Perhaps one of the best known verses in the Bible comes from Matthew 7 and Luke 6 when Jesus commands his disciples to “judge not.” Ask 10 people what that actually means, and you’ll probably get 10 different explanations. Whatever it does or doesn’t mean however, I hope we can all agree that as Christians we should do less of it.
Greg Boyd’s book, Repenting of Religion: Turning from Judgment to the Love of God, has been highly instrumental both in my theological understanding of judgement, as well as my own personal praxis in this area. In the beginning of the book Greg describes an experience of sitting in the mall and people watching. In that moment, he realized that he (and we) have a tendency to make split-second decisions (judgments) about people throughout the day. One of his premises in the book is that we as Christ-followers are called first and foremost to ascribe unsurpassable worth to every person in the world, seeing them as God sees them– image bearers Christ loved enough to die for. Yet, we often fail do this because of our addiction to judging. Instead of ascribing unsurpassable worth to everyone we see, he explains, we are far more prone to judge others and ascribe each person a value that seems right to us. We do this because it makes us feel good to stand in judgment over other people– something he goes on to argue was the original sin in the Garden of Eden.
Once he became aware of the propensity to constantly judge other people, he writes of what he found to be a solution:
“I determined to have one thought, and one thought only, about every person I saw in the mall on that afternoon: it was to love them and bless them as people uniquely created by God who have infinite worth because Jesus died for them. Whatever they looked like, however they were behaving, whatever their demeanor, I simply agreed with God that each of them has infinite worth… I began randomly selecting people in the crowd to love and bless.
As I replaced judgmental thoughts with loving thoughts and prayers of blessing, something extraordinary began to happen. I began to see the worth I was ascribing to people, and began to feel the love I was giving them. As I ascribed worth to people, not allowing any other thought, opinion or feeling to enter my mind, my heart began to expand… I was waking up to the immeasurable value and beauty of each person in the mall that afternoon.”
After reading Boyd’s book this summer for a second time, that story changed me. Like blinders being lifted, I began to see what he saw that day: my inner monologue is constantly judging as well. It hit me as I was standing in line at Dunkin Donuts with my daughter, and became aware of the inner judgments I was making about the cashier:
“You’re in your 50’s and working as a cashier? Your skin looks like leather lady; I can’t believe no one taught you about sun screen. Holy smokes, what’s up with your teeth? You been smokin’ meth? Naaaaasty.”
In that moment something horrifying and beautiful happened: I finally became aware of the judgments I was making– ascribing a lesser value to people I didn’t even know. I felt like the main character in the movie What Women Want who began to hear what the women in his life were silently thinking, but in my case, it was as if for the first time I was able to hear what I was thinking. I felt sick when reality sunk in, because I realized these judgements were pure evil. Conveniently, I never seemed to judge anyone as being superior to myself.
Remembering the story Greg told in the book, I decided to challenge myself for six weeks to speak a blessing over every person I silently judged. I cannot tell you how amazing it has been– but I’m telling you now, because I want to invite you to try this as well.
I found myself standing back in that Dunkin Donuts line, praying for the woman I had previously judged:
“God, would you open the floodgates of heaven and poor your love out on this woman? Bless her job, bless her relationships, and may she come to fully know and experience the unsurpassable worth she has to you.”
Every time I became aware of making a mental judgement (which honestly was many times a day– I once blessed a dozen people at the store when I was cranky), I immediately stopped myself and began speaking prayers of blessing.
Before long into my six-week challenge, I not only became hyper-aware of my propensity towards judging, but I also got into a pattern of immediately recognizing it and changing judgement into a blessing. Thoughts like, “Yikes! They fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down!” and, “For the love of Lemmy, what’s wrong with you?” quickly turned into, “May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob bless you and never forget to show his kindness to your descendants for a thousand generations” or, “May you, child of the most high, come to experience how high and how deep is his love for you.”
With the arrival of fall, my six-week challenge is over, but my new way of living is not. As Boyd writes in the book, I too have found that as I pray blessing over people I judge, I begin to feel love and my capability to love expanded. Whereas at the beginning of my challenge I blessed people to go through the motions, I am now finding that love naturally compels me to bless. Today, I enjoy my walk through the store or the county fair, because I have come to enjoy speaking prayers of blessing over others. In six weeks I’m judging less, loving more, and finding my heart is growing– and I bet yours would too if you tried it.
So, would you join me in challenging yourself? I can’t imagine that Greg and I are the only people who have a propensity to judge others and ascribe for them a worth that seems right in our own eyes. If you’re ready to see a major, tangible change in your spiritual life, I want to invite you to try this out– we can call it the “6 Weeks of Judgement to Blessing Challenge.”
I dare you to try it and see what changes– just allow yourself to become aware of the negative judgements you make toward others silently in your own mind, and as soon as you notice it, stop dead in your tracks and immediately speak words of love and blessing over them. Try it for just six weeks– you’ll be judging less, loving more, and you’ll grow your heart in ways that might surprise you.