The Ends Justifies the Means—Or Not?

The word “compromise” is one of the great paradoxes of life. At the very least, compromise is an insidious little devil, often appearing to be one thing in theory but, in practice, turning out to be quite another. However, it’s proven to be quite the popular pastime and, through the ages, has starred as the topic of many hours of covert discussion and/or toasty debate. In its various forms, the concept of compromise has turned up in fortune cookies, as themes in many great pieces of literature, and behind the closed doors of our illustrious halls of Congress. Moreover, depending upon whom you ask, compromise often functions under several other aliases, including cooperation, collaboration, and their more subtle and sinister associate, collusion. At any time, any of these, compromise included, can be found…

  • “working across the aisle.”
  • dishing a little “give and take.”
  • proposing to “meet halfway.”
  • back scratching—as in, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”
  • “going along to get along.”
  • settling for the “lesser of two evils.”
  • “agreeing to disagree…”
  • deciding to “look the other way.”

Now all of these proposals, on the surface, can present as civilized, mature, and even sophisticated means of interactions with others—and some are. But some are not—even though they’re pitched, sold, and marketed to be.

The End Justifies the Means?

So is compromise right or is it wrong? That depends. Is compromise being used to cooperate or to manipulate? Is it being used honestly or passive-aggressively?  Is it being used to truly resolve an issue or simply to avoid conflict?

Is it being used to advance one’s own self-interests?

If it is being used to our own benefit, then the price of compromise often involves some willingness to concede a moral value or two. Downplaying the income a bit to avoid paying the taxes? Ignoring the kid skipping homework because it’s just too exhausting to make him do it? Rounding the bases on date night to keep the boyfriend around? 

Increasingly, in our God-parched society, “the end justifies the means” has become an acceptable explanation for rationalizing a whole host of behaviors that grandma would never have approved.

In other words, as long as we achieve the desired outcome, it doesn’t matter what we have to do to reach our goal. And here’s the really sad part: many people don’t even try to “justify the means” anymore because much current thinking revolves around the idea that if you don’t do “whatever it takes” to get there, you’re just stupid. And you deserve to be told so.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had students insist that it’s not wrong to cheat on homework or tests because “making the grade” is the only thing that matters. Then they laugh. My response (after the eye roll) is usually that people who cheat on their spouses or end up in prison for corporate embezzlement generally didn’t start there. They started out compromising on smaller issues—like cheating on quizzes—and then worked their way up. Most Class A felonies are preceded by years of practicing misdemeanor offenses or relatively minor moral violations of conscience. Ask someone who’s fallen. They’ll tell you.

Who Are We Kidding?

Maybe the better question is, “Who are we not kidding?” Maybe we’re kidding ourselves but we’re absolutely not fooling God. Yes, he understands our need to meet that goal or to resolve that problem, but doing anything that we think warrants a little self-deception really doesn’t justify compromising the truth of what’s right and what’s wrong.

When we come to that critical moment in life where we either have to sacrifice our values or pay a price for upholding those values, then that’s when we have one of two choices. Do we make the deal or do we trust God?

We probably don’t have to think too hard to figure it out.

Still, there’s always the possibility that we’re not kidding ourselves about whether that “thing” is right or wrong; maybe we do know that what we’re about to do is morally incorrect. If that’s the case and we choose to do it anyway, then we’re kidding ourselves about something else: that we’ll get away with it. As Christians, we should know better. We will, after all, “reap what we sow.”

In God’s economy, the final end never justifies the current means.

“I Would Never…!”

Maybe we would and maybe we wouldn’t. And maybe it depends on the situation. Certainly, in situations where co-workers, spouses, friends, or community members need to work together to get something done, compromise is a necessity. After all, if you and the honey are buying a car and one of you wants a blue one and the other wants a red one, then by all means—compromise—get a purple one. No one will die. Sometimes, when working together on a solution to reach a goal is not an issue of compromising morals nor is it a manipulation tactic, then it’s just good, common sense.

