‘Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.’ Philippians 2:4 NLT
Do you want to maintain other people’s respect? When they share their struggles and successes with you, don’t say, ‘That’s nothing; let me tell you about my…!’ Haman, a Persian government official mentioned in the book of Esther, was self-absorption personified. He ‘boasted to [his friends and wife] about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored… and… elevated him above the other nobles and officials.’ (Esther 5:11 NIV) Not once do we read of his expressing interest in anyone but himself. Indeed, he was so resentful of the favor the king had shown toward Mordecai, a Jew, that he built a gallows on which to hang him. And how did the story end? The king hanged Haman on the gallows he had built for Mordecai.
So unless you want to tie a noose around your own neck, stop talking so much about yourself! Chances are you may not even be aware of this character flaw in your communication. So ask God to point it out when you do it, and give you grace to overcome it. Self-centredness dies slowly, so start with small steps. Try going for a whole day without making your issues the focus of every conversation. Give everyone you meet your full attention—and watch your friendships multiply and your relationships deepen.
The word for you today is: ‘Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.’
‘Give to Your servant an understanding heart.’ 1 Kings 3:9 NKJV
Do you remember the ‘class clown’ in the school? He could make everyone crack up at the most inopportune times. He was a trial to his teachers, an embarrassment to his parents, and an utter delight to every child who wanted to escape the boredom of school. Teachers probably wonder if the Board of Education assigns at least one clown to every class to make sure they earn every dollar of their salaries. These skilled little disrupters are usually boys. Often they have reading or other academic problems. They may be small in stature, although not always, and they’ll do anything for a laugh. Their parents and teachers may not recognise that behind the boisterous behaviour is often the pain of inferiority.
You see, humour is a classic response to feelings of low self-esteem. That’s why within many successful comedians is the memory of a hurting child. Jonathan Winters’ parents were divorced when he was seven, and he used to cry when he was alone because other children teased him about not having a father. Joan Rivers frequently joked about her unattractiveness as a girl. She said she was such a ‘dog’, her father had to throw a bone down the aisle to get her married. These famous comedians got their training during childhood, using humour as a defence.
That’s also the inspiration for the class clown. By making an enormous joke out of everything, they often conceal the self-doubt that churns inside them. Understanding that should help you meet their needs and manage them more effectively. ‘Give to Your servant an understanding heart’ is a prayer every parent and teacher should pray.
‘While He prayed… Heaven… opened.’ Luke 3:21 NKJV
When Jesus was baptized the Bible says, ‘While He prayed… the Holy Spirit descended… upon Him… and a voice… from Heaven…said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”’ (Luke 3:21–22 NKJV) After the crucifixion the disciples ‘prayed with a single purpose’ (Acts 1:14 CEV) and ‘the place…was shaken. They were…filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke God’s word without fear.’ (Acts 4:31 NCV) Make no mistake, prayer can be hard work, but our most rewarding moments will come from time spent on our knees. God uses prayer to accomplish things that won’t happen any other way.
Henry Blackaby says: ‘As we pray our attention is turned towards God and we become more receptive to aligning our lives with His will. He won’t equip us with His power while we’re racing off to our next appointment! His Spirit won’t empower us if we’re oblivious to what He’s saying. He requires our complete attention… ‘Jesus told His disciples…they should always pray and not give up.’ (Luke 18:1 NIV) If you’ll commit yourself to spend sustained time in prayer… God will work in your life as He did in the lives of Jesus and His disciples… The fervent prayer of the people at Pentecost didn’t induce the Holy Spirit to come upon them. Prayer brought them to where they were ready to participate in the mighty work God had already planned.’
The Bible says, ‘Before daylight, [Jesus] went… to a solitary place; and…prayed.’ (Mark 1:35 NKJV) And before He chose His disciples, ‘He spent the night praying.’ (Luke 6:12 NCV) If it took a whole night for Jesus to determine His Father’s will, what makes you think you can do it in a few hurried moments?
‘This is the verdict: Light has come into the world.’ John 3:19 NIV
Here are some helpful observations on ‘walking in the Light’.
