Selfish Christianity

I wrote a short series a few months ago about the importance of prayer (1 2 3). Today I am building on that.

Just this weekend my church in Mebane hosted Pr Brian Borgman from Minden Nevada who spoke in all three of our services on “The Church Getting Her Hands Dirty”.

Something that jumped out at me from the evening message was Acts 20:24 “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Paul flat-out told the elders in Ephesus during his last hours with them on this earth before going on to other ministries that he selflessly proclaimed the gospel to them, and, by implication, they were to do the same.

Not all Christians are called to be elders but all are called to proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ. Matthew 28:18-19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The so-called ‘Great Commission’ was not merely given to the 11 disciples on the mountain with Jesus before he ascended into heaven. If it were, they failed miserably. But because they went out and shared the gospel with any who would listen, I’m here today able to claim Christ as my savior.

Interestingly, God seems to like to do things for His servants when they ask for others – Job 42:10a “And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends.” Too often, I suspect, we focus most or all of our energy expended in prayer on ourselves. This is especially true in affluent America, where I live. What time we do spend praying is generally spent asking God for stuff for ourselves. Of course it is right to want to talk to our Heavenly Father and make requests of Him, but Christians are just as prone to selfishness as the unsaved – perhaps more so.

Before we were saved, all of our energy was spent on ourselves. Unfortunately, after many of us have been saved, we continue to focus energy on ourselves. But now we ask for God’s help in getting what we want. We think of God as our personal Genie (“PHENOMINAL COSMIC POWER!!!! Itty bitty living space!” [Aladdin]) merely around to do what we ask.

I hate to break it to you, but God’s not in the business of making our dreams come true. He’s in the business of making Himself known in the earth, and garnering men, women, and children to Him who will take the time to praise Him as He is due.

God does answer prayer. He answers every prayer we ever pray. Sometimes He answers “No”, sometimes “Yes”, and sometimes “Not yet – you’re not praying hard enough”. But focusing our prayers on ourselves will most likely not accomplish much in the grand scheme of things, and maybe not much – or even anything – in our own personal experience. But when we flip our focus off ourselves and onto others – in the church, our neighborhood, at work, at school, relatives, the cashier at the corner drug store – those we have some form of interaction with regularly, or that we want to have interaction with, God tends to start doing some pretty cool things.

Want to grow closer to God and His word? Ask God for someone to witness to. More often than not in both personal experience and from observation, God will plop somebody in front of us shortly after asking. Maybe it’s the coffee shop girl who pops out with a “why don’t you ever come here on Sunday”, or maybe it’ll be a professor who makes a comment inviting a response from the Bible, or maybe it’ll be that panhandler near your favorite restaurant. It’s not up to us to make them listen or believe, but it is up to us to tell them about Jesus’ work on the cross.

It has been said that people do nothing if it will not benefit them in some way. I happen to agree. The benefit Christians should be looking for from their actions, however, shouldn’t primarily found in this life. Jesus told us that some of His servants would bear fruit 100 fold, some 60, and some 30.

But the only way any of us can bear any fruit is to try. Spreading Christ’s message doesn’t just come from speaking – it comes from our lifestyle, too. But in order to have the opportunity to speak we need to get out of ourselves just a little, and get selfish in a good way.

It’s easy to get comfortable in our church, and our clique in the church, and among our closest circle of friends. But those folks probably aren’t the ones that need to be witnessed to so much. They’ll be watching us to make sure we keep following what we claim to believe in our lives, but it’s the unchurched, the unsaved that need to be witnessed to.

Such witnessing can be done through physical acts of kindness like going on a medical mission trip to some third world country. Or going to storm-ravaged regions and helping clear debris and getting people back on their feet after disasters like hurricanes. Trips and efforts like that are great. But I would put money down that you don’t need to traverse more than a couple miles (unless you live in Podunk Wyoming, where you nearest neighbor is 65 miles away) to find people who could use help, real, physical help in your own community.

Where I grew up in upstate New York, there were (and are) scads of people who could use some real physical help. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t help very many people outside my comfort rings when I lived there, and that I have only done so in small ways since moving to North Carolina three years ago.

I’d wager that just in the apartment complex I live in there are folks who could use some kind of help, but I haven’t found them. A few months ago I schlepped a small end table inside for an elderly neighbor who has trouble with her wrists. It took less than 2 minutes of my time, and saved her several hours of waiting for her son to come by and get it out of her car for her. In the very brief conversation I had with her, I found out that goes to a Presbyterian church in the area, and never would’ve found that out (probably wouldn’t have met her, either) if I hadn’t noticed her struggling with the end table on my way to work that morning.

It doesn’t take much for people to notice that you’re willing to expend a little effort to help them. Helping my neighbor with her table didn’t cost me anything more than a couple minutes, but we’ve been promised that in as much as we help the least of Christ’s brethren, we’re helping Him. So moving her table was a selfish act – I wanted to get noticed by God.

Some people need more motivation than just being told that they should do something. Jesus gave us that motivation when He described the separation of the sheep and the goats on the last day.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” [Matthew 25:31-46]

We’ve been given the best possible motivation to be Good Selfish Christians: we will be rewarded in Christ’s kingdom when He returns. And we’ve been given the best possible motivation to not be lazy: eternal punishment for those who merely claim to be Christ’s followers, but do nothing about it – those who want to use God as a backup plan in case He really exists and not those who are trusting only in Him.