[A quick note before we get today’s devotional started: If you appreciate this theme, and you missed the Ash Wednesday service, you might want to watch my message, which was based on John 15 and was about Addition via Subtraction. Here’s a direct link.]
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. — Matthew 7:1-5
We might as well get this one out of the way, right?! When you thought about the possible topics for this 40 days of pruning, surely you thought judgmentalism would be one of them. Of course! How could we not? Jesus speaks directly to this prune-worthy tendency that exists in all of us.
Since we are all well aware of how judgmental we can be, I’ll try not to belabor the point. Instead, I just want to draw our attention to God’s desire:
The alternative to judgmentalism is a combination of curiosity & compassion. For every branch of judgmentalism the Vine-grower wants to prune, there’s a branch of curiosity & compassion that he wants to grow out in its place.
That’s exactly what we see in Matthew 7. It’s not just that Jesus wants us to worry about our own junk before we get overly concerned about someone else’s. It’s also that he wants us to consider how we want other people to approach us when they notice “the plank” in our own eye. If we’re honest, here’s the approach we desire: we want them to refrain from presuming—presuming that we intentionally, maliciously walk around with this junk. Instead, we’d want them to be curious enough to learn our story so that they might learn where our bad behavior comes from—it’s often linked to chronic or acute anxiety. We’d also want them to extend compassion and grace toward us because we’re imperfect, broken, depraved people, who need compassion, not condemnation—grace, not judgment. … Can I get an amen??!
This week, many of us volunteered at Safe Harbor. One of the greatest benefits of volunteering at Safe Harbor is that the Master Gardener makes ample use of the ‘judgmentalism’ pruning shears. i.e., if you think the people at Safe Harbor are “freeloaders” who want to take advantage of the free meal and the free bed, the judgmentalism behind such thinking will be quickly exposed. With just a smidgeon of curiosity and compassion, you discover that almost all the Safe Harbor guests struggle with addiction or mental illness. And with just a thimble-full of curiosity, you’ll discover that there’s significant trauma in each individual’s background. The trauma explains so much about their lives and naturally elicits compassion instead of judgment.
We should carry the same lesson into the rest of our lives. We are quick to judge other people we encounter—not just annoying drivers and impatient customers, but also our coworkers, congregation members, pastors, family, & friends. What if God wants us to refrain from presumption and instead, be curious enough to learn where others are coming from? We just might be more compassionate & graceful, and in turn, more helpful. If we want to bear the fruit of love, compassion, and grace, we might have to let God prune the bad branch of judgmentalism.
TODAY’s ACTION: Pay attention to when judgmentalism creeps up. When it does, surrender it to God’s pruning shears and ask the Spirit to stir curiosity & compassion in your heart. Then, see what happens.
One important caveat about judgmentalism: judgment itself is necessary and should not be eliminated. We cannot be moral or ethical beings unless we have the capacity to judge between a variety of possible actions. It is perfectly okay, and in fact necessary, to judge which action most reflects God’s desire. The problem arises when we judge people instead of actions. I could say a lot of things about that, but here’s the one thing I’ll say at this time: Even if the other person has made a grave mistake, our judgment is the last thing they need. Our condemnation will not help them redeem the past or live faithfully in the future.