For Self, Or Service

 Most of us will face times where we wrestle with the option of selfishness or servitude. This is to be expected because caring for our own needs and desires is quite natural. Caring for others and seeking areas to serve others over our own needs however is unnatural, unless we are being submissive and obedient to our Lord’s promptings. Although there are various and numerous ways selfishness competes with our call to serve, there are at least three areas of high vulnerability:

Possessions: We like having nice stuff and there’s nothing innately wrong with that. However, having served in the financial industry for over 17 years, I have seen how the desire for more is destructive to many. For the savings rate in America ranks among the lowest in all the developed world, and overwhelming debt has many enslaved. However, as Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-Fil-A points out in his book, Is Wealth Worth It, money and our possessions can either be used for good by helping others, or they can end up “owning” us. The question is which will we choose? It is either a life of freedom through giving, or enslavement through the obsession of getting (Luke 6:38).

Positions: We have seen enough evidence in this world and throughout history how power reveals the heart of man and how absolute power often times corrupts absolutely. However, if we begin using the authority and influence we have to help and serve others, rather than solely ourselves, great things can happen. I have seen this throughout my career in the various bosses I have had. Some were clearly in it for themselves, and were quite abusive in their managerial expectations. This sobering reality helped me realize how great an influence people in power have over the actions of others. For I witnessed how self-serving leaders often influenced others in becoming selfish leaders. However, I’ve also seen how servant leadership influenced a culture of servitude (Luke 22:26). Thus, is our influence promoting self, or service?

Pursuits: Finally, our pursuits often reveal the selfish hearts from the servant hearts. For how often are our pursuits designed to grow our popularity, possessions, positions, power and prestige? When pursuing something, it is vital to consider why and for what purpose. If our pursuits are pure they will lean towards developing the gifts we’ve been given by our Creator, maturing our faith, challenging our selfishness, stimulating our servitude and promoting God’s agenda over our own (Philippians 3:12).

Application: “Sent To Sow” 2 Corinthians 9:6
We reap what we sow. This we know. Thus, begging the question and examination as to what type of seed we are sowing? It can be so easy to live merely for ourselves, try to sprinkle in some good and fool ourselves into thinking we’re living to our fullest potential. This blindspot however only blinds us to the Holy needs and opportunities that surround us. May we instead sow seeds that view possessions, positions and pursuits as gifts from God to be used in serving others and bringing glory to His name. For how did Jesus use His possessions and position? What was His purpose? As we examine His life, it reveals how ours is to be lived as well – to invest our lives in such a way that lifts others, loves others and leads others to the eternal salvation of Jesus Christ.

Overcoming

  I was recently punched by a period of discouragement and disappointment. In fact, the struggle seemed to stay with me and no matter how I tried to shake it off, I couldn’t. This only added to my frustration, because I knew I knew better. It was as if discouragement had a grip on me and was fighting to hang on. It wasnt until I let go of my personal biases and surrendered my desires to instead trust God with the outcomes that the shackles of discontentment began to shake loose. In life we will always face difficulties, distractions, disappointments and defeats. However, even though we know this, it doesn’t mean we will be happy about it. Thankfully, victory in overcoming is accomplished through Christ alone and in remembering His unbreakable promises to us:

Altitude: When the darts of difficulty strike, we must maintain our altitude, rather than spiral into a crash and burn scenario. In other words, we must keep our focus on Jesus. For He is still in control. He is still God. He is still all powerful and greater than anything we face. He is our hope and when our eyes are fixed on Him, we can maintain clarity and hold our heads high in the darkest of times (Psalm 16:8).

Gratitude: We may not like our circumstances and desire them to depart as quickly as possible, but that doesn’t mean we need to abandon our hope in Christ. For we can still be thankful for the opportunities our challenges create in allowing us to trust Him more, draw closer to Him in prayer, and to be used by Him as He strengthens our faith. For even though God doesn’t promise us freedom from difficulty, He does promise to never leave us alone and powerless – and that’s something we can all be thankful for (Philippians 4:6).

Attitude: When we focus on our Lord and maintain a spirit of gratitude, a powerful transformation begins to affect our attitude. We discover our endurance grows, and like an athlete in training, we are able to go farther, persevere longer and grow stronger. Then, as soon as His desired time has come, the fog of our difficulties begin to lift, along with our burdens. In their place, we discover the promises of faith, hope and love only Christ’s peace can provide (Proverbs 17:22).

Application: “Rise Above” (1 Peter 1:13)
I recently saw a video of a man walking a tightrope across the Grand Canyon. Apparently, this wasn’t his first time crossing over dangerous terrain. However, over time, he grew in confidence, skill and ability. Likewise, there are many “high wire” situations we will find ourselves in throughout life, but with God, we are never alone. Instead, He guides us safely across our difficulties so that when the next one comes our way, we too have grown more confident, but not only in our abilities, but in Christ’s provision, protection, plans and purposes.

Blindsided By Blindspots

imageI recall witnessing a car wreck solely due to a blind spot. As one car was pulling out of a parking lot, the car kind enough to let them out were inadvertently blocking the view of oncoming traffic. As a result, when the car pulled out, it was blindsided by a car in the other lane. Thankfully, no one was hurt. However, the point is taken, blind spots are dangerous – and unfortunately, we can experience them both physically and spiritually. As Christians, spiritual blinders keep us from seeing the bigger picture by limiting our perspective to what’s in front of us and away from the broader perspectives of God. Some of the blind-spots we typically get blindsided by include our problems, positions and pride:

Problems: We all have problems. It’s a part of life. How we choose to handle and see them however is greatly determined by our perspective. We may be tempted to focus solely on our difficulties, or if we choose, we can broaden our sights to begin seeing our obstacles as opportunities serving to both grow our faith and glorify God (1 Peter 1:7).

