I am fully convinced that whatever we magnify in another person, this is what we will constantly think of them. What we think of the other person will determine how we act with them and towards them. Our entire disposition in regard to someone else is determined by our perception of them.
This seems strangely ironic seeing as how all of us are not perfect creatures. We all have an immense amount of character flaws (yours truly being chief in that department). We all have things that need constant improvement and chronic restoration. Here is what our usual disposition looks like towards others:
If we think someone is a hypocrite, our judgment will be severely clouded every time we see this person. If we perceive a person to be materialistic, everything they say will be recorded through this twisted filter. If we think a person is deeply selfish, every action we witness will be thought of as an ill motive. If we think an individual is a narcissist, no matter what they do, our perception will be a continuous stumbling block when we interact with them. If we think they are a malicious critic, no matter what advice they offer, it will be received with a negligent amount of defense. If I think my spouse is not living up to my specific standards, then I will be perpetually frustrated because of failed expectations. If I think my spouse does not tell me enough times that she loves me, I will be tempted to criticize her approach to our marriage.
If I think that someone is always attempting to benefit someone else with their actions, I will see them as a good and faithful servant. If I see someone as an artist or a creative, I will always encourage them to continue in their craft. If I focus on the innumerable positive qualities that my spouse possesses, I will be a source of consistent inspiration for her. If I see someone as being generous, I will pray for them so that God would continue to bless them while they bless others. If I see someone as a peacemaker, I will want to become more like them in order to cultivate an atmosphere of tranquility and maturity among others. If I look at someone as a person full of wisdom and knowledge because of age or experience, I will run to this source for much-needed counsel. If I see someone with a gift of discernment, I will do my best to listen to their instruction.
Here are three observations regarding our perception of people:
1. Magnifying the negative nullifies the positive. If we are constantly focusing on the negative qualities of a person, this is exactly what we will learn from the other person. If we do not move past the things that we do not like in another person, we will never be encouraged or inspired by this person. We will not benefit from their wealth of knowledge. We will not become privileged recipients of that which they would like to pass on to us, whether that is knowledge or a particular skill-set. When we magnify the negative, we inevitably nullify the positive.
2. What I tend to do. I have noticed this in my own life. When I think of someone as a pervasive critic, I listen to them defensively and selectively. If I think of someone as lazy and passive, I have a temptation to hone in on this character flaw and make the other person aware of this. When I see a person who does not passionately pursue spiritual disciplines, I tend to steer my conversation towards that which is important to me. Instead of focusing on the person and what is important to them.
3. Your position will determine your perception. If we want to be a people who are positioned to love others, we must love others enough to position ourself to do so. Instead of looking at people through the filter of sin, we must look at people through the filter of our Savior. Instead of looking at people through our distorted filter, we must look at people through the resurrected Jesus. We are constantly reminded of this in Scripture:
- Jesus says: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (Jn. 13:34).
- Jesus says: By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn. 13:35).
- Jesus says: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (Jn. 15:12).
- Jesus says: These things I command you, so that you will love one another (Jn. 15:17).
- Paul says: Love one another with brotherly affection (Rom. 12:10).
- Paul says: Outdo one another in showing honor (Rom. 12:10).
- Paul says: Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law (Rom. 13:8).
There is a common thread in what Jesus and Paul are telling us to do. We must love people, despite our distorted perception of them. Why? Because Jesus loved us and died for us, in spite of us! If we are to be distinctly Christ-like in our actions, we must emulate Jesus’ love for the people in our life.
Question: How are you able to modify your perception of other people in order to love them like Jesus?