Jun 24, 2017

Humble Hearts and Self-Serving Attitudes

"Give me ten minutes. I'm finishing this . . . ?"

Have you ever said something along those lines to someone?

In the moment, the task we're doing can seem like the most interesting task in the world. Especially when someone asks us to do something that we really don't want to do. I recently found myself in the latter situation.

I was sitting on the living room couch, immersed in a good book, when my dad asked me to take care of the leftover food on the kitchen table. Settled as I was, my body felt two times heavier at the mere thought of the effort that it would take to uncurl myself and venture out of my comfortable corner. No matter that the food wasn't ten feet from my position or that my book could wait for me.

"I'll take care of it in ten minutes. I'm finishing this chapter." I didn't add that I had just started reading the chapter. If I don't say, he won't notice.

With the excuse in mind that the textbook was for class (though classes don't start until the end of August), I proceeded to read away. Never mind that my dad had his own stresses and wanted the kitchen chores done. I figured that all would be well as long as I did my share of the chores before going to bed.

The food wasn't my dad's problem anymore . . . was it?

What I should have asked is: "Does my dad still believe that the food is his problem?"

Maybe then I would have realized that my dad didn't want to wait for the food to be put away. I would certainly have responded in a more loving and filial manner.

God calls us to be humble and put others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Some questions arise from this verse: How do I put others before myself? Do I need to put others before myself all the time? What if someone gives me an unreasonable request? How do I even know what's reasonable?

Especially in our current culture, we often don't know how to act with humility, or we put in the minimal effort we think is required to be loving to others.

But is it loving to serve others with less than our full potential? Can I claim to follow Jesus when I give 70% to others and save 30% for myself? (Note: the numbers are arbitrary.)

It'd certainly be convenient for me to do so. To think in this manner, however, is arrogant and self-serving.

Such double-mindedness professes to serve the Lord but wavers when called to put action to one's faith. It seeks the benefits of proclaiming faith in God but rejects His ways and His commands. As James eloquently expresses, "the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind" (James 1:6). She (or he) follows God when "the going is good" and retreats when her faith becomes an inconvenience for her.

The double-minded woman professes to have a humble heart, but her actions reveal a self-serving attitude. Though she appears to be a servant leader who does all the "right things," she is only going through the motions of faith. Her actions are undertaken with the intention of crossing off one more item on the to-do list.

Going back to my story, I truly thought that I was doing right by my father in the moment. I wasn't asking him to take care of my chores for me, and when I later talked to him about the situation, I had the best of intentions in mind. However, there's a difference between Spirit-led thinking and human-led thinking. The latter led me to agree to take care of the chores because it was filial and loving for me to do so, but I would do it in my own time at my own convenience. I was arrogant and prideful in my supposed humility. Spirit-led thinking recalls to mind God's command for us to honor our parents, and love for God inspires obedience to His commands.

If it's so easy to fall prey to pride and arrogance, how can we know if our actions come from a true place of humility and compassion?

Today, I'm going to address three things we can monitor to help us follow the Spirit's guidance.

Listen to the Holy Spirit

Have you ever felt like you were going through the motions of the faith? Prayed and prayed but couldn't feel God's presence? Or tried reading the Bible but didn't feel like you were gaining any new insight?

This is when we may need to examine the quality of our spiritual life.

This doesn't necessarily mean that we need to spend more time with God (though it may). We can pray, read the Bible, and call out to God all we want, but until we align our will with God's will, we'll keep pushing Him away. The resulting disconnect may be preventing us from hearing God speak to us.

Does this mean that I should give up on trying to reach out to God until my spirit is in the right place?

By no means! In fact, these are the times that we need to come before Him the most.

When we can't feel God's presence, we can still call upon His name in prayer and search for His wisdom in the pages of the Bible. We may also need to search in our hearts for anything we may need to bring to Him in confession and repentance, or perhaps we need to start telling Him what is really on our hearts (something I posted recently about on Instagram). One of my favorite prayers in these times is Psalm 51.

We can also learn to listen to the Holy Spirit and look for God's presence in our lives. (Like any skill, this is one that requires habitual practice.) What is He trying to show us? It may be that He's been nudging us in a specific direction, but we've ignored His voice because we don't want to move where He's called us. Instead of running away, try saying, "Thy will be done," and watch the work He does in and through your life.

Change Thinking Patterns

When we refuse to serve others or follow God's prompts, or if we say that we'll do it in our own time, chances are we consider ourselves more important that others. We may want to serve others, pray, or read our Bibles because it's the "right thing" to do, but we'll only do it when it's convenient for us or we "feel like it."

Maybe it's time to start thinking about service as an act of worship.

When we understand God's eternal power and divine nature—and how amazing it is that He loves us so!—the amount of effort we need to put into serving others is an iota (a small amount) compared to the great things that our Lord has done for us. We won't come to know His infinite love and power unless we read the Bible.

What if I'm already reading in the Bible, and I still don't feel a change in my mindset?

Following are some tips for Bible study that I've found helpful:

First, open and close your Bible in prayer. We won't ever understand what God is trying to tell us when we rely on our own understanding. Only God will ever understand His ways; that's why He sent us His Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).

Once you have your Bible open, consider how you've approached it in the past. Have you read it like the love letter that it is? Read repeatedly: read and reread passages for understanding. Look for details: what is the passage saying about God? About us? Jot down insight: what truths can we apply from this passage to our lives today?

Remember that the books of the Bible were written in the past for a specific situation that God's people were facing at the time. It may help to research the culture and history of the period as well as the general information about who write it, who was the original audience, when it was written, and for what purpose. A good, easily approachable introduction to Bible study is How to Read the Bible like a Seminary Professor by Mark Yarbrough.

Serve With, Not To

Lastly, humility should come from a genuine place of caring. While our cares and concerns may motivate us to serve in a specific area, we can't let our own interests be the sole influence behind our actions.

We need to listen to the other party and validate their feelings: What are their cares and concerns? What do they hope to see done? Why is this issue important to them?

It may be tempting to go ahead and do what we want to do. When we've decided to do something, we've already made an investment, and we have an idea of what we believe should happen. Don't forget that there are other parties involved; they too have an interest in the outcome.

Serve with, not to the party you seek to aid. Doing something for someone doesn't place you on a superior level. In fact, Jesus says that the one who seeks to be the greatest must be the least (Matthew 20:26-28). If we seek to follow Jesus's example, then we must think of ourselves less than the ones we seek to serve.

We need to learn to swallow our pride along with our heart's selfish desires that we may learn humility. This is the agape love that Jesus demonstrates in the Gospels. This is true servant leadership.

Is there a specific relationship or situation in your life where you can pray for Jesus to help you grow in humility?

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