(1) Sin is God’s enemy, and yours. Jesus said, ‘Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.’ (Luke 11:23 NIV) Neutrality and passivity aren’t options; you must treat sin like the enemy it is. (2) Be honest with yourself and God. Don’t excuse your sin as a ‘condition’ or ‘tendency’. You didn’t just make a bad judgment—you sinned. You may have had a troubled past, but today you have choices! (3) Don’t indulge in beating yourself up. You’re not supposed to wallow in condemnation before acknowledging your sin. Making yourself miserable doesn’t signify that you deserve forgiveness. That comes by grace, through faith alone. Every second spent in self-condemnation is time stolen from you by Satan. The moment that brings the acknowledgment of sin also brings the cleansing of sin. (4) If you repeat the sin, repeat the confession. ‘Won’t God get tired of me coming to Him?’ you ask. No. God accepted Jesus as a substitute for all your sins for all time, so He will never reject you. Isaiah told God’s people, ‘Return to the Lord, and He will have mercy… and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.’ (Isaiah 55:7 NKJV)
Above all, be patient with yourself. Give the Holy Spirit time to develop in you the strength needed to transcend your old nature and overcome your old sinful habits, and be assured it will happen. (See Philippians 1:6)
‘Moses… stood before [God] in the breach.’ Psalm 106:23 NKJV
Sometimes God moves sovereignly, giving you neither notice nor explanation. Other times He moves only in answer to prayer. The prayers of Rees Howells, ‘the Welsh intercessor’, were so powerful that they’re credited with thwarting the Nazis and influencing certain events in World War II. Thank God for knowledge and ability, but some things only happen when we ‘give ourselves continually to prayer.’ (Acts 6:4 NKJV) The Bible says God would have destroyed Israel ‘had not Moses… stood before Him in the breach, to turn away His wrath.’
Behind some of the greatest spiritual awakenings in history was an unseen, unsung force known as ‘intercessors’. Many of the victories we celebrate in the open are first won by such people in the secret place of prayer. It’s a specialized ministry, and God could be calling you to it. Even though your limbs may not carry you beyond your own front door, through prayer you can limit Satan’s movements and defeat his best-laid plans. Through prayer you can call the forces of Heaven into any situation, anywhere, anytime, for anybody. No wonder Satan downplays the power of intercessory prayer and will do whatever it takes to keep us from giving ourselves to it. There’s no distance in prayer.
God said, ‘Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.’ (Psalm 2:8 NKJV) It’s time to move beyond our ‘bless me’ prayers and start claiming bigger things for God. When what we declare on earth lines up with what God has decreed in Heaven—it will be done!
‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:39 NIV
To make the Golden Rule part of your daily life, you must try to do three things for others:
(1) Trust them. Without trust there can be no real relationship. Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson said, ‘The chief lesson I’ve learned in a long life is that the only way to make a man trustworthy is by trusting him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust.’ Is it always easy? No, especially when it’s someone you don’t know very well. Nevertheless, that’s Christ’s Golden Rule. As you strive to invest confidence in others just as you’d like it to be invested in you, remember that the person who trusts others will always lose less than the person who distrusts them. (2) Thank them. Human relations expert Donald Laird said, ‘Always help people increase their self-esteem… There’s hardly a higher compliment you can pay an individual than helping him to be useful and to find satisfaction in his usefulness.’ How do you do that? By letting them know you appreciate their efforts. By making a point of praising them in the presence of those closest to them. As Broadway producer Billy Rose observed: ‘It’s hard for a fellow to keep a chip on his shoulder if you allow him to take a bow.’ (3) Value them. Surveys confirm that 70 percent of workers who leave their jobs do so because they don’t feel valued. That’s an indictment of how poorly some leaders treat employees! There isn’t a person in the world who doesn’t want to be appreciated. Don’t you?
So make a habit of practicing the Golden Rule.
‘For you will be treated as you treat others.’ Matthew 7:2 NLT
In his book Running with the Giants, John Maxwell tells of a new pastor who shared the following eight rules with his congregation: (1) If you’ve a problem with me, come and see me privately. I’ll do the same for you. (2) If someone else has a problem with me and comes to you, send them to me. I’ll do the same. (3) If someone won’t come to me, say, ‘Let’s go see him together.’ I’ll do the same. (4) Be careful how you interpret me—I’d rather do that. It’s too easy to misinterpret intentions. I’ll also be careful how I interpret you. (5) If it’s confidential, don’t tell. If you or anyone else comes to me in confidence, I won’t tell, unless they’re going to harm themselves, harm someone else, or a child has been physically or sexually abused. I expect the same from you. (6) I don’t read unsigned letters. (7) I don’t manipulate. I won’t be manipulated. Don’t let others manipulate you. And don’t let others try to manipulate me through you. (8) When in doubt, just say so. If I can answer without misrepresenting something or breaking a confidence, I will.
