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Self-pity is such an intrinsically unattractive quality because it presents not only a distinctly gloomy outlook, but it stems from a kind of false pride and arrogance. We will often find at the root of it the unconscious thought that “I deserve more than I am getting – and I’m going to make people suffer for not recognising it!” Jennifer Rees Larkham calls it the POMs – the Poor Old Me’s – and it’s therefore a serious condition first to identify and then face up to. Most of us have seen people who have crawled at least into the shallows of self-pity’s swamp to know that this route leads nowhere good. It’s a mangrove swamp!

In its early stages, self-pity may actually look quite humble, full of cries as it is of “Oh, I’m no good!” But the deeper register of this is not humility but rather the transmission of the message that we are not trusting God. Self-pity leads us to put up barriers and filters between us and the grace of God – and that can lead to the devil’s most insidious temptation of all, despair. We’re doing the devil’s work for him, becoming an “accuser of the brethren” when we accuse ourselves. We try to run our own lives.

Self-accusation is like a sharp-edged flint – it’s doubly dangerous in that it is not only aimed at ourselves but usually at others too. It puts us on the road to becoming what I call “constitutional complainers”: people who may come across as highly plausible, experienced and discerning, but who are actually having a lethally discouraging effect on people’s spirits. There is everything to be said for refusing to play the blame game, or responding with passive aggression because we have had our own buttons pushed and end up taking it out on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3 NLT)

Those who have not learnt to do this risk becoming congenital complainers. I wonder if you know what I mean by this? Such people are usually highly voluble and, indeed, sound entirely plausible when they make their assessments of people and situations. But watch out: they can be highly indiscreet as well as souringly negative. No wonder that the spiritually sensitive feel uneasy in their company and want to steer well clear of them.

Constitutional complainers are often inclined to be indiscreet and to air the failings of others very much in public. You know, there are endless “fragments” of gossip and tale-bearing that we do well to keep well clear of, steer well clear of them, refuse to gather them up. Ask the Lord to show you clearly if and how this process is at work in your own life, and cry out to Him to find better, more positive ways to respond; and grace to know how to cope when you come across people who are constitutional complainers. They are operating in a sphere which is very closely associated with the Jezebel spirit. It does real damage and spreads great darkness in the Body of Christ.

This is very much the same sort of spirit that the Pharisees suffered from as they endeavoured to observe every jot and tittle of the Law – or at least to make sure that others observed them slavishly. They completely missed the justice, mercy and faithfulness that God was actually looking for. (Matt. 23:23) Pharisaism fights against intimacy with God and makes people focus more on what they feel they ought to be doing, than with getting on with what they can do. Pharisees suffer from a “hardening of the oughteries” and impose their shoulds and oughts on others.

A Pharisee attitude quickly takes umbrage and resents deeply when other people are more highly praised by others than they are, or if others appear to be experiencing a greater freedom in their spirits than they do. In other words, they are prey to constant jealousy as they measure themselves against other people, especially those who operate in their own area of “specialisation.” How truly Paul spoke when he said, in 2 Cor. 10:12, We’re not putting ourselves in a league with those who boast that they’re our superiors. We wouldn’t dare do that. But in all this comparing and grading and competing, they miss the point entirely.

And so we have to face the facts: some people really are stronger than we are, or have a greater aptitude for certain things we do. But if we allow ourselves to feel inferior to such prodigies, we easily end up chastising ourselves for not having the same giftings, all of which again reduces our appetite to do the things we can do, let alone to attempt something new. Remember the forces that are at work here – a combination of envy and discouragement, all of which are hemming us in, reducing us; whereas Love wants us to expand and break-out, and to accomplish things for Him that we wouldn’t have thought possible.

It is easy to allow our mind-set to deceive us into supposing that if only we had more of this or there was less of that at work in our lives (whether a difficult relationship, or the physical lack of something), then everything would be just fine and we could be the most wonderful Christians!