But what if you’re not sure whether you’re crossing a line in compromising? What if it’s a high-stakes’ game? For example, what if the boss is pressuring you to fudge the “bottom line” on accounts so the company makes a little more profit—then what? If you don’t, your job might be at stake so then is it “not wrong”? After all, “the boss made me do it.” That’s a toughie, right? Not really. Nobody can “make” us do anything.

Joyce Meyer was once in that exact situation: she was being pressured by her boss to falsify records in order that the company she worked for might make more money. She refused. And look at her now—she’s an internationally-known Bible teacher. And why? Because when challenged with a test of character, she passed the test.

God rewards integrity.

There’s a difference between knowing what’s right to do and choosing what’s right to do. The knowing is the easy part—if we’re honest. Choosing right is often the hard part—definitely not the fun part. But that’s when we have another choice: trusting the Lord rather than fearing man. Joyce Meyer wouldn’t be teaching Biblical principles today if she hadn’t chosen to walk them out yesterday.

Destiny means compromise is not an option.

The Myth of the Mid-Life Crisis

What happens when we finally get what we’ve been working for during our 20s, 30s and into our 40s: The college degree or training is earned, the career success is launched, the college loans paid off, we have the marriage, the kids, the house, the car—it’s all happened. And we’re happy, right? The kids may have moved on, the house has been upgraded, the career promotions have happened, and there might even be money in the bank.

   But then what?

   That’s the question that torments many people who’ve reached mid-life and beyond because, whether we consciously recognize it or not, the questions swirling through our minds are often filled with sadness and disappointment: What have I accomplished? What’s left to pursue? What other goals do I have? What’s left to do now except work the grind until retirement at 65-70—and then…?

   What’s the point of even getting up in the morning?

A Crisis by Any Other Name

    This particular phase of life goes by many different names—theMid-Life Crisis,” the “Empty Nest Syndrome,” and/or the “Great Depression.” And to ease the pain of it, people often turn to other pursuits—affairs, alcohol, divorce, aimless travel, reckless adventure, pursuit of youthfulness, spending sprees, or endless therapy. But none of these things really ease the pain of this season of life because it’s caused by one thing: emptiness.

   When we don’t have a goal or purpose to fulfill in life or a dream or destiny to chase, we often seek to fill that vast, fanged void with whatever it is we think will eliminate the emptiness and fulfill us: seeking a new relationship, ditching an old relationship, buying stuff, wandering the world, or even blotting out the pain with “just one” drink or pill—which becomes two or four or six… every day… as we waste away on some therapist’s couch rehashing our childhoods and blaming our mommies.

   But that’s not the answer.

The Fix

   So what is the solution to emptiness? It’s simple: purpose. We need a purpose to fulfill in order to give life meaning and without one, we often just wither away. But in order to find purpose, we need to understand the meaning of “seasons” our lives. The Word of God talks about these seasons, different times and ages to accomplish various tasks and goals.

   “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every activity under heaven—A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted; A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up… I have seen the tasks which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves… He has set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end…”  (Ecc. 3:1-3, 10-11)

   The Lord appoints our work and often, we understand what that is—in the early years; it’s to do what we all attempt to do: get started in life. We pursue a way to earn a living, find a spouse, raise children, get some stability—and then…? When we’ve accomplished that, we often think we’ve outlived our usefulness so we turn to other things. However, we have not outlived our influence nor our impact.

The reality is simply that we’ve completed one season in our lives and it’s time to explore the next season.

   The Lord has a purpose for us and a destiny for us to fulfill and here’s the kicker: We often don’t have time to pursue that destiny until we’re finished with the full-time task of raising a family and/or finishing a career.

The Wisdom of Age

   It’s interesting to note that many of the most famous movers and shakers in the Bible were people who got started pursuing their destinies later in life. And by later, I mean what our culture often considers “too late.” They also didn’t begin until they had a well-established relationship with God.

