Developing a Healthy Self-Esteem

            I heard a story years ago about a ticket agent who worked for United Airlines in Denver.  On this occasion, weather had caused one of their flights to be canceled, and this one agent was having to rebook a long line of inconvenienced travelers.

            There was one angry passenger who pushed his way to the front of the line.  He slapped his ticket down on the counter and he said, “I HAVE to be on this flight and it has to be FIRST CLASS.”

            The agent said, “I’m sorry sir.  I’ll be happy to help you, but I’ve got to help these other people first, and then I’ll get to you.”

            But this passenger had a rather high opinion of himself, and so he said very loudly, “Do you have any idea who I am?”

            Without hesitating, the agent grabbed her P.A. microphone, and she said, “May I have your attention please?  We have a passenger here at the gate who does not know who he is.  If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to gate 17.”

            And, unfortunately, we’ve all known people like that.  People who have an extremely high opinion of themselves.  People filled with pride and arrogance.  And our society has become so obsessed with self-image.  We call it by several different names — self-image, self-esteem, self-worth, self-confidence, self-respect. 

            Timothy Keller has made this observation: “Up until the twentieth century, traditional cultures (and this is still true of most cultures in the world) always believed that too high a view of yourself was the root cause of all the evil in the world … But, in our modern culture, we have developed an utterly opposite cultural consensus.”  And I think he’s right.  We actually promote the idea of pride in our culture.

            So, which is worse?  To have too high an opinion of yourself or to have too low an opinion?  And, the truth is, they’re both wrong.  What we need instead is to have an honest view of ourselves.

            The Bible certainly has a lot to say about pride and about the sin of having too high an opinion of yourself.  But I think there are more Christians who struggle with the opposite problem – Christians who don’t think highly enough of themselves.

            In Romans 12:3, Paul said, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.…”  Paul said we’re not think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, which tells me that there is a healthy level of self-esteem.

            In fact, the New Living Translation translates this verse, “I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are.  Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves.”

            And perhaps, part of the problem is that many of us don’t have a very good understanding of what humility is.  We know that God tells us that we should be humble, but some Christians have this idea that being humble means that I think very lowly of myself, that I’m just not worth much, I don’t have any value.  But nothing could be further from the truth.

            James Dobson once took a survey of women and he found that the number-one source of depression among women is low self-esteem.  Studies do seem to show that women suffer more from low self-esteem than men do but it’s a problem that can be faced by both men and women. 

            Low self-esteem is simply the inability to feel good about yourself.  It’s characterized by feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness and a lack of self-confidence.  People with low self-esteem feel inferior.  They wonder why other people have so much more talent and ability than they do.  They feel unattrac­tive.  They dislike everything about themselves and they wish – they constantly wish — they could be somebody else.

            Robert McGee in his book, The Search for Significance, says that a person who has problems with self-image will often feel the following:

  • God doesn’t really care about me.
  • I am an unlovable, worthless person.
  • Nobody will ever love me.
  • I’ll never be able to change.
  • I’ve been a failure all my life. I guess I’ll always be a failure.
  • If people really knew me, they wouldn’t like me.

            Someone else has added one more thing to this list – “My mother never loved me, so why should anyone else?”

            Low self-esteem can affect so many areas of our lives.  Let me give you just a few examples.

I.          Low Self-Esteem Affects…

a.         Low self-esteem obviously affects our view of ourselves

            A poor self-image leads to a lot of problems in a person’s life.  It can lead to emotional problems – such as feelings of inferiority, feelings of worthlessness, feelings of uselessness, feelings that somehow you just don’t measure up, fear of failure and lack of confidence.

            It can lead to physical problems like anorexia, bulimia, cutting, or the use of steroids.  The list of things we do to try and change our appearance is endless – tummy tucks and Botox, tanning beds and tattoos, hair dye and highlights, diets and gym memberships.  And it’s not that all of these things are wrong.  It’s good to care about your appearance, and it’s good to take care of your body.  But when any of these things are motivated by a poor self-image, it becomes a problem.

 b.        Low self-esteem affects our relationships with others

            When we have a poor view of ourselves, we will often have trouble relating to other people.  We will either spend our time desperately looking for the approval of others, or we will withdraw from others because we’re afraid of being rejected.  How often do we cut ourselves off from other people just because we don’t feel good about ourselves?

            Instead of entering into deep and authentic relationships, we find ourselves counting our Facebook likes and posting selfies.  We end up using other people to boost our self-esteem rather than working to serve other people.  

c.         Low self-esteem affects our relationship with God

            If you have a poor view of yourself, you will often find it difficult to trust God.  You may even find yourself resenting him.  You may say things like, “God, why didn’t you make me taller, or slimmer, or prettier or stronger?  Why did you put me in this family, in this school, in this town?  Why didn’t you make me smarter, or more musical, or more athletic?”

