Thursday, September 6, 2018

What If It’s Not All About Me?

Someone has surmised that being a narcissist must be the most stressful job in the world. Because it’s so hard to keep the universe revolving around oneself!

There's a bit of Narcissus in each of us.
You know the story of Narcissus, don’t you? He was the fantastic-looking guy in Greek mythology who caught his reflection in a pond one day; Mr. Handsome became so captivated by it, he couldn’t look at anything else. He wasted away while acting as his own mutual admiration society. Seems our own society is infested by lots of Narcissus wannabes.

Years ago we heard a lot about the so-called “Me Generation,” which many have identified as the Baby Boomers. (That’s my generation, by the way.) Out of this arose the mantra, “It’s all about me,” leading to a subsequent generation known as the Millennials that has sometimes been termed the “Me Me Me Generation.” Today, doting parents – many of them products of this mindset – are overindulging their children, leading them to believe they comprise the center of the universe. 

Now we’re hearing about college students staging protests, or requiring “safe zones” to protect them from anyone invited to speak on their campuses that espouse viewpoints differing from their own. It doesn’t take long watching TV commercials to see the focus there, too, is often on “me.” We’re told we should have things, ranging from cars to lavish vacations, because we “deserve” them. The question is, what exactly is it that we did to be so deserving?

Do you remember how, in his inaugural address in 1961, President John F. Kennedy famously stated, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”? As a nation, it appears we’ve drifted a long way from that kind of thinking.

We even find this narcissistic/”Me” philosophy insidiously infiltrating churches and worship services. I’m not opposed to contemporary praise music, but if you listen to many of the songs’ lyrics – after you get past the endless repetition of phrases – they sound a lot like, “God and me, me and God, God loves me….” If these are worship songs, are we certain about who’s the object of worship?

Sometimes we act as if Jesus said something like, “Greater love has no man than…to immerse himself in self-love.” But of course, that’s not what He said. Not even close. He did say, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends” (John 15:13). Then Jesus proceeded to provide the ultimate example of this by surrendering His own life on the cross for our sins.

Before Jesus stepped into the public arena, John the Baptist had attracted quite a following. People thronged to see this curious fellow dressed in camel’s hair and eating locusts, making bold statements about the coming Messiah. He probably appeared on the cover of Jewish People magazine numerous times. But once Jesus appeared, John quickly recognized he no longer needed to be the center of attention. “I indeed baptize you with water…but He…will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).

When someone asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment, the notion of “it’s all about me” was conspicuously absent in His response. Instead, He replied, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Jesus wasn’t condemning a healthy esteem for oneself. If we hold a low view of ourselves, it’s hard to express much love and concern for others. As the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church” (Ephesians 5:29). 

But if we’re truly following the Lord, our focus should be outward, not inward. Not, “What’s in it for me?” but rather, “What can I offer to others?” As we’re told in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfishness or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

It’s not wrong to appreciate God’s goodness and faithfulness to us, or to rejoice in His loving care and provision. I could never recount how many times and the many ways my family and I have experienced those things from Him. But as we read the Scriptures, it seems the model for praise is to concentrate on who God is, with worship, wonder and awe, and consider what He wishes to do through us – not just to marvel at what He can do for us.

Jesus declared, “By this all men will know you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The world continues to insist, “It’s all about me!” But we can truly stand apart and reflect Christ’s work in us by demonstrating our conviction that it’s not about me (or us), but instead, about serving God and caring for the people with whom we can have influence and a positive, meaningful impact.

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