Is it hard for you to admit to mistakes on your part? Do you tend to think you are almost always right? Is the prospect of being wrong unsettling to you?
Human beings have a natural tendency to feel we are right most of the time. Why else would you and I do what we do and say what we say, unless we believed we were right?
But this tendency can be just one more outcrop of pride in our lives — one we can counteract effectively by regularly using the four-word title of this letter: “I may be wrong.”
A Disarming Phrase
I was recently in a meeting with high-powered leaders who were discussing some potentially explosive issues. A few of the participants had made bold statements, putting forth their opinions in a forceful, assertive manner. But then, a participant who had not yet spoken offered his comments, beginning with these words: “I may be wrong, but….”
My immediate thought upon hearing those words was: What a gracious and disarming way to begin a statement! I deed, it was both humble and effective — the simple recognition by the speaker that his opinion might not be inerrant or infallible.
Wouldn’t this be a helpful approach to many of our interactions and conversations with the people around us?
Could the regular use of that four-word disclaimer help to eliminate arguments or adverse reactions?
I decided there and then to say more often, “I may be wrong.”
The tendency to become set in our ways and our words seems to worsen as we get older. With increased age and “wisdom,” you and I tend to believe ourselves to be right — all the time. It’s not a helpful trait at any age — and especially not in our later years.
My wife has promised to help me avoid becoming rigid and crusty as I get older. (I’m trying my best to cooperate with the process.)
Recently, she shared a very helpful Bible verse that I have taken to heart: “A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction,” Ecclesiastes 4:13, NAS.
The reference to the old and foolish king is sobering — especially the statement that he “no longer knows how” to take correction. It implies that at one point in his life, he was humble enough and receptive enough to welcome help.
But somehow, because of age (“old and foolish”) or exalted position (becoming a king), he forgot how to receive input from others. Apparently, an old, rigid king can no longer admit, “I may be wrong.”
A Lesson from David
David, the Psalmist, addresses a similar concept in one of his early writings. Speaking in Psalm 19 of the life-changing value of biblical principles, he raises an important question in verse 12: “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults.”
Evidently, David recognized his need for help — from the LORD and others — to discern areas of his life where adjustment was required. When David prays, “Cleanse me from secret faults,” he may not necessarily be talking about unconfessed sin.
The faults he referenced might be incorrect behavior hidden from his own awareness — some habit or comment to which he was oblivious, yet which was offensive to others.
This may be why David prays in verse 13, “Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous [arrogant] sins; let them not have dominion over me.”
Was he recognizing that through sheer stubbornness or indifference, his actions might cause others pain?
The final verse of this psalm is an appropriate summary on this topic for each of us: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.”
To honor the LORD and not dishonor himself, David asked God to help him act and speak correctly — even in areas he could not see by himself.
One of the traits I admired deeply in Derek Prince was his great humility, even as I watched him grow older. Rather than becoming harder with age, it seemed that he became more tender.
In fact, in many messages delivered by Derek late in life — especially when he was talking about God’s goodness — it was not uncommon to hear his voice break as he began to choke up and weep.
In his softness, he wasn’t above saying, “I may be wrong.” I even remember some occasions when Derek specifically admitted being wrong about a matter.
Rather than diminishing my view of him, his humble admission always caused my esteem for him to grow. Here was a man of God who did not consider himself to be infallible.
We see this clearly in the following excerpt from a message called “Progressive Commitment”:
“There are very few preachers who would stand up and say, “What I told you was wrong.” What is the alternative? Live with your error for the rest of your life. In 1963, I preached a long sermon to my congregation at that time proving conclusively there could never be any more apostles in the Church.
I have a very brief comment of three words about that: I WAS WRONG. It took a lot for me to say I was wrong. I could have gone on trying to prove myself right for the rest of my life, and my ministry would have in many ways been impaired.
One of the traits I like about David is that when Nathan went to him and charged him with his sin, David said, “I have sinned.”
That’s why he could remain the man he was. In some ways, King Saul’s errors were not as gross as those of David, but he never really recovered from them. Do you know why? Because Saul never fully admitted them.
If you compare the confrontation between Samuel and Saul with the one between Nathan and David, you will see. The difference was that David said, “I did wrong.” Saul tried to justify himself, excuse himself, and give reasons why he had to do it that way.
