I inch along the motorway, craning my neck to see how far the endless line of traffic extends. Words flash across the sign above me. Accident ahead. Delays expected. I tap my fingers on the steering wheel and wonder whether I’ll have time to eat dinner before rushing off to youth group. Even singing along to Taylor Swift doesn’t distract me from constantly checking the clock. A few minutes later an ambulance comes weaving through the lines of traffic behind me. This was obviously not a fender-bender. Somebody was in an accident serious enough to require an ambulance and it hadn't occurred to me to wonder if anyone was injured.
My immediate concern was for my own convenience and comfort.
I am self-centred.
As Christians, we condemn flagrant displays of selfishness in the world, as well as in the Bible: Pharaoh allowing his people to suffer through horrific plagues so he wouldn’t lose his Hebrew slaves; Judas selling-out Jesus for a handful of silver. But I know that a similar self-centredness infects my own heart. Whatever happens in my life, my first instinct is to consider how it personally affects me.
The Example of Jesus
This is completely contrary to the example we have in Jesus. He had the right to claim kingship and honour, yet instead, he suffered the shame of the Cross to save us. He looked beyond pain and humiliation, focusing instead on his Father’s glory and his deep love for us.
Yet I get frustrated when somebody else’s worst day impedes my perceived right to get home quickly. I may claim to love other people, but my response when loving is inconvenient lays my heart bare. Jesus’ calling grates against my natural desires:
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24–25)
It can be discouraging to see how poorly our lives match up with such commands. How can we fight against the self-centredness that seems so ingrained in us? Here are a few things that have helped me:
Of course, the first thing I have to do when I recognise selfishness in my heart is to confess it before the Lord and repent. On that motorway, I had no excuse and could only plead with God for forgiveness and help. We can’t fight sin by our own power, but he who saved us also promises to change us (Philippians 1:6).
If I am in the habit of thinking of myself first, I must commit to fighting that instinct – even in small ways. When I put the kettle on I can choose to make my own tea and sneak quickly past my family, or offer to make drinks for everyone. At church, it’s tempting to only speak to my friends, and it takes a conscious decision to introduce myself to the visitor instead.
Noticing areas of weakness.
I need to pay particular attention to situations that bring out my selfish and cranky tendencies—that hour I drive each way for work, for example. When I see an ambulance now or pass an accident, I deliberately pray for the people involved. Your areas of temptation will likely look different from mine, but make an effort to identify them and make a plan for counteracting selfishness in those instances.
Remembering the gospel.
There is nothing more humbling than the reminder that I would be destined for Hell if it weren't for the intervention of my Saviour. I deserve the full wrath of God poured out on me. No act of kindness can justify me—it is grace alone that saves me from the penalty of my self-centredness and enables me to fight against it each day.
Photo: Dean Groom, flickr