This article is part of Sister Michelle Watson’s deep dive into the concept of “deny yourself” (Mt. 16:24, Mk. 8:34, Lu. 9:23, 3 Ne. 12:30). Today’s sub-theme is “me first.”
As a kid, I loved my copy of “A Light in the Attic,” a collection of hilarious poems by the wonderful Shel Silverstein. One of them is called “Ladies First,” in which a bossy little girl named Pamela Purse pushes her way to the front of the ice cream line, shoves herself onto the school bus before the other kids, and guzzles every last drop of canteen water on a jungle safari, leaving none for her friends.
On that same jungle safari, Ms. Purse meets Fry-‘Em-Up Dan, a cannibal who isn’t sure which of the school children he should eat first until Pamela insists that she be — you guessed it — first.
It’s a silly poem with a gruesome twist, but it does make the basic point that “me first” isn’t always best. I think it’s the same in my walk with the Lord, particularly His command to deny myself and follow Him.
I do need to think of myself, of course. If I don’t set healthy boundaries on my time or my efforts, then I will begin to resent the things I “must” do for God. But if my life is characterized and defined by entertainment, relaxation, getaways, and me-time, then I’m probably not doing a very good job of obeying God because His commands often require responsibility and self-sacrifice.
And you know what? Me-first gets old.
Me-first thinking affects more than just how I spend my time. It affects how I think about God, like He’s a genie whose sole purpose is to answer my prayers, or he’s a cheerleader whose only job is to make me feel good about myself and my choices. Me first.
Initially, that kind of a God sounds great. Just blessings with no strings attached. Sign me up.
But then I realize that’s not reality. My prayers go unanswered, and then I feel like God somehow betrayed me. I keep doing what I’m doing in life, but I don’t feel good about myself at all. Then I conclude that God must not really be real. Just another big promise that didn’t pan out. Oh well. Ho hum. Guess I’ll try the self-improvement section at the bookstore.
What’s wrong with this picture? Even though I may have been attending church and thinking of myself as a Christian, I never encountered — really encountered — the true and living God.
When I absorb the Gospel in spirit and truth, then I’ll happily and enthusiastically forsake everything for it. I’ll willingly dethrone myself and humbly ask Jesus Christ to take first place.
And guess what? That never gets old. Christian living isn’t always easy, but it definitely doesn’t grow stale. When Jesus Christ is alive in my life, speaking, guiding, and comforting, it inspires me to rise to the standards He sets.
If I’m only seeing a version of the Gospel that serves me and expects nothing — no life transformation, no challenge — then I’m not inspired or enlivened. I may jump on the bandwagon after a little ear-tickle, but I fall off quickly.
If, however, I hear and believe the true Gospel message — and I’m not interested in being affirmed, coddled, or soft-pedaled — then I’m enlisted, trained, and mobilized for a life of spiritual service. It’s not about me but instead about a collective cause, a mission worth fighting for. I won’t go AWOL. I’ll stay semper fidelis till the day God gives me my honorable discharge papers at the pearly gates.
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.