Question: A counselor once encouraged me to build on my strengths, rather than my weaknesses. But isn’t an awareness of my sin part of being a Christian? I want to improve as a husband, father, and a believer. How can I balance building on my strengths while acknowledging my limitations?
Answer: Strength is a gift from God. It seems reasonable and wise to use our God-given strengths and abilities to overcome weakness. Most people coming to a counselor have no problem acknowledging their limitations; in fact, it’s usually their only focus. If we deny God is working to strengthen us, misery becomes a cold comfort. Your counselor was likely attempting to help you overcome (or avoid developing) a negative bias.
What is negative bias? It develops over time as we focus on, and string together, a series of negative life events. This myopic, “stinking thinking” becomes our God-limiting, self-defeating autobiography. While focusing exclusively on the negative hurtful events in this alternative life story, we become blind to how wonderfully blessed we are. Our hopeful thoughts of peace and gratitude surface just long enough to be quickly drowned out by fear.
People with a negative bias may also mislabel their every human struggle as sin. The familiar verse Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” Dan Doriani of Covenant Seminary makes this helpful observation. “There are two points here: we are all sinners, and, we are all inglorious.” While all sin is inglorious, not all ingloriousness is necessarily sinful. Much of our grief, illness, and human frailty is simply inglorious. The takeaway is this: We have all sinned more than we know, and, God’s grace is too deep to fathom.
Trusting God and daily accepting his gift of grace, while leaning on his strength, is our best defense against sin, and our only hope for change. He is the strength we build upon. As the old hymn states, “All other ground is sinking sand.”
Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services.