   Abraham and Sarah, for example, didn’t fulfill their destiny as the parents of many nations until well after Abraham was established financially—in other words, he was rich—and had come to know and trust his God. And they weren’t the only ones: Moses didn’t return to Israel to deliver the Israelites until he was 80 years old—and until after he came to know the real God. (Remember, he was raised as an Egyptian.) Noah didn’t start building the ark until he was 120 and by then, he was recognized as a man of God, and Paul the Apostle didn’t begin serving the Lord until after he’d studied the law for many years and then had a personal encounter with Jesus.

   The point is that age is not a factor, especially old age. Many cultures, particularly eastern cultures, revere their elderly much more so than western cultures. This is exceptionally smart since there’s a wisdom that comes with age which cannot be found in books. It’s called “experiential wisdom”. Sometimes, we really don’t know anything until we’ve walked through some things. And here’s the key: because of their wisdom, I believe this is why the Lord gives important tasks to people who are older; they have a greater understanding of how to fulfill their purposes and complete their assignments. Moreover—and this is the most significant thing—they’ve come to know and trust God through seasons of watching his faithfulness and learning his ways.

There’s a faith that’s built through years of walking with the Lord through good times and bad, learning that he never fails and that we can trust him—no matter what.

   That’s something that we often just don’t truly understand in the springtime of our lives. We know about God’s faithfulness but we haven’t been around long enough or through enough to really have tested it, to really know it.

Destiny

   It’s sometimes difficult to understand the eternal purpose for the work that we do for the Lord or for the assignments that he gives us, but then that’s why Ecclesiastes says that “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.” When the going gets tough, or the job seems too big or too boring or not significant enough, we can sense that there’s something bigger at play, more important in the big scheme of things than what we can see in the natural. If we’re doing what God has assigned us to do, there’s nothing mundane or useless about it. It might be a part of something bigger, something that we might not be able to discern—yet—but will someday. We will understand our purpose as a cog in the eternal wheel of destiny and so we will, someday, hear those precious words, “’Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”

   If you believe you’ve reached the end of the path and you feel empty and irrelevant, then you’ve reached a crossroads in life. You can take the road that leads to a futile search for significance, or you can embark on a new season in your destiny, a path full of new assignments and eternal purpose.

   Mid-life does not have to be a crisis.  

Green-Eyed Monsters: Envy, Jealousy and Competition

You are a distinctive fingerprint in the limitless realm of creation. There is no one like you and there never will be. There was not meant to be. When God created you, he did it so you could fulfill a unique purpose that no one else can fill, and he handcrafted you to fit that purpose. He needs you to be that one-of-a-kind person because you’re irreplaceable.

   So why are you trying to be someone else?

Who Am I?  

   We all have a destiny for which God created us, and in preparation for that destiny, he made us with a whole list of specifics in mind. Our appearance on this planet at this specific time in history is not an accident, nor is the year we were born. That means that, as of 2021, we are exactly the age he needs us to be in order to accomplish the purpose for which we were intended. Let me translate that: You’re not too old. It’s like Moses wasn’t too old, nor Abraham or Sarah or Noah—nor was Abe Lincoln or Albert Einstein or Mother Teresa—or thousands of others I could name if I knew their names.

   Nor was anything else about you an accident. You’re exactly the gender he needs you to be, the race you were meant to be, and you look exactly as you were meant to look: height, build, hair color, skin color, eye color, features—all of it. Moreover, you have the talents and abilities you were meant to have, whether you’re creatively “right-brained,” analytically “left-brained,” or a “whole-brained” mix of the two. If you’re musical, you were meant to be—and here’s a fact: If you’re not musically gifted, it’s because the Lord has something else for you to do. And it’s the same with anything else: If you have the talent to do it, it’s because you’re supposed to use that gift, and if you’re not gifted in that area, it’s very likely because you’re not supposed to be doing that thing. (“Not gifted” and latent, undeveloped talent are two different things; if you have the gift, you are supposed to develop the gift.)

