We have an epidemic, and it is far worse than the pandemic from a couple years ago.
I remember when I was a kid, my Little Grandma (our nickname for her) would instruct me to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. This rhetoric usually followed me saying something snarky or mischievous with intent to harm some other brat that irritated me at school. Of course, after she soliloquized, I would turn the scripture on its head and vindicate myself with, “Yeah, I’m doing unto him what he done unto me.” She never seemed to understand my brilliant revelation of the Word.
There’s something that started happening in recent years in the westernized Church. Now, I’m speaking broadly, fully aware that I may not be referencing any particular church, and much less your church, or even your own behavior. Nonetheless, I’m bringing up something that I see popping up in more than one place, said by more than one pastor, and foolishly believed by more than one Christian. And what’s even more interesting is that this behavior is riddled throughout American culture. And I wonder who infected whom first?
It all started out okay. There was this pandemic that hit. And everyone went into their cave and got all depressed and forlorn. Some did better than others. But none of that is the point. The point is that somewhere in all this mess, we started hearing more and more dialogue about self-care. And then it started coming from the pulpit like there wasn’t anything else to be spoken about. People were hurting, beaten-up, abused, and forgotten. And everyone needed to know it was okay to cry, hurt, and get help. All that intent is good. And in no way would I suggest that someone asking for help or receiving it is a negative thing. But slowly, over time, we stopped talking about anyone else but ourselves. We started believing that loving ourselves was the most important piece to living a happy life. I’m okay with people looking out for their own well-being. That’s, in a way, being a good steward. But at some point, if all our focus is on ourselves, we are nothing more than textbook narcissists.
And then Mark 12:31 started coming off of our lips. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” But the emphasis turned away from loving the neighbor and turned to, “See, you are supposed to love yourself! Why aren’t you loving yourself more?”
Hoo-wee! We’re no better than my seven-year-old self twisting scripture at my grandmother that it’s okay to do unto them what they did unto me.
Pretty soon, we will be following up this verse with “God helps those who help themselves.” (Which, by the way, He doesn’t. God helps those who are humble enough to know they can’t do anything without Him.)
This might sound spiteful. Well then, that’s probably because you need to hear this. Just as I need to hear it. There is nowhere in the Bible that God commends self-love. Self-help always ends poorly. But all throughout scripture, Jesus is challenging us to stop caring about our own personal affairs and look out for someone else. Don’t bury your father; follow me. Leave your family; follow me. Give everything you have to the poor and needy. Give Me something to drink. Do nothing out of selfish intent. Love your enemies and pray for them. And so on and on and on.
My favorite verse on the subject: “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25
About ten or eleven years ago, I was the worship leader at TNT Youth Church and Bryan Moore was the youth pastor. We had our Wednesday evening service every week and had about twenty or so adult leaders helping us out weekly. But on the first of the month, our church held a special worship service in the opposite building. All music. All worship. No message. And on that first of the month, about half of the adult leaders would dip out and attend the other service instead of sticking with our kids. I remember Bryan asking leaders if they would be at the youth service to help us with the 100-odd students. And a few of them would concur. Some would acquiesce. Some would say, “Sorry, I just need to go get refreshed.” Meaning, they wanted to go to the worship service instead of helping us with the students.
Now, of course, we were happy that our leaders were going to service. Going to worship God. Heck, isn’t it great that you are a part of this in any way possible? But I remember Bryan saying something that always stuck with me. He turned to me and kinda giggled, “You know, I have found the best way to be refreshed is to actually serve someone else.”
I hope this sentiment pisses off and ruffles some religious feathers who think it’s wrong to think you should serve and act like Martha instead of be at the feet of Jesus like Mary. To which I would reply, “Learn how to worship without a band, lights, and a video screen. You don’t need a service to find time at the feet of Jesus.”
Bryan was right. And I’ve held on to it, too. If you want to be refreshed, go refresh someone else. Now, I’m not saying to be manipulated by someone, or taken advantage of, or suckered into something. Don’t exhaust yourself. Jesus never did that. He pushed himself to his limits and then removed Himself to the mountain to be refreshed. But He also never walked around talking to others about how hard life was and how much He needed some time alone and to be refreshed and that people should stop bothering Him.
Get the focus off yourself and all your necessary space, whatever that means. Start praying for more people, looking them in the eye, and loving the way Jesus did. And you will be refreshed. It’s that simple. Super hard and challenging. But who said this life was supposed to be easy?
Easy = mundane and pointless.
Hard = meaningful.
Go have a meaningful life and stop talking about yourself. I’ll try to do my best, too.
There’s grace where hurts and shame abound. This isn’t meant to butcher your soul. It’s meant to challenge you. And when I open the Word, I see nothing but challenges.
More to come in 2023. Let’s make this year count.