Positions: When we limit our ambitions and measurements of success in regards to our position(s) in society, whether socially, economically and/or professionally, we greatly reduce our opportunities to be used by God. For example, Peter experienced his greatest success in business the day he obeyed Jesus to cast his net on the other side. However, despite all this success, Peter was still willing to put it all aside to follow Jesus for something bigger than the world could offer. Likewise, if we get caught up in who likes us, how much we make and our position in society, will we be as willing and open to follow Christ wherever He desires to lead us (Luke 5:11)?

Pride: Pride is a danger we all face and has been the downfall of many. For we are all prone to consider ourselves first and see the flaws of others before our own. As a result, we grow blind to our vulnerabilities and increase our exposure to blindside attacks. Over time, I have humbly learned to never say never. For I know God has granted me the freedom to do as I please, but I must possess the wisdom to use such a gift responsibly – which can only come from God. Therefore, may we passionately pursue Christ in all we do and never be so prideful to assume we are beyond stumbling (Proverbs 16:18).

Application: “Seeing Beyond Sight” – Psalm 119:18
When we stop seeing our situations and circumstances as the world dictates and accept the sight only Christ can provide, problems transform into opportunities to encourage others, positions transform into platforms to help others, and pride gets transformed by humility for the benefit of others – all of which empowers us to reflect more of Christ, and less of the world, which propels the attraction of Christ to others. 

Blending In?

General Patton is quoted to have said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking”. So, why do we feel a deep need at times to blend in and to act, think and accept what everyone else promotes as normal. It can feel at times to have independent thoughts, if not aligned with the greater group, also known as “group think,” means something must be wrong with us. However, isn’t this exactly what Jesus said would happen to His disciples (Matthew 10:22)? In truth, we are called to be different, think different and act different than the world around us, and in this way, we stand out, He stands out and others come to know the freedom Christ offers. For He is the true creator and lover of diversity – man is not. So, what are some of the ways, we are called to stand out and not blend in?

Clear Head: Our thoughts greatly determine our outcomes. If we aren’t thinking clearly, we obviously can’t behave most effectively. Therefore, we must clear our minds from the toxins of this world (Romans 12:2). What we see, absorb, consume and digest all feed into our clarity and/or distortions. Therefore, are we absorbing anything that counters God’s word? Better yet, are we investing the time to know God’s word and His ways over the world’s ways and its word?

Clean Heart: We have deceitful hearts – all of us. We can’t help it, but thankfully there is hope for us all. We don’t have to settle for hearts of greed, deceit, envy, strife, anger and worry. Instead, Christ cleans our hearts so that we can become more courageous, more loving, more gentle, more patient, more giving and by His miraculous grace, become more like Him (Ezekiel 36:26).

Caring Hands: Without love, our greatest deeds are void of righteousness (1 Corinthians 13:3). They are empty actions, that cater to our selfish desires and egos in need of approval. However, through clear heads and cleansed hearts, aligned with Christ, our deeds become expressions of His love and our hands serve as they were His own. His body goes to work, lives are saved and hope is restored to the weak and weary.

Application: “Breaking Out” – Ephesians 5:8
The desire to blend in with the crowd can be a powerful stronghold and bondage we tether ourselves to. However, we don’t have to all think alike, look alike, act alike and become “another brick in the wall”. Instead, God makes each of us different, like a snowflake, none are alike. He made us diverse and uses our diversity to strengthen the body of Christ. We all have different gifts, different strengths and different specialization, with one unifying purpose – Christ. Therefore, let us break out from the bondage of blending in, clear our heads, allow Him to cleanse our hearts and go forth to be the hands and body of Christ. Forever and always.

Tough In The Rough

  There will always be those times when things get rough – when we feel overwhelming conflict and stress. Clearly, we desire for challenges and confrontations to never come, or to depart quickly when they do, but the truth is they usually linger around longer than we want. So, what can we do when tough times come? Remember, God is tougher:

Knows: Thankfully, God sees and knows what we’re going through (Psalm 31:7). In fact, nothing passes through His hands unknowingly. So, does this mean He is the cause and reason for all our hardship? Clearly not. For we live in a fallen and sinful world, and God is perfect and sinless. However, since He loves us beyond comprehension, He can transform our hardships into testimonies that bless others and bring glory to His name.

Holds: We also know that God has the power to protect and sustain us through any struggle (Psalm 31:8). He is tougher than any circumstance, or challenge we may face. For he is over all things. He is our shelter and our refuge and will sustain us as we turn to Him and trust in Him – always. He doesn’t let go of His children.

Shows: What a treasure we have in knowing God will never leave, or forsake us. Instead, He will show us the best way to go (Psalm 31:3). He directs our steps and as we seek and obey His directives, we find ourselves strengthened in faith, perseverance and testimony. As a result, we in turn grow better equipped to help others during their times of need.

Application: “Christ Confident” – Psalm 31:24
The biggest mistake we can make during the tough times is to try and take matters into our hands. This leads to only worry, fatigue and despair. Encouragement comes in remembering we are not alone and do not have to fight alone. God is ready, willing and waiting to help us every second and every day of our life. However, we must be wise enough to seek Him, trust Him and obey Him. For our hope and confidence is Him.