my heart. The tone of my words. Are they positive? Are they negative? Are they words that give life or are they words that put down? Are they words that frame things? Are they words that say, “I’m the authority; I know what is best.”

See, you can be really arrogant and really subtle, semi-godly-type ways. But arrogance is just me being filled with me instead of living in humility before God and realizing God has a lot of people that He can speak through.

One of the greatest signs of humility is being teachable. Being willing to listen. Being willing to be reproved. Being willing to say, “I need to learn something,” even in an area where you feel like maybe you know quite a bit.

So, the only person I can change is me. The passage is: Luke 6:38. And then here’s the practice that flows right out of the passage: Ask God what He wants to change in you rather than focusing on what needs to change in the other person and then go to work on it, by His grace.

Ask God, in this “chronic relatatitis,” and you can go back to that person that you’re thinking in your mind. Ask God, Okay, I know for sure what needs to change in that person. You identified that. But then you say, Okay, since it’s a system and the way I am going about changing it so far, it’s called “chronic relatatitis.” If it wasn’t chronic, it wouldn’t be ongoing hassle.

And it continually causes concerns or conflict and so it’s like, Okay, Lord, nagging, being passive/aggressive, yelling, anger outbursts, threatening – those haven’t worked. I think I’ll try it Your way. So, I think I am going to give first to them what I really want in the relationship. And then I am going to ask You to change me. I’m going to ask You to show me and then change me.
Because once one person changes, it changes the dynamic of the relationship. Now, by the way, this is not saying and I’m not guaranteeing that you give away kindness to someone who is insensitive and do it three weeks, don’t come back and say, “Hey, I gave away kindness for three weeks and it ain’t working.? You know what? It doesn’t mean necessarily that other person will change, although I will tell you, you will be amazed. You will be amazed that as you do that, it really happens.

The only person I can change is me. I’m powerless to change my mate, my boss, my rebellious friend, my co-worker. But when I change the system, it begins to change. And then what I have learned is is that as you do that, in a great majority of the times, God starts doing things. Down to little things!
I’ve got a little bagel shop next to where I buy coffee and the guy is just the most negative person in the whole world. He’s just – if it’s a sunny day, “Ah, I’ll probably get a sunburn.” It doesn’t matter! “Hey!” And I’ll walk in and say, “Wow! You’re pretty full today.” “Yeah, full today but we weren’t yesterday.” He’s just negative, negative, negative, negative, negative. And so, he bugs me. And so, I thought, I don’t think I’m going to buy bagels here anymore. But he’s got great bagels. So, I decided not to go that route. So I just decided, You know what? All right. You little bagel man. And I’m on the warpath and I walk in and it is just, “I want to tell you something.” “What’s that?”

We’re always in a hurry. “Could you wait for just one second?” “Yeah.” “The last time I came in, that lady over there, she served me with such a great attitude and I just wanted to tell you.” “Well, that’s good, because most of them don’t do a very good job.” I said, “That may be true, but, boy, yesterday she did and I come here because of the way she treats me. And you know what? She must have an excellent boss to learn those kinds of attitudes. By the way, you know what? You go ahead and keep the change. Great to see you. I’ll see you later.”

And I got no response for a month. But I’m thinking, I’m going to win this battle. I’m going to win this battle! The last time I come in, and every time, and you know me. I’m playing this. I’m a nut, I just think, Okay, I’m going to give what I am not getting. I’m going to give what I am not getting.

The last time I went in there, I bought these sandwiches and I was in a hurry and I didn’t have time to figure out how I was going to bless this guy. And I was having my own issues that day. And he gives me this little card, if you punch it ten times, you get a free sandwich. It’s going to take me until New Year’s!

And so, but I decided rather than be negative I get this, I said, “Oh,” I said, “you know something?” I said, “Thank you very much, but I always lose these cards and I never use them. So, why don’t you just save it and give it to someone else?” And he puts it down and he goes, “What is your phone number?” I gave him my phone number. He says, “Don’t worry about the cards. Whenever you come in, you give me the phone number, it goes in the computer, it’ll automatically pop up, we’ll give you a free sandwich.”

And I said, “Oh, you don’t need to do that, man. It’s okay! But you have the best sandwiches and best bagels. I just like to come.” He said, “We like to really treat all of our customers well. I want to say thank you to you.” And I just – I walked out of there and I thought, It took a month. It took a month. And it’s always good to give an illustration on one of those trite kind of issues.

At the heart of all this, when someone is in a “chronic relatatitis” situation with you, your unconscious response is to start giving them evil for evil. And it says, “Don’t do that. Give good for evil.”

And then here’s the last line I’ll leave you with, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Respect what is right in the sight of all men, if possible. And just remember it’s not always possible. Those in-laws may never be positive. There may be aspects of very important relationships but you know what you can have? You can have peace and right now you don’t have that.

As far as is possible. You can say, God, I am giving, I am giving friendship. I am giving affection. I’m giving a listening ear. I’m giving understanding. Lord, I am pleasing to You. And you know this other person? They may respond, they may not respond, because You’re not going to overpower their will and I sure can’t change them.

Principle number eight: the only person I can change is me. So, “Give, and it will be given unto you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together.”

The practice: ask God in this chronic relationship: How do You want to change me?  And then say, Lord, I can’t do it. I need Your grace. And you just might find you’ll see some real shifts occur in relationships.