Most of us would agree that we have become a very self-conscious and self-centered society. The baby boom generation, of which I am a member, has been labeled, “The Me Generation.” Generations that have followed us have seemingly grown progressively worse in the area of over-emphasizing self. We are preoccupied with ourselves. We shouldn’t be surprised. The Bible told us to expect this to happen in the last days…
2 Timothy 3:1-2 (LB) “… In the last days it is going to be very difficult to be Christian. For people will love only themselves and their money.”
As we begin this blog, let’s look at some of the EXPRESSIONS OF A SELF-CENTERED CULTURE. There are basically three forms of self-expression in our culture:
1. Individualism | “Others don’t matter!”
“I’ve got to do what’s best for me.” The motto is “Do Your Own Thing”. The theme song is Frank Sinatra’s megahit, “I Did It My Way.”
Have you noticed that many of the people in our society are becoming more and more inconsiderate and rude? What’s causing that? Among other things, individualism. As the wise man Solomon said, “An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends” (Proverbs. 18:1).
2. Secularism | “God doesn’t matter!”
Most people believe in God, they just think He’s irrelevant. They’re just not that interested in Him. They ignore Him. They don’t need God – that is, until they do.
It’s kind of like what Job said in chapter 21, verse fourteen: “The wicked tell God to leave them alone. They don’t want to know His will for their lives.” It’s like, “God, You stay on Your side of the fence and I’ll stay on mine. You don’t bother me, and I won’t bother You. You handle the world, I’ll handle my own life.”
King David said in Psalm 10:4, “A wicked man, in his pride, thinks that God doesn’t matter.” Can we become so full of ourselves that we don’t have room for God? The answer is yes. The problem with a self-made man is that he often ends up worshiping his maker, and he lives for himself.
3. Narcissism | “I’m all that matters!”
Narcissism is an epidemic in our country! All that many people are interested in these days is their goals, their dreams, their desires, their fulfillment, their happiness, and their careers. Everything is evaluated by the question, “What’s in it for me?”
I have become sensitive to the narcissism of these days to the point where themes in certain commercials and ads start to bother me. Like the Twix ad that says, “Two for me none, for you,” or the Reebok ad that admonishes men to, “Cheat on your girlfriend, not your workout.” I once saw an ad for plastic surgery that encouraged people to “reduce certain parts of your body, enlarge other parts … you’re worth it!” All that matters is me.
The devastating effects of these “isms” are disintegrating families, superficial relationships, frustration and despair. Superficial relationships are a result of having no time for closeness. People are too busy with their own goals. They can’t afford to let a relationship interfere with their career, their plans or goals. And the sad result is many lonely people.
If you place yourself at the center of your universe, pretty soon your world becomes very small and meaningless. Self-centeredness never satisfies. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth – an aftertaste. There’s more to life than just you. If you make you the center, if you make yourself a little god, you’ll quickly realize life is meaningless. Like Proverbs 28:25 says, “Selfishness only causes trouble.”
If all that’s true, and I believe that it is, then what’s THE SOLUTION TO SELF-CENTEREDNESS. There are three antidotes that have worked for me over the years:
1. BUILD STRONG RELATIONSHIPS.
Get interested in other people. Cultivate some friendships. Join a Life Group! You need other people to give you balance so that you’re not so self-centered. You need to make time for relationships for your own psychological health, and your own spiritual health. The apostle Paul wisely said, “In God’s plan men and women need each other” (I Corinthians 11:11).
Caring about somebody else is the fastest way to get your focus off yourself. Build some relationships. One of the purposes of the church is to build relationships so you’re not selfish. It’s called community. I believe that one of the antidotes you need in a selfish society is a church family, a place where you can belong and become and be what God wants you to be.
Doing “church” through the television or only online can make for passive people. It’s too easy. There’s no interaction with anybody else. It requires no involvement, no commitment. You don’t have to interact with anybody. We need in-person community.
2. GIVE YOURSELF AWAY.
Give yourself away through some kind of service. I’m convinced that to be spiritually and emotionally healthy and balanced, everybody needs some form of service on at least a weekly basis, where they voluntarily give themselves away without receiving any personal benefit in return. I think you need it as a counterbalance to what our culture encourages. Sign up for an IMPACT TEAM!
You have 168 hours each week. God doesn’t want you to spend them all on yourself. You need a place of service where you say, “I’m going to give myself away.” The apostle Paul comes through for us again when he says, “God has … given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ago He planned that we should spend these lives in helping others” Ephesians 2:10).
What’s the word that describes the drive of your life? Money? Success? Fame? Power? Those things will not satisfy. Jesus said, “… Only those who throw away their lives for my sake and for the sake of the good news will ever know what it means to really live” (Mark 8:35).
If you’re not giving your life away, you’re just existing. You’re not living. Only those who give their lives away in service know what it means to really live. The world says, “Get all you can.” Jesus Christ says the exact opposite – “Give all you can.”
3. PRACTICE SELF DENIAL.
This is not a popular concept. But every day you need to find at least one opportunity where you can choose to do the thing of conviction, rather than the thing of convenience.
One time a guy was washing the dishes. He asked his wife, “Where in the Bible does it say a man’s job is to wash dishes.” The wife answers, “2 Kings 21:13, ’And I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.'” Seriously, in a society where everybody else is saying live only for yourself, think only for yourself, we, as believers, must be different, go against the flow, and not just think of ourselves.
Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Daily. In other words, he must make it a daily habit. Every-once-in-a-while doesn’t cut it.
What does it mean to really deny yourself? Let me give you a few practical answers:
- When you can watch those close to you prosper and succeed without feeling jealous, but rather rejoice in their success, then you know the meaning of “deny yourself.”
- When you can see other people reach goals you’ve failed to reach, and see others receive rewards and recognition that you’d like to have, without being envious, that’s denying yourself.
- When you see other people’s needs being met while your needs are not, and you don’t question God or fail to be grateful for what you do have, that’s denying yourself.
- When you choose to serve your spouse or children and put their needs ahead of yours, that’s denying yourself.
- When you share your faith at work or school knowing that you may be insulted or put down, that’s denying yourself.
- When you don’t seek praise or fish for compliments and approval from others, and when you can live without constantly being recognized and applauded, that’s denying yourself.
- When you draw out the other person in conversation rather than telling your stories and opinions, that’s denying yourself.
- When you tell the truth, even at the risk of personal expense, that’s denying yourself.
- When you pay your fair share of taxes while many others are cheating, that’s denying yourself.
- When you can accept criticism willingly and learn from it with a teachable attitude, that’s denying yourself.
- When you can be content with less than the best of circumstances without griping or complaining, when you can accept interruptions that God places in your schedule and patiently endure irritations, that’s denying yourself.
- When people break their promises and let you down, and you refuse to become bitter, when you are misjudged unfairly and your motives are questioned and you don’t retaliate, that’s denying yourself.
- When you are content to let God settle the score, and content to wait for your reward in heaven, that’s denying yourself.
Would you pray this prayer in your heart right now, “God, help me to build strong relationships. Help me to find a place of service where I can give my life away. Help me to practice self-denial daily in a culture that says, ‘Think only of yourself’. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen”