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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




The Lost Art of Selflessness

By James Meredith
Mar. 18, 2012

Black Friday: 2011. The scenes are almost surreal. A woman uses pepper spray to disperse a crowd in a desperate attempt to grab a discounted Xbox. Twenty are injured. A violent fight erupts as several people scramble for a pair of exercise pants in a clothing store. A man slumps to the floor with a heart attack near the doorway to a discount chain as frantic shoppers step around and even over him. He later dies at a nearby hospital.

While such stories are extreme, they bring to mind the words of Scripture in describing our world during the last days: “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money ... not lovers of the good ... lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2-4, NIV).

The preoccupation with self that’s described in these verses paints a stark picture of the world today. Ours is an age of entitlement. We believe we’re entitled to voice our opinions, even if they offend. We’re entitled to pursue our every desire and ambition as if our life is ours alone. We’re entitled to demand our rights when we’re treated poorly or unjustly.

While it’s common, even expected, that we live according to these values, God calls believers to follow another path. It can be a difficult and lonely road. But the route will be marked with incredible opportunities to impact lives around us, even as we grow deeper into the image of Christ. Here are three ways we can recapture what may have become the lost art of selflessness.


Dare to be broken

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

Like the Beatitudes that follow, this verse is all about contrast. Poverty, in the material sense, causes dependence and limits our freedom to live as we choose. But Jesus wasn’t referring to a lack of finances.

The poor in spirit have rejected the self-sufficiency and materialism so prized by those around them. They recognize how utterly dependent they are on their Heavenly Father to provide every need. There is no such thing as a “self-made” man or woman in God’s kingdom. They recognize that without God they’re bankrupt physically and spiritually.

A word of instruction is needed here, however. Brokenness does not equate to worthlessness. It doesn’t mean we have nothing to offer, or that our lives hold little value. On the contrary, our lives are of incalculable worth — because they belong to God.

Jeremiah 10:23 says it well: “It is not for man to direct his steps.” A radical transformation takes place the moment we surrender to Christ. Every assumption we ever had about who we are, how we live, and how we treat others is shattered, to be recast by our Creator. Our life is not our own; we belong to God.

This call to brokenness poses challenges. Self-denial is not an easy task. We lay aside our ego, our will and our emotions to follow a higher calling. A life governed by divine love and eternal priorities places us in a small minority. And it is quickly noticed by a watching world.


Have mercy

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Mercy forms the core of God’s response to a sinful, needy human race. It is, in a sense, His love in action. It’s not surprising, then, that God calls us to be people of mercy as well. Yet few virtues run more contrary to human nature in a self-centered world.

Mercy simply means demonstrating compassion for the physical and spiritual needs of others. At first glance, self-sacrifice in the name of mercy seems simple enough. Selflessness can come rather easily when we see someone in trouble, confronted by emergency or disaster. Indeed, Christians usually populate the front lines of caregiving when crisis strikes.

But mercy is perhaps best seen in how we respond when someone has wronged us, taken advantage of our goodness, or treated us unjustly. Imagine how mercy might be shown when someone cuts in front of us at the store. When our rude neighbor fails to keep his dog out of our yard — again. When a co-worker takes credit for something we’ve accomplished.

Human nature says, “Retaliate. Assert yourself. Stand up for your rights. You’re entitled to speak your mind and be treated fairly.”

But mercy says, “Watch yourself.” It asks, “How will your response impact your ability to reach this unbeliever for Christ? How will it affect your relationship with this brother or sister in the Lord?”

Mercy sees those who’ve wronged us through God’s eyes. Mercy forgives. It overlooks insults and personal slights, instead seeking positive attitudes and actions that build the kingdom of God.

It’s important to remember that Jesus was often treated unjustly. Enemies questioned His integrity. He was insulted by the spiritually dead. And on every occasion, His response was bathed in redemptive purpose. Can we, His servants, expect better treatment? Should we respond any differently?

It’s a cliché, but we do well to count our blessings from time to time. The Son of God humbled himself, taking on flesh to assume lowly human form because of our desperate spiritual need. May His mercy be our guide in how we treat others as well.


Be a peacemaker

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

The most common concept of “peace” is quite inadequate in defining what Jesus meant by “peacemaker” in this Beatitude. It calls us to do far more than simply promote harmony or step in to resolve a conflict. This term, shalom, describes a state of completeness in terms of a person’s standing with God. A peacemaker searches for opportunity to help lost souls become what the Savior intends them to be.

Peacemaking, then, could be called the fruit of selflessness. It’s the reason we lay aside our own desires and priorities for the sake of another. There is an eternal goal in view.

Peacemaking happens in tangible ways, when we sacrifice our time, finances and other resources on behalf of people in poverty and crisis around the world. It’s been rightly said that there are countless millions on our planet who dream of spending five minutes digging through our trash. Their situation is that desperate, that hopeless.

By adopting the way of selflessness to meet their needs, we open doors of opportunity for offering hope in their time of need. But more importantly, we create a setting and an atmosphere to minister the message of eternal peace with God.

This kind of opportunity isn’t confined to compassion ministry offerings and missions projects, however. During the most ordinary moments of our day we will find ourselves faced with choices. Someone in need will cross our paths. A thoughtless act or remark will offend us. There will be an opportunity to better ourselves at the expense of someone else.

We become peacemakers when we choose others over self during those unseen moments. It is far better to preserve an opportunity to share Christ rather than satisfy our own desires or express our displeasure. When we seize that opportunity, our hearts align with His because we share His passion to impact eternity, no matter the sacrifice.

May we take a bold step and begin to perfect the lost art of selflessness — laying aside our own concerns for the sake of others, both today and in eternity.

There will be very real risks: a battered ego, the sacrifice of personal desires, and even perhaps a loss of influence and stature. But when we live for others rather than self, the love and mercy of Christ will shine through us, bringing His light to a desperate, sin-darkened world.


JAMES MEREDITH is technical editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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