Signs You May Be a Spiritual Bully (Part 1)

Do you ever wonder if you’re a bully? Are bullies aware that they are bullies?

What about church bullies?

I’ve been a Christian for forty-nine years, how do I make sure I don’t become a bully? How do I know I haven’t already become one?

Bonnie Rait and Elvis Costello both recorded a song that plays on a continuous loop in my mind lately:

I can’t believe the things I’m seein’. I been wonderin ‘bout some things I’ve heard
Everybody’s crying mercy when they don’t know the meaning of the word.” (Written by Mose Allison)

So then, I’m thinking that’s one of the keys.


Bullies (and Pharisees) are afraid of mercy.

Mercy makes bullies nervous.

It doesn’t even have to be the act of mercy. Just the mention of mercy, the idea of mercy makes a spiritual bully nervous.

It sounds, to them, like weakness, like compromise, like being soft, like the slippery slope, like the very root of the trouble with this country, like a watered-down gospel, like something you wouldn’t need if you were just doing what you’re supposed to do in the first place.

And the farther a Christian gets from that moment when they accepted Jesus, from the moment they recognized their own need for mercy, the easier it is to deny it to others, to forget that we live with a continual need for mercy.

One parable that Jesus told brings me to my knees every time I read it to ask, “Lord, which man am I?” It’s recorded in Luke 18:9-14

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’”

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

“What man am I?” I ask the Lord. Have I grown confident in my own righteousness? Do I look down on everybody else?

The key for me is always this: to remain close to Jesus through time spent alone with Him and to seek to serve, in love, those around me.

Alone with Jesus, there is no hiding who I am. If I compare myself to others, sometimes I may think I am better than some. When I am in the presence of Jesus, however, I am deeply aware of my need for mercy.

And there is nothing easy or glorious about serving others. It usually requires at least a sacrifice of time and often a sacrifice of ego. It reminds me how much I have to learn in order to live like Jesus and how much of ME is still in the way. It also serves to empty me of ME and fill my heart with the stories of others.

This opens the door for God to teach me compassion, to remind me of His mercy.

God is merciful.

Micah 6:8 says this: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

To love mercy.

Bullies are suspicious of mercy. They mete out thimbles full of mercy as though God’s mercy might run out and must be carefully rationed.

But God poured out His mercy on us like Mercy was a mighty river and God recklessly opened the floodgates to relieve the parched hearts of His people.

How do you know if you’re a bully? Do you love mercy or does even this post make you a little nervous. Does it make you hope my next post will be something about not compromising truth or the need to confront sin? I’ve written much about that. This post is all about mercy.

The next post may be about mercy, too. Does that make you nervous? Which man are you?

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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    The Conversation

  1. Cheri says:

    Hi Lori,

    Love this post! Even though it does make me nervous! I find that I can be at once merciful and a bully, if that makes sense. Mercy comes easier towards those who have not hurt me. When I’ve been hurt, mercy is harder to come by… maybe your next post should be about forgiveness? 🙂

    Thank you for sharing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.


    PS – I gave final approval to the publisher on the manuscript yesterday!

  2. Andrea says:

    I, too struggle….just when I think I am close to getting it right…well, I mess up again. Thanks for your prayers,

  3. Carmen says:

    I love the fact that you’re so real. I constantly struggle with so much. I know I have a long way to go though I’ve been a christian for many years. I love reading your thoughts and insights. Thanks!

  4. Amen! God is wrestling with me and my pride right now.

    One of the most insidious ways that my flesh defends my own pharisaical bent is by giving verbal assent to my own sinfulness.

    “Of course I know I’m a sinner like everyone else. It’s theologically correct to know that, and I’m theologically correct, so therefore, I know it!” It’s very easy to fool myself into believing I truly know my own sinfulness, and to feel proud of that fact, and justified in judging others. Of course, my pride proves that I don’t really know my own sinfulness at all!

    There’s also a pious-sounding argument that comes to mind when I want to feel judgmental toward the godless. “Don’t insult God by saying that ignoring Him is just as good as seeking Him!” Somehow I like to convince myself that I defend God’s honor by feeling superior myself.

    And, of course, there are those who have decided that, in the name of love, we must sanitize godlessness (and you are NOT one of those). Heaven forbid that sanitized godlessness and Pharisaism should be our only alternatives!

    Against both of these options Paul calls out into my heart, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Co 4:7). This same Paul was once a pharisaical murderer of Christians. I would have been tempted to despise him if I had been a Christian in his day. Now I love him and read his godly words hungrily. And the person I am tempted to despise today might have his own Damascus Road experience before long. He might become someone mighty in the Kingdom, someone whose godly counsel I will need to seek. The one I despise is made from the same raw materials that I’m made of, and I am no more deserving than he. So I have no right to judge him, and in fact must love him as I love myself. If I want mercy and grace to be withheld from one such as him, then I must want it withheld from myself as well. We are both children of Adam.

    Wow, I didn’t mean to write a blog here, but as you can see, you touched on a spot that God is working on in my own heart, and that makes the words flow. Thank you for once again proclaiming truth powerfully.

  5. Betsy, love your insights. That’s why this is called “Deeper” because I want to write about those issues that are not easy, their complicated and reach into our hearts and our bowels. All of you make wonderful points. You’ve given me a lot to consider, prayerfully, for further exploration.