I know. I know. We’ve all read that blog post. We’ve all heard the lecture. “Stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about others.” “Focus on others and quit focusing on yourself.”
I’m just like you. I’ve heard it a hundred time. Almost to the point that I tell you what the writer is going to say before he says it.
But hear me out on this one.
I recently spent a weekend trip with my son and my Dad driving from Cookeville, TN, to Cleveland, OH, to watch the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians play. We worshiped in Cleveland that Sunday morning before starting the long drive back home. We made it to Lexington, KY, before evening services started, so we stopped there to worship. During the service, the preacher shared something that made me think very differently about the concept of “thinking outside yourself”. Well, maybe not think differently, but it most definitely caused it to sink in deeper than it had ever done before.
Take a look at the first chapter of Philippians. In verses 3-11, Paul makes it very clear to the Philippian congregation that they are on his mind. He loves them. He prays for them. He longs for them. Well, just read it for yourself:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the…”
That’s right; he said imprisonment.
Paul wrote those words while he was sitting in prison, possibly contemplating his own execution. If I put myself in his shoes, what would the opening of a letter be like that I send to someone? It might start out with something like, “All things considered, I’m doing OK. I’ve made a couple of friends, but I am still very cautious of everyone I meet. The food is better here than it was in the last prison, but the guards are being overly aggressive with me for some reason. I don’t know why. I haven’t done anything to deserve it. I don’t know why God is allowing this to happen to me.”
I may think I focus on others before myself, but what about when I’m in a tough situation? It’s definitely not wrong for us to ask others to pray for us or help us (Romans 15:30-33; Colossians 4:2-4), but would I be able to write a letter to someone in that situation without assuming that everyone wants to hear what I’m going through? Would my attitude ever match that of Paul’s? If it doesn’t, can I really claim that I’m good at thinking outside myself?
Think about it for a while.