            And, as a result, our low self-esteem affects our work in the church.  Christians with low self-esteem are like the man who hid his one talent in Matthew 25.  They won’t use their talents because they’re afraid of failure or criticism.  They spend their time com­paring themselves with other people and say, “Let so-and-so do it.  He can do a much better job than I can.  I just don’t feel qualified.”

            Poor self-image is hurtful because it affects our view of ourselves, our relationships with others and our relationship with God.

II.        What Causes Us to Have Low Self-Esteem?

            Let me suggest several things.

a.         Our parents

            One of the greatest influences in our lives is our parents.  Our parents are the first and primary people who shape our lives.  It begins early when we’re still infants and are first building our sense of self-concept.  Those shaping influences are strong, and many people still struggle with self-image even as adults because of the hurtful ways their parents treated them when they were young. 

            We need to remember what the Psalmist said in Psalm 27:10 (NLT), “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.”  Even if my parents rejected me or they thought I was worthless, God will never treat me that way.  Don’t let your past determine your self-worth in the present.

            And those of you who are parents right now, remember that you have a great responsibility to raise your children in a loving, encouraging environment.  You have the ability to help your children to see themselves with the kind of value that God bestows upon them.

            Our parents may be the primary influencers of our self-image, but they don’t always give us an accurate picture of ourselves. And when that happens, we need to break free from our parents’ approval and affections, and learn to see our true value in God’s eyes instead.

            A second thing that causes us to have low self-esteem is….

b.         What other people think about us

            Far too often, we rely on how other people view us to form our self-image.  And I get that because we all want to be liked.  But the approval of other people can never be a solid basis to determine your self-worth. As Sammy Rhodes once said, “The hardest part about struggling with approval is the sincere belief that if enough people like you, you will feel loved.”

            We need instead to try to develop the same attitude that Paul had when he told the Thessalonians, “As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.” (I Thessalonians 2:6, NLT)

            Again, I get it.  We all love affirmation. We all desire significance and recognition.  We all benefit from being encouraged by others. But, this desire for the approval of others can keep us on an unpredictable roller coaster of insecurity and instability. We crave the acceptance and approval of men, but we need it from God.  We want to know that we matter to other people, but we forget how much we matter to God. We desire approval and favor of our peers, but we lose sight of the approval and favor we already have in Jesus Christ.

            Robert McGee has written, “The man or woman who lives only for the love and attention of others is never satisfied. – at least not for long.  Despite our efforts, we will never find lasting fulfilling peace if we must continually prove ourselves to others.”

            We need to stop looking to other people to determine our self-worth.  And then, a third thing that causes us to have low self-esteem is….

c.         The value system of the world around us

            The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once told a story about a group of thieves who broke into a jewelry store, but they didn’t steal anything; they simply rearranged the price tags.  And so, the next morning, when no one noticed the change, the expensive jewelry was sold at a low price, and the junk jewelry was sold as expensive.  His point was this — we live in a world where somebody has rearranged the price tags.

            And I think this is actually the greatest reason that Christians have a low self-esteem.  Satan wants us to see ourselves the way the world sees us rather than the way God sees us.

            The mass media promotes the values of the world.  When you open your newspaper, or turn on your television set, or read a magazine, you are introduced to the “important” people of this world — the super­stars, the celebrities and the well-known people. 

            In our culture, people are valued for how they look, or what they can do or even what they have, but rarely for who they are.  Our society holds up a standard of beauty that we can never attain.  Much of it is communicated to us through photo-shopped pictures and images that aren’t even real themselves!  Even the people in those images don’t really look like that!  And even if they did, it’s still a false measure

            Somehow all these people that we hold in such high regard seem to be so different from the rest of us.  They’re special.  They live with an excitement and a level of importance that we don’t experience.  And we’re made to feel that because our life­style isn’t that of the rich and the famous, that somehow we are insignificant and worthless.  If you can’t make the Top 100 in the world on some list, you’re a nobody.

            But there is something terribly wrong with that kind of value system.  And if we live by the standards of our culture which tries to tell us who is special, we’re going to be frustrated.  Because we will always fall under what we consider to be the curse of being average.

            If we hang our self-worth on what we look like, or what we have the ability to do, or what we have accomplished or how much money we have in the bank, we are doomed to a low view of ourselves.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “God must have loved the average people.  He created so many of them.”

            But if we base our worth on the standard of the world, we will always be frustrated, because it is a false system of values.  But God has a perspective that is very different from the one you get from society.  So, what should be the basis of our self-esteem?

III.       The Basis of a Healthy Self-Esteem

a.         You are valuable because you were made in the image of God.

            In the very first pages of the Bible, we get a feeling of self-worth.  The world was created by God.  Then, on the sixth day, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26).

            And the same thing that was true of Adam is true of each and every one of us.  We are made “in the image of God”.  We are not descendants of a monkey or a jellyfish, but were created by Jehovah God himself.  As Job once said, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4).

