“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:3-4
I had to make a decision the other day that exposed a division in my heart. At the basis of it was selfishness vs. care for others. A friend from the street ministry made a request of me that required a significant financial sacrifice. Most times I wouldn’t mind, but in this case the timing of the request made a positive response difficult. I looked at what I had available to give, I looked at the bills I had coming up and then I looked at what family activities I wanted to partake in soon and how much I needed to have for those. And I internally decided that I would have to reject the request.
And then I took it to the Lord in prayer.
Guess what? I sensed the Lord asking me to give the money! What a surprise! At the core of the matter was trust. My selfishness wasn’t what I usually think of when I think of that deficiency. It wasn’t a hoarding of things or pushing someone out of the way for my own good or being obsessed with myself like the dictionary definition alludes to. It was more subtle. It was making sure I was taken care of before making a decision on if I could help someone else instead of trusting that the Lord would look after me like He promised even if, and especially when, I took care of someone else’s need first.
My reasoning seemed solid. I wanted to look out for my family, first and foremost. That’s not ungodly. If I’m honest, there was something inside that questioned my friend’s financial planning. We all know the necessity of having a saving account in case of emergencies. What was their plan? Should I be penalized because of their lack of planning? But even writing this, all those questions show a pretty ugly inner dialogue. It reveals a judgmental attitude, it shows putting self before others, it displays pride as well as a host of other things that don’t feel godly at all.
It got me to thinking that maybe some of the ugliness in the western church has to do with an entitlement mindset and having been trained to think highly of our own needs before others. As one writer said, “The spirit of entitlement has robbed our nation of its character.” Consider the following:
- Americans make up less than 5 percent of the world’s population but we own a fifth of the world’s wealth.
- One billion people in the world don’t have access to clean water while the average American uses four hundred to six hundred liters of water a day.
- Every seven second, somewhere in the world a child under age five dies of hunger, while Americans throw away 14 percent of the food we purchase.
- Nearly one billion people in the world live on less than one American dollar a day.
- By far, most of the people in the world do not own a car. One-third of American families own three cars.*
Does all this wealth make us evil? Not at all. But after a few generations of having great wealth, it’s possible that the spirit of self has hurt even our ability to hear clearly from the Lord. Paul was pretty clear: DO NOTHING FROM SELFISHNESS. Maybe there is something in thinking of self that is so malicious that, as it seeps into our lifestyle, it has the ability to cause us to live in ways that are anti-the-kingdom-of-God-in-the-earth.
So I challenge us. Where has taking care of ourselves caused us to forget the others God has put in our lives to care for in His name? Has selfishness affected our discernment in giving? If it has, where else has entitlement also caused us to misrepresent God and His church? I don’t have answers but I’m committing to combing my heart with a Holy Spirit sifter to be delivered from this ugliness so that I can love the streets better.
With Love from the Streets,
*All statistics are from the book “Jesus Wants to Save Christians” by Rob Bell