You may have heard this prayer before from a very wise though perhaps overly honest person: “Dear God, so far today I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped, nor have I lost my temper yet. I haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent, so I want to thank you for that. But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed, and from then on, I’m probably going to need a lot of help. Amen.”
An oblivious husband said, “My wife says I’m selfish, inconsiderate and ruined her birthday. I think that’s unfair. I didn’t even know it was her birthday.”
Some people will do something for others—if they’re forced. Others look for someone to do good to. We need to maintain an unselfish attitude.
Selfishness comes easily, naturally. It’s built into the way things are. In order to beat it, to become better than what’s natural, we have to become purposefully unselfish.
Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Keep your mind on the better choice. Believe that the bigger word, the selfless action, the kinder thought will make a difference.
It’s amazing that even after all the times we’ve been unselfish and seen how it proved to be the right way we still have to consciously choose that path. We keep facing the question whether this time we want to make the easier choice to be selfish or keep our focus on what’s more important be unselfish.
When you’re tested by someone, don’t lose yourself. Set your mind on taking the high road. It’s the only way you’re going to end up getting where you want to go. Don’t take the off ramp to me-first and lose your way.
We ought to learn the lessons life is trying to teach us. People try so many ways to be happy. Every which way under the sun gets its chance by somebody. I’m sure you’ve tried ways that as you look back you wonder what you were thinking or perhaps feel guilty or ashamed.
There’s only one way that really works: being unselfish.
At the time it feels good to take the biggest piece of cake and hand out smaller ones to others. I know. I’ve done it. It satisfies the taste buds and the stomach, but it leaves the soul and spirit hungering for something more filling.
Listen to the rumbling in your soul. Pay attention to what your spirit is complaining about. Feed the better part of yourself.
In Second Samuel, David has risen to the top. He’s king. He’s conquered his enemies, moved into Jerusalem, set up his throne, and begun to rule an enlarged Israel. He has in his grasp what he’s been struggling and fighting and scheming and hoping to have for many years.
What does he do next? He asks a question: “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” He has what he wants. He’s gotten his fill. But he knows it’s not enough. There has to be more than what I want, he says.
So he looks to find where he himself will no longer be the center of his attention.
Scripture tells us there was a servant from Saul’s house named Ziba. They called him and David asked him if there was someone from Saul’s family to whom he could show mercy and kindness. And the wonderful answer is Jonathon, David’s best friend, had a son, now a man, who by the way is lame in both feet we’re told.
David was looking for someone to be kind to, and he found it this time in the one remaining member of his best friend’s family. From then on, Mephibosheth ate from at the King’s table.
David doesn’t ask to be shown someone to be kind to who’s worthy of it. It’s not like Mephibosheth earns David’s act of grace. In fact, scripture tries to point this out by saying this man is lame in both feet. Because of the prejudice at the time, lameness was a code word for someone who isn’t perfect. David does what he does because it’s in him to do it.
What if your coworker or neighbor was mean to you in some way? What would you do if you heard their car fail to stop one time? Many people would automatically think, “Serves them right” or “If they’d only been nice to me I’d help them out.”
But that’s no way to be. You can’t let other’s behavior change your behavior. Don’t let their baggage become your baggage. That was yesterday or last month or a year ago. Today’s a new day. And tomorrow hasn’t been written yet. Faith in God means you let God begin a new thing in what you do or don’t do.
After all, what does it matter how they are to you? We shouldn’t let someone else determine the condition of our conscience and the state of our soul. That’s for you to set.
Who knows? You two may find out you like each other. Keep hope alive that what was isn’t going to be what will be. Don’t put a limit on what the Lord’s doing in your life because someone else’s attitude or another’s person actions.
But this stuff isn’t easy if you’re not practicing it enough. Like anything the more you practice the better you get. You can’t sing or play violin or guitar or soccer or drums or baseball great if you don’t practice much. You can’t get better at math if you don’t do your homework. You can’t learn how to fix a car, or knit a sock, or cook a meal, or write a sermon, if you don’t practice it and do it.
Same thing with becoming less selfish. The next time you’re faced with whether or not it’s going to be all about you, look further ahead. Choose what Christ would have you do. Then the time after that it will become easier. Pretty soon you will be automatically unselfish.
I’m probably not much different from the rest of you when it comes to standing in the Publix check out and asked if I want to donate to the March of Dimes or whatever other charity they’re working with at the time. I also understand it makes Publix feel like a good community member to do this, when it appears to me it doesn’t cost them anything whatsoever to ask their customers to pony up some money.
But I don’t let that determine my response, and my response is an automatic yes. I say yes to $1 or more, unless it’s the second time in one day I’ve been there or several days in a row. But my automatic response is not to be what it might be—unhappy I’m being asked what kind of person I am: charitable or stingy.
I’ve decided to do a selfless act when I’m asked whether I want to give to such-and-such charity. It’s good practice for me, and those charities and their programs are worthy. Actually, I was asked just this past Friday. I not only said yes but when they gave me the thing to write my name on as the donor, I wrote “Marit Lacey.” I thought that was sweet, too.
Be good on purpose. Set the tone of your life toward unselfishness and leave it there. Broaden your horizons of what God is asking you to do and contribute at home, work, in the neighborhood, and other places.
We all have the power to build up reservoirs of good feelings and more positive communities. Don’t let that superpower of yours fade away. Be a blessing wherever you go. Do it automatically. Don’t make God make you be good to others.
In our scripture reading this morning, we heard about a woman who poured pure perfume extract over Jesus. Her beautiful jar held an expensive nard liquid ointment. Who knows for how long she had it, or for what purpose she had originally thought it would be good. She decided it was best suited not for her but for the Lord.
And she didn’t just pour a little bit over him. She didn’t open up the top and drop some on his head to make him smell beautiful for the next hour or two. No, it says she broke the jar wide open and let it pour out over his head. She was determined to make him smell wonderfully for days, if not a week.
Let the good stuff pour out of you. Don’t let just a little squeak out. It’s not enough.
Don’t think enough has been enough. It doesn’t do the job. A little bit of goodness is better than none but almost everybody does something good once in a while. It’s time to break open the jar that’s been holding in your selflessness.
The truth is it’s the only way God’s going to bless you. You’ve got to go first so there’s room in you to take in more.
There are two seas in Palestine. One is the Sea of Galilee. This sea’s waters flow in and out. The other one sea has water flowing in but there’s no outlet. It takes but doesn’t give. Do you know what that one is called? It’s called the Dead Sea.
To be automatically unselfish, it’s not going to matter what you think is fair, and it’s often not going to be about how you feel. It’s about the superpower of letting others receive something from you that God intends for them to have.
2 Corinthians 5:15 says it like this: “And he died for all, so that all those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” The Lord chose us over himself. He didn’t just pour out perfume; he poured out his life. He lost it all that we might gain all he had.
I don’t deserve all that. I need it but I don’t deserve Christ’s incredible gift of his unselfish life. I’m grateful for the blessing, the eternal blessing of his death for me. I hope you are, too.
Accept Christ’s gift. Let it pour over your heart. Let it heal your wounds. Anoint your doubts in it. Wash away your fears in it. And breathe in the beautiful fragrance of renewed faith in the goodness of your God.