            Or, as I’m sure you’ve heard it said before, “I am somebody because God made me and God don’t make no junk.”  Every human life is special.

            Our society may look down on the average person.  Maybe you’re not as fast as others, or as strong, or as good-looking, or as smart.  But you were formed by the hands of God in his own likeness.  And you are very special to him. 

            Listen to what Jesus said:  “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins?  And not one of them is forgotten before God.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7).  A sparrow seems practically worthless.  Yet, God knows the whereabouts of every sparrow on the face of this earth.  But he is so much more concerned about you than he is the sparrows.  Jesus’ intent is to make you see just how valu­able you are in the eyes of God.

            He said, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.”  Now, of course, with some people God has more to keep up with than he does with others.  But God cares so much about you that he is aware of such a seeming­ly insignificant thing.

            There are over 7 billion people on the face of this earth today.  It’s easy to feel that that makes us insignificant.  We’re just one more person.  But God knows you and he knows you by name.  He knows where you live, where you go, what you do, what you say and even what you think.  Because you matter to God.  You are special to him. 

            And his judgment of your worth has nothing to do with your financial status, or with how fast you can run 100 yards.  You are one of his children and he loves you very much.

            We are not mass-produced on an assembly line.  So, Lincoln wasn’t totally correct when he spoke of God making so many average people.  The truth is, God didn’t make any ordinary people.  The newspapers may not know your name, but God does.  There’s nothing ordinary about you. 

            Paintings are valuable because of the artist who signs them.  Imagine what some museum would say you were worth if you could show them the signature of God upon you. God, the greatest Artist, has created us and signed his name on you and me.  Our self-esteem is not based on what we have done, but in who made us.

b.         You are a sinner

            Remember, I said earlier that we need to have an honest view of ourselves – not too high, not too low.  And so, we need to be honest.  The truth is that we’ve all messed up.  The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). 

            Isaiah said,“We are all infected and impure with sin.  When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6, NLT)

            Yes, you were created in God’s image, but you have a sinful nature that often rebels against God.  You are valuable because of who created you, but don’t ever forget that you’re also a sinner and in need of a Savior.

c.         God loved you enough to die for you.

In the early part of the third century, there was a critic of the church who criticized Christianity because, as they put it, “they take in just anybody.  They have no standards.”  But that critic missed the point.  He was the one using the wrong standards.  Accord­ing to God’s standards, each and every one of us is truly “someone special”.

            Jesus had a capacity to show a special love to everyone he met — and it was especially apparent when he dealt with people who probably didn’t have a very high self-esteem, people who were considered “nobodies” by everyone around them, and who very likely came to believe it themselves.  But to Jesus, they were important.

There was the Samaritan woman who had had five husbands and was now living with another man.  There was Zacchaeus and the other tax collectors who were looked down upon.  There was the woman caught in the act of adultery.  There were the prostitutes who wanted to find a new life.  Jesus gave each of them a feeling of self-worth, a whole new outlook on life because he loved them.

            And he loves each of us in the same way.  Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).  This is the ultimate proof that you are special.

            One of the most beautiful thoughts in all the world is that if you were the only person in the world, Jesus would have come and died on the cross just for you.  That’s how much he loves you.  And that’s how special you are to him.

            You see, God’s evaluation of your worth doesn’t depend on what your parents said or what other people think, or any of the standards of measurement we often use.  He loves you just as you are, even with all your shortcomings and inabilities.

Let me ask a question – How much is a Babe Ruth baseball card worth?  Or how much is the original Superman comic book worth?  I can’t give you a dollar amount, but I can answer those questions.  Both of those items are worth whatever someone is willing to pay for them. 

You may think that your car is worth $10,000.  But if you can’t sell it for more than $5000, then – guess what — that’s what it’s worth.  Any item is worth what someone is willing to pay for it.

And ultimately, that’s how you determine how much you’re worth.  What was someone willing to pay for you?  Peter gives us the answer to that question.  He said, “You were not redeemed  (or bought) with corruptible things, like silver or gold….but with the precious blood of Christ.” (I Peter 1:18-19, NKJV).  That’s how much God was willing to pay.  That’s what you’re worth.

And so, anytime you start to think that you’re worthless, remember that Jesus Christ regarded you as valuable enough to die on the cross for you. That tells us just how much we’re worth.

Conclusion:

            You are someone special.  You were created in the image of God.  Despite the fact that you are a sinner, God loves you.  He loved you enough to die for you — which makes you worth a great deal.  And so, I hope that if you find yourself struggling with feeling inadequate and worthless, that God will help you to see yourself the way he sees you.

            I love what John writes in I John 3:1 because he says it with such amazement:  “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the children of God.” (I John 3:1, NKJV).  If those of you who are Christians ever question your value, consider that God has made you his child.

            And if you’re not yet a child of God, he wants so much to bring you into his family.  You were created by God.  You are known and loved by God.  And God thought you were worth dying for — this morning he wants to know if you think he’s worth living for.

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