Guest Article: What Are You Looking For?

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I am glad to share another fine- and challenging — article by my friend Rod MacArthur. Excellent thoughts!

What are you Looking At?

“Let your mind dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8b)

I will mention the names of two US leaders who have recently been at odds with each other. And, since they from opposing political parties, it’s probable that you have disagreed with one or both of them, too. Given their prominence, you’ve probably heard harsh criticism of each; maybe you’ve even joined in openly bashing one of them. President Trump has certainly been under fire and in the headlines from several months. And Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has also taken her share of heat.

This is NOT a political comment; and does not support either one. It isn’t about them. It’s about you and me; and how we choose to look at people. These two simply serve as the litmus paper to test our attitudes and responses. So, I’ve titled this piece: What (not, who) are you Looking At?

In his exhortation to the Christians at ancient Philippi, Paul urged them to help two women learn to live harmoniously. His words were more than just “get along”; he gave them specific action-steps to make it happen. You can read them for yourself in Phil. 4:1–9. Impressively, he promised twice in those nine verses that if his advice is followed, peace would attend them and guard them (vv. 7 & 9).

I’ve read several web articles on how to look at people positively. Most have good advice mingled with lame steps; and almost all seem to favor routine practices over inner awareness: “do this” rather than “be this.”

On the other hand, Paul’s advice goes straight to the heart. Always find something to rejoice in (vs. 4). Always display tolerance (vs. 5). Instead of anxiety, in everything gratefully share your concerns with God (vs. 6). Joy, tolerance, and gratitude are inner attitudes that impact our actions and emotions. If I’m this kind of person, nobody, not even the highest leader, can provoke me to bitterness of spirit. We see far too much rancor and hatred in the world, let it not also be seen in followers of Jesus!

So, let’s turn our attention to the object of our concern: that person we find hard to stomach. For some, this might be President Trump, for others it might be Nancy Pelosi. At Philippi it was Eudoia or Syntyche (vs. 2).

Reading Phil. 4:8 carefully, it’s clear that Paul wanted them to focus on the admirable qualities in each other: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” Imagine the picture your heart would hold of your “enemy” if all you focused on were the good things about him/her! That’s exactly what Paul counseled these women to do.

Psychologists have a term: “negativity bias.” Simply put it describes the human capacity to look for, find, and focus on negative things in other people. Imagine now the picture in your heart if all you allowed yourself to see were the (supposed) mistakes and character flaws of Mr. Trump or Ms. Pelosi, or anybody else in you sphere or community.

Everybody makes mistakes and/or has character flaws that make it easy for us to dislike them…if we focus only on those flaws and errors. But the amazing truth is that we also have successes and character strengths which make us admirable. The two leaders above, Mr. Trump and Ms. Pelosi, have them, too: mistakes & flaws, and successes & strengths. Here is where the title question comes to play: Which of these two categories are you looking at? It’ll make a huge difference in your attitude and, more importantly, in your ability to work together for the good of the community.

I know from personal experience that choosing to be a good-finder makes a huge difference in my outlook and in my ability to grant people the benefit of the doubt. I know from scripture that this is what God expects of us. Now it’s up to you. Which will you be: a good-finder or a fault-finder?