Being Outward Focused

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:3-4 of how we, the body of believers, should live and treat each other.

Do nothing out of vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others. (NIV)

Outward focus. Since the pandemic began several months ago, most of us have had to adjust the way we do things. There have been limitations on where and what we can do at work, recreationally and relationally. Social Distancing is the new watchword for these unusual days. Wash your hands, wear a mask, keep 6 feet apart are just a few of the new protocols for interaction in our society. These safeguards are not only for our protection but for the protection of those around us.

Some may say, I am young and healthy I see no need in adhering to these restrictions. I don’t know anyone who has Covid19, why should I do anything differently? A mask is hot and uncomfortable. I have a right to go and do whatever I want to do. If someone is “at risk” they should stay home. I feel fine, I want to go out and live my life.

The problem with some of these thoughts are they are based upon a “me centered” philosophy. Paul reminds us in Philippians 2 that we are to look not only to what we desire, but also to the interests of others. Christians are to be servants. We are called to lives of self-sacrifice. Lives characterized in Galatians 5:22-23 by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These attributes do not come naturally to us. They are cultivated over time as we give away our selfish desires into the hands of a loving Heavenly Father, becoming the person He designed and desires us to be.

I will be honest. I must fight selfish thoughts every day, every hour, every minute! Sometimes I fight valiantly. Other times I surrender immediately for some limited gratification that is fleeting. I surrender because of tiredness, boredom, or just plain old selfishness. I, like you, am under construction. We have not achieved the place of being fully and completely surrendered to God’s leading. As Christians we are on that path, but we fail in this struggle daily.

I need constant prodding, constant reminding of how I should live and treat others. I so easily slip into self-absorption, seeking my desires first and forgetting, or not caring how my actions may affect those around me. God forgive me!

I need moments of rechecking, to bring me back from an inward focus, to a broader perspective of not just the single, but the whole. How does what I do affect my family, my friends, my neighbors, a lost world? Sometimes that entails sacrifice of my own desires for the betterment of those with whom I live or interact daily.

Here’s the kicker, when I strive to please myself, going head long into indulging my desires, I end up feeling more tired, more disconnected, more unsatisfied with what I have. When I sacrifice my own desires to help someone else, I find peace, contentment, and a sense of purpose. C. S. Lewis would call this living a life of humility. I love his quote: Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less!

Being outward focused…we all need to exercise it more. Look in the mirror less, look out the window more. Seek to find ways to help those around you. This Christian life is not a marathon. We don’t wake up one day and we are a spiritual giant. We grow into it. We surrender to it intentionally, deliberately moment by moment one day at a time. We have days when we do it well and others when we fail miserably. Yet, we journey onward. We stay the course.

We are the church, whether we are 10, 18, 25, 45, 55, 65 or 95 years of age. We are to love each other and look not only to our interests but to the interests of everyone. It’s not easy. Often it is no fun. Yet, that is our calling. That is how we show we are different from the world.

I encourage each of you to consider ways this week to be outward focused. Call a shut in. Write a card to someone not in your age bracket (i.e. senior adult to a high school senior, a college student to a middle-aged person). Offer to pick up groceries for someone in an “at risk” group. Help with one of the “Serve Projects.” (Call or email Dan for suggestions.

There is an old hymn that I learned as a child entitled “Others.” It often comes to mind when I need to refocus and look outward. I close with part of this hymn found in the 1948 edition of The Broadman Hymnal.

                Lord, help me live from day to day in such a self-forgetful way
                That even when I kneel to pray my prayer shall be for–Others.
                Help me in all the work I do to ever be sincere and true,
                And know that all I’d do for you must needs be done for—Others.
                And when my work on earth is done, and my new work in heaven’s begun,
                May I forget the crown I’ve won, while thinking still of—Others.

                Others, Lord, yes others, Let this my motto be,
                Help me to live for others, that I may live like Thee.

Pastor Keith

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