   So why are we trying to be someone else? Why are we beating ourselves up because we don’t look like that person, can’t play piano like the other person, or give a speech like the guy in Congress?

ENVY is wanting what someone else has; JEALOUSY is wanting to be what someone else is; and COMPETITION is the vicious pursuit of either one.

But What If I Can…?  

   But what if we are supposed to be doing the same thing as someone else? We might be. But I guarantee, if we are, we won’t be a carbon copy of that person because we’re meant to complete that assignment or fulfill that purpose in our own unique way. In other words, no two writers or contractors or fathers or business owners or counselors or pastors (fill in the blank) will ever do “it” the same way—whatever “it” is.

   Here’s a simple illustration but imagine, if you will, a doctor who’s supposed to be an orthopedic doctor (bone doc) deciding that he’s jealous of the heart surgeon down the street so he’s going to operate on hearts. Sure, he might go to school and become a surgeon, but will he be as good as the cardiac surgeon who’s doing it because he’s uniquely gifted to do that kind of surgery and because his heart is in it? And will the bone doc fulfill his purpose while he’s trying to compete with the other heart doctor?

   Who will touch the lives the bone doc was supposed to touch?

Destiny Road  

   Maybe you’re not the same kind of parent your mom or dad was. I’m not. My mother could have been nominated for sainthood and I know no one who would disagree with that. But I’m not her. Mom and I are about as different as mothers can get—which isn’t to say I’m a bad mother—but there’s probably a reason we have different operating systems: Mom raised two girls and I raised two boys. We probably needed to be different kinds of moms. Teachers are the same way. I know of no high school teacher who would want to be left alone in a room for five minutes with first graders. We just don’t get them. (My mom would have.) Conversely, first grade teachers probably equate walking a high school hallway about the same way they’d rate a stroll through inner city Chicago at 3am.

   Jealousy, envy and competition get us nowhere but lost on the road to our destinies as we wander here and detour there trying to be a person or fulfill a role we were never created for. Our personalities, abilities, past experiences, upbringing, physical characteristics, and dreams and passions all point to a specific pathway for each of us to take in fulfilling our purposes in life. We do have a choice. But if we choose not to take the route God has created us for or if we choose to try to imitate someone else, then something tragic will happen.

   The world will be a poorer place for it.

Bitterness vs. Destiny

When I was a kid, I had a habit of skinning my knees, after which the same routine ensued: I would cry, mom would wash the wound, smother it in mercurochrome and put a bandage on it. But then somehow the bandage would come off (I have no idea how). From there, you guessed it—I would get the wound dirty and it would get infected and fester.

   Did you know that can happen to our souls?

   If we become wounded and that gash is not properly dealt with, it can become infected and fester, leading to bitterness. And bitterness is a cancer that can lead to the destruction of our souls (mind, will and emotions). But hang on—there is a fix…

Causes of Wounds

   But before we can talk about the remedy for an infection in our souls, we need to define a couple of things. First, what would cause the kinds of wounds that can lead to bitterness? Unfortunately, because we live in a fallen world, there are many. The following is a list of the most common, but it is by no means comprehensive.

Abuse—mental, physical, and/or emotional. Abuse includes domestic situations, bullying in school or on social media, and chronic fear caused by any number of situations. Wounds caused by abuse of any kind can, of course, run the gamut from occasional and/or relatively mild to frequent and/or severe. Regardless, the primary wound abuse causes is shame, which is huge. Self-doubt/hatred, fear and chronic mistrust are also possible consequences.

Betrayal. To be betrayed means that someone we trusted has misused that trust or and consequently, relationship has been broken. And whether betrayal occurs between people in a marriage, a family, a friendship, a business, or a church (to name a few), it causes a deep and excruciating pain. This pain includes feelings of anger combined with despair and sadness. Betrayal is a tough pill to swallow because the injured party is often powerless to change the situation or to heal the relationship. That power is all in the hands of the betrayer.

