AN UNSELFISH LIFE

An oblivious man said, “My husband says I’m selfish, inconsiderate, and ruined his birthday. I think that’s unfair. I didn’t even know it was his 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. To beat it, to become better than what’s natural, we 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 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 need 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 and 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.

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. 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 taste buds and stomach, but it leaves soul and spirit hungering for something more filling. There’s only one way that really works: being unselfish.

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 ought to be more than what I want, he says.

Now of course, David has a lot! He’s a king. He can afford to be generous, we’re thinking. Absolutely. However, without going into other

times when David showed a largeness of heart and a liberal generosity, it’s easy to say with confidence that David wasn’t doing this only because he was sitting on such a large pile of gold that he didn’t have enough drawers to put it all in. This isn’t an act of someone who’s got loose change sitting around and flips a couple of quarters to a beggar on the street. The story may come off that way, we may think this doesn’t say anything other than David was feeling good that day, but that’s because it’s only a story, meaning it’s a symbol of David’s goodness and generosity that operated throughout his life toward others. Scripture can’t do a whole biography so we get snippets that reveal more than we might initially take them to do. In other words, this wasn’t an outlier day for David. This was who he was and what he did in this story stood for all the other times he was like this that we don’t hear about.

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, swim, make art, knit a sock, cook a meal, if you don’t practice and do it. Same thing with becoming less selfish, which reminds me of a wise but perhaps overly honest person’s daily prayer—you may have heard of it: “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.”

The next time you’re faced with whether 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. Then, when it’s all said and done, you will have lived an unselfish life.

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. Right? That’s how it feels. It’s not really the money thing that hits you as much as the self-examination that might go into being asked if you want to give (or not give). Are you one kind of a person or another? Instead of asking myself when I’m asked, I’ve decided to decide: Yes, I will give because if I were to think about it and not be confronted about it, I would like to help and support.

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, church, work, in the neighborhood, and other places. We

all have the power to build reservoirs of good feelings and more positive communities. Don’t let that superpower of yours fade away.

One time Jesus was visiting a home and a woman 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 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. She wanted to have an impact on him for his sake.

That’s one person’s response. When a community gathers, when one person’s response combined with others, with all, it can make a significant difference in that community, that church, and of course the individual lives they’re seeking to impact. We can do things together that we simply can’t do alone. Our individual generosity, combined at Church on the Hill, will impact more and more people. The Lord’s gifts to us here lay the foundation for greater impact to more, which lays the ground for still more. I know it sounds like a pyramid scheme, but it’s not fraud—it’s faith. It’s power for good multiplied again and again, like loaves of bread, like fish blessed and shared, and still more show up, so that what we begin with looks nothing like what we end with.

Let the good stuff pour out of you. Don’t let just a little squeak out. Don’t think enough has been enough. A little bit of goodness is better than none, but almost everybody does something good occasionally. It’s time to break open the jar that’s been holding back your selflessness. 2 Corinthians 5:15 says it like this: “And Christ 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 didn’t just pour out perfume; Christ poured out his life.

Live an impactful life. Live an unselfish life, a generous life, a believer’s life. Let us combine our goodness and generosity to make an impact for each other and others.

Can the church say Amen?

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