There is probably nothing more critical in the lives of most men and women of God than how we handle our mistakes. You cannot trust your own judgment when you’ve made a mistake.
It is almost essential at such a point in your life to have somebody with you who will say, “Listen, you’ve got to face facts. Be honest. Don’t try to fool yourself or other people. You’ve done the wrong thing.”
I have seen both kinds of people. I’ve seen those who wouldn’t admit they have done wrong and I’ve seen those who would.
I have also seen the difference in their subsequent experience. The ones who won’t admit cut themselves off from the ongoing flow of the life and purpose of God. Those who will admit can come back into the fullness of God’s life and purpose and go on.”
Asking for Help
Would I be able to admit a mistake as Derek did, especially in a public forum? I would hope so. But this is still one of those areas where I need help from the LORD.
Maybe you feel the same. Why don’t we take the matter to Jesus in prayer together?
Dear LORD, I begin by confessing that I enjoy the feeling of being right all the time. It is hard for me to admit I am wrong, or even allow for that possibility.
But from what I have learned in this letter, I now recognize this tendency as a potential liability for myself and the greater purposes to which You have called me.
LORD Jesus, I want to change. I repent for my arrogance and instead, ask You to develop in me the character traits You exhibited while on the earth.
Please work into me the same kind of humility You demonstrated. I also ask, along with David, that You would not allow me to remain oblivious to my errors, my secret faults, and any presumptuous sins in my life.
Make me softer, LORD, so that I can open myself to trusted Christian family members and friends who will help me to see, understand, and change certain behaviors in my life.
Help me, LORD, to develop a pliable mindset that freely admits I may not see everything correctly. Give me the grace to say, “I may be wrong.”
Work it deep into my spirit, LORD, and soften my heart in every way.
LORD, I close my prayer with the same words David expressed to You: Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer. Amen.
Opening Up to Others
One of the toughest aspects of what you and I have just prayed is the recognition that we need others to help us in this area.
Is it easy to open up our lives to a spouse or a friend? Not in the least! In fact, it is extremely tough to ask, “Am I doing stuff that is offensive toward anyone?”
But if you can find someone you trust deeply enough to provide that kind of honest, loving input, it will inevitably make a huge difference in your life.
As willing as DPM staffers might be to help in this way, those of us at the ministry are probably not the ones to help you in such a close-up matter — not that we wouldn’t be willing to be available to you.
However, we do want to offer our help in other ways, such as encouraging you with our prayers, as well as placing excellent materials in your hands. Our free offer for this letter is the message from which Derek’s excerpt was taken: “Progressive Commitment.”
Just download it by using the link below or HERE.
The materials we offer are made possible by the generosity of so many people who are contributing to DPM and the work we do.
Through your prayers and financial gifts, we are touching lives throughout America and the globe. Thank you for being our partner in helping Christians all over the world to become solid disciples of the LORD Jesus Christ.
Putting It into Practice
At first glance, it may seem that what you and I have covered in this letter is a minor matter — a simple phrase of four words. Quite to the contrary, I believe the LORD’s answer to the prayer we offered can bring big changes to our lives and our relationships.
As I started my work on this theme, “I may be wrong,” I spoke to a staff member about it. She immediately started beaming: “Counselors have credited those four words alone with the power to save a marriage.” I believe it, and I intend to say this more often to my wife.
You and I are called to impact the world around us — and that begins with the people closest to us in our families.
As the holiday seasons approach, when relatives will be gathering in our homes and around our tables to share various opinions, this may be the perfect opportunity.
Conversations on difficult topics may go much better if we start by saying, “I may be wrong, but this is how I feel about such and such an issue.” When we see it work within the family, then we can apply this disarming phrase in a wider sphere.
Above all, we can listen more carefully — and we can begin with a softer approach. Let’s utilize these words first with the people who know us best. Then, let’s branch out to a wider audience. In expressing our opinions, let’s make sure to consider saying, “I may be wrong.”
All the best,
P.S. We simply can’t thank you enough for the love, prayers, and support you provide for us. You are a pivotal part of all we do at DPM, and we are grateful. Please take us up on our offer this month and download a free MP3 of Derek’s message, “Progressive Commitment.”
Materials used by kind permission of Derek Prince Ministries.