Feelings of Inferiority. Notice I said “feelings” of inferiority. Our feelings of not “measuring up” are not the reality; rather they are caused by the expectations we or others impose upon us. If we compare ourselves to others in terms of looks, opportunity, social standing, income, family or any other thing, we’re always going to find those who have it better and that’s where the infection happens. Two of the ten commandments say not to covet your neighbor’s anything—spouse, house, job—you name it. That’s because jealousy, envy, and covetousness all cause feelings of inferiority. “What’s wrong with me that I don’t have that?” And you’d better bet that mindset portends bitterness.

Symptoms of Bitterness

   There are many symptoms of bitterness but these several are particularly destructive: chronic and/or explosive anger, resentment, chronic complaining, blaming others, refusal to forgive, and an attitude of entitlement. I could take a fair amount of words explaining these but…

Bitterness boils down to two core beliefs: Someone else is responsible for my pain, and I’m entitled to pay back for my pain.

In other words, whether or not you’re responsible for what caused the pain, you’re going to have to make amends, pay damages, make restitution for it. Bitterness very often expects, perhaps unconsciously, innocent people to compensate for their hard times and if they don’t, well then, something’s wrong with them.

   I was recently told by someone that what their partner had failed to provide in a previous marriage would be compensated for their next marriage. It left me with two questions: Will their new spouse be expected to make up for a wound from a previous marriage? And will the new spouse have a say in that demand? This is a dangerous attitude of entitlement: What I didn’t get before, someone else is going to give me now.

The Fix

   So is there a treatment for bitterness? Yes, but it’s probably not a quick fix and I’m not going to lie and say it’ll be easy. But if you’re fed up with the pain of bitterness, then you have two choices: Deal with the temporary pain of the healing process or continue to live with the excruciating pain to yourself and others of not dealing with your bitterness. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but the truth will set you free. So…

You must forgive. If you refuse, then you won’t be free of your festering wounds: anger, resentment, blame, entitlement, etc. As some wise soul once pointed out—refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Won’t happen.

Now don’t confuse forgiveness with trust. If a person is not trustworthy, you can disengage and forgive from a distance. Forgiveness does not mean you have to trust them again. It does mean you have to be willing to say to the Lord, “Please don’t punish them on my account.” If you can say that, you’ve forgiven them. Forgiveness is not an emotion, it’s an act of the will. Don’t wait for a gooey emotion as proof you’ve forgiven. Just mean what you say to God and you’ve forgiven.

Stop complaining. Maybe you did get the short end of the stick. Maybe others do have it better than you. However, two things are clear: complaining will never be rewarded by God and nor will it get you anything. Thanksgiving will. That’s why gratitude for what you have is so precious to the Lord—especially in the midst of hard times—because you’re focused on what He has already done, not what someone else has done to you. That’s why it’s called “a sacrifice of praise”—because it’s hard but God deserves our gratitude, no matter what.

Stop criticizing. Sometimes bitterness causes us to have a critical spirit. This means that we don’t see the good that people do but rather we are always critiquing them for their faults, errors, and misjudgments. We need to stop it. Look for the good in people and if you really can’t see any, pray for them. And pray for yourself, that you will be able to see it.

End Game.

   Everyone suffers wounds but sometimes we play the “my pain is worse than your pain” game. That’s bitterness. What difference does it make? And if we really think our pain is worse than that of others, do we really want other people to experience the suffering that we have? Here’s a fact: That won’t heal your wound.

   I said that being healed of a festering wound would not be easy but it’s well worth the work. Who wouldn’t want to be free of bitterness and pain? And once we are, nothing will be able to stand in the way of fulfilling the destiny to which we’ve been called.

   It’s time.