As a kid, I loved my hardcopy 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 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’ll burn out (or get burned).
But if my life is characterized and defined by entertainment, relaxation, getaways, and me-time, then I need to step back and take stock of my spiritual life. Because God’s 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 failed me. I keep doing what I’m doing in life, but I don’t feel good about myself at all. Or, something terrible happens, and I wonder why a good God would allow it.
Then I conclude that God must not really be real. Just another big promise that didn’t pan out. Oh well. Guess I’ll download some self-improvement books to my Kindle.
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 accept 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.
Real Christian living isn’t 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 at funtimes, 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, a truth worth dying for.
When I lose my grip on me-first, then I gain the fulfillment and joy that only come from a God-first life.
Guess what? Here we are … at the end of this series.
Now Get Out There and Deny Yourself!
No cheerleader is ever going to shake pom-poms and rah-rah about self-denial.
May the truth found in scripture inspire you to say these fearless words:
“Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Mt. 26:39)
“Not what I will, but what thou wilt.” (Mark 14:36)
“Not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Repeat after Jesus.
Repeat and repeat.
Not my will, but yours, Father.
It’s the upside-down story of gain through loss.
When I lose perfection, I gain grace.
When I lose self-indulgence, I gain lasting satisfaction.
When I lose my stubborn will, I gain greater strength in Christ.
When I lose pride, I gain awe and wonder.
When I lose normal, I gain the spotlight for God.
When I lose me-first, I gain a servant’s heart.
It’s a tale as old as time.
Lose self. Gain Christ.
It’s a risk I’m willing to take.
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.