Those eight rules can be reduced to the one Golden Rule: ‘Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.’ Good marriages, business relationships and friendships are based on the Golden Rule Jesus gave us.
One final thought: ‘Abstain from every form of evil.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:22 NKJV) If people could construe that you’re taking advantage of them even after you’ve had a chance to explain your motives, you may need to rethink your idea.
‘Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.’ Matthew 7:12 NLT
Try to slot yourself based on one of these statements: (a) I’m always ethical. (b) I’m mostly ethical. (c) I’m somewhat ethical. (d) I’m seldom ethical. (e) I’m never ethical. Which slot do you fall into?
If we’re truthful, most of us would likely put ourselves in slot (b). Why? Because of personal convenience. Think about it. Paying the price for success is inconvenient. Putting others first is inconvenient. Practicing personal discipline is inconvenient. Risking confrontation is inconvenient. Most of us think being ethical is fine—unless we’re on the losing end of somebody else’s ethical lapse.
But if you’re serious about establishing an ethical standard to live by, you need look no further than the Golden Rule: ‘Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.’ And: (1) It brings peace and self-worth. When all is said and done, you need to be able to live with yourself because ‘wherever you go you take yourself with you.’ If the only way you can win is by cheating, you lose self-respect, fear being exposed, lack confidence in approaching God, and your successes feel hollow. (2) It results in a win-win. Are you the kind of person who thinks that in order for you to win, somebody else must lose? That philosophy doesn’t work. When you treat other people the way you want to be treated, they win; and when they reciprocate, you win. There are no losers. (3) It’s easy to understand. You simply put yourself in the other person’s shoes. That’s it! There are no complicated rules and no loopholes.
‘…each of you must put off falsehood.’ Ephesians 4:25 NIV
It’s not your shortcomings that make you a hypocrite; it’s hiding them and pretending you don’t have any! Note two things about hypocrisy: (1) It’s as natural as breathing. It appeals to our ego. We get hooked on it because it looks so impressive, and results in our getting lots of positive strokes. Who doesn’t enjoy that? (2) Dealing with it is hard. It’s easier to train a new Christian than to retrain an old one steeped in religion.
To win the battle with hypocrisy you must first admit you’ve a problem with it. Only then can the Holy Spirit begin a work of deliverance and set you on the path to freedom. But be warned, it’s a long and brutal fight. Our desire to look good in front of others dies slowly—if at all.
Paul writes: ‘So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking… darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they… indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ… You were taught… to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood.’
‘When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God.’ Deuteronomy 8:10 NIV
We decided to reprint this story because its message is timeless.
‘They huddled inside the storm door—two children in ragged, oversized coats. “Any old papers, lady?” I was busy. I wanted to say no—until I saw their feet. Little sandals sopped with sleet. “Come in and I’ll make you some hot cocoa.” There was no conversation. Their soggy sandals left marks on the hearthstone. I served them cocoa with toast and jam to fortify them against the chill outside. Then I went back to the kitchen to work on my household budget. The silence in the front room struck through me. I looked in. The little girl held the empty cup in her hands and looked at it. The boy asked, “Lady, are you rich?” I looked at my shabby slipcovers. “Am I rich? Mercy, no!” The girl put the cup in its saucer—carefully. “Your cups match your saucers.” Her voice was old with a hunger not of the stomach. They then left, holding their bundles of paper against the wind. They hadn’t said thank you. They didn’t need to—they’d done more than that. Much more. Plain blue pottery cups and saucers, but they matched. Potatoes in brown gravy; a roof over our heads; my man with a good steady job—these things matched, too. I moved the chairs back from the fire and tidied the living room. The muddy prints of small sandals were still wet on my hearth. I let them be. I want them there in case I ever forget how rich I am!’
The word for you today is: Don’t forget to thank God.