There was once a nymph named Narcissus, who thought himself very delicious; so he stared like a fool, at his face in a pool, and his folly today is still with us.
One of the reasons we’ve spent so many weeks blogging about the evidence for Christ and the historical roots of Christianity, is to remind us that we don’t serve a mythical God. Rather, we serve the Almighty Creator — who is very real, very present, and very much cares how those of us who claim to be “Christians” think and act. We’re supposed to be striving for selflessness, like Jesus.
Let’s be real: the constant tug we feel to wallow in self-worship is relentless. We definitely need God’s help to battle it.
In Matthew 22, Jesus tells us that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. But in doing so, He places the emphasis on treating others as well as we, ourselves, would like to be treated. Agape love, the kind of love Jesus perfectly modeled for us, seeks to notice and act on the needs of others. Easier said than done? Too often! Our pesky human nature loves to focus on self.
Thankfully, God knows that our developing the habit of selflessness is a daily, life-long process. That in some moments we’ll hit the mark, and in others we’ll utterly fail. God “gets” that it’s impossible for us to be selfless 100 percent of the time — though Mother Teresa may have gotten close! The truth: We’ll only be perfected when we get to the other side. But we can commit to allowing God to work on our selflessness now.
We must get past our own interests, if we’re to interest our self-absorbed world in the transforming love of Christ.
Does “Selflessness” Mean I Ignore Myself?
Nope… though some Christians have gotten the idea that, in “taking up Christ’s cross,” they must meet everyone else’s needs before their own. That only leads to resentment and burnout. Some Christians think they have to live in abject poverty to be a “good” Christian. Nope. The Bible clearly shows us that God enjoys blessing us — so that we will be a blessing to others. Money is not evil; it’s the love of money that gets us into trouble.
And waaaaay too many Christians walk around thinking they have to think badly about themselves to appear to be humble. Where does the Bible tell us to repeatedly kick ourselves — as if we’re unloved, unwanted, and unacceptable? It doesn’t! The Bible repeatedly affirms that we are infinitely loved, and fully understood and accepted by God. He has engraved us on the palms of His hands, that we are always on His mind, that He is working for our good daily.
With the assurance of His faithfulness, even when we mess up, we can live with a spirit of grace, with our hearts and hands open.
But don’t miss this truth: we must accept God’s grace and love for ourselves before we can cultivate the habit of being selfless. I think a lot of people walk around trying to amass and hoard stuff because they don’t know God has their back.
Joyce Meyer, a popular Christian speaker and author with a global ministry, once grappled with accepting that there was anything lovable about herself. One day she decided to write “God loves me” on her bathroom mirror — and to repeat the phrase, aloud, for as long as it took for her to believe this truth. The day finally arrived! Joyce found her heart leaping for joy as the words rolled off her tongue.
It wasn’t merely repeating the phrase that convinced Joyce, of course. It was God. In daily digesting the phrase, she gave God the focus and space to rewire her thinking.
Joyce never doubts God’s love now. Because she knows that she knows that God is consistent. And in becoming secure in His love and acceptance, Joyce began to desire to share it with others. Many of her world-wide ministry activities now significantly help to address the pain and needs of many.
When we willingly set aside our plans and desires, and pursue being of service to others, we are being selfless in the way the Bible asks us to be. “Love cannot remain by itself, it has no meaning,” noted Mother Teresa. “Love has to be put into action, and that action is service.”
Demonstrating Selflessness, Jesus-Style
Mother Teresa put it exactly right. We can’t “hope” or “envision” a better world, or even “send good thoughts into the universe,” and expect the world to right itself. Positivity and hope and vision don’t accomplish anything unless they’re accompanied by action. And action without love doesn’t really represent Jesus.
Our perfect role model, Jesus poured Himself out extravagantly. He went out of His way to be inconvenienced, to be compassionate. He treated the marginalized and ignored with kindness and respect, and in so doing reminded them that they matter. Every single one of us is so important to Jesus that He died to make it crystal clear.
Wanna mirror Jesus’ selflessness?
To develop this habit, we can give these three tips a whirl:
1. Study up on verses in the Bible that ask us to serve. Like Joyce, we’ll find that meditating on them drives them deep into our hearts. And where our heart goes, so go our thoughts and actions.
Here’s just one verse, found in 1 John 3:16-18: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
2. Choose to go about our day feeling grateful for what Christ has done, and continues to do, for us.
Again, this is way different than purposing to have a “positive mindset.” Positivity too easily evaporates when we step into our own bad circumstances. But when our joy is based on our trusting God’s goodness, even in dire circumstances, our positive outlook has staying power. “I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart,” go the song lyrics. I don’t know about you, but even humming that song puts me in a joyful mindset. When we’re joyful, we’ll naturally spill joy on others.
3. Ask God to open our eyes to the needs of others.
And when our eyes are opened, let’s go. Again, some days we will utterly fail. But let’s dust ourselves off, get back on the horse, and ask for another chance to serve as the solution for another’s need.
Hey, wouldn’t it be GREAT if, when we accepted Christ, we really were able to “go and sin no more?” Unfortunately, most of us have a lot of baggage and bad habits that God needs to work through before we’re able to hit that target. John R. W. Stoutt, in his book The Cross of Christ, captures our ongoing battle with self perfectly:
“There is, therefore, a great need for discernment in our self-understanding. Who am I? What is my ‘self’? The answer is that I am a Jekyll and Hyde, a mixed-up kid, having both dignity because I was created and have been re-created in the image of God, and depravity because I still have a fallen and rebellious nature. I am both noble and ignoble, beautiful and ugly, good and bad, upright and twisted, image and child of God, and yet sometimes yielding obsequious homage to the devil from whose clutches Christ has rescued me.”
Indeed! Christ was crucified, died, and resurrected to prove His great love for others. To demonstrate our selflessness can change the world. When we share His amazing love, even in tiny drops, it spreads around the globe.
Love, wrote Mother Teresa, is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving.
This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!
If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.