As I get back into normal routines this fall that were obliterated during the summer, blogging is one thing I hope I can create space for in my schedule. As I sat down to “get back in it” I found myself skimming through various drafts of blog posts that never made it to the ‘publish’ stage. Some were so incomplete I couldn’t even figure out where I was trying to go, but one really struck me. It caught my attention because the lessons I was wrestling with years ago when the draft was created, are things I find myself continuing to wrestle with now. It also talked about a scripture in Mark which we’re studying this week for the 66 in 52 Challenge.
For the sake of keeping the flow of the words, I left the timing in the rest of the piece as it was originally, so just know that “this morning” or “last week” actually refers to some time in my life a few years ago, but I pray the lessons remain relevant for us now.
Do you ever have those days or seasons when God is clearly trying to tell you something? For example, a few weeks ago John chapter 17 was the topic of conversation or study in 5 completely different settings over the course of only 6 days. I think God was trying to tell me something.
More recently the lessons came in Isaiah 58. Specifically verse 10 popped up in two places one morning before 6:30 a.m. I think God wanted to set the tone for the day. Here’s the passage:
6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. 11 And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. 12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.
Pour yourself out.
Other versions translate it as “spend yourself”, “extend your soul”, “give yourself to”. No matter how you look at it, the message is clear: there is sacrifice and there is a stretching involved.
Something I’ve struggled with for a really long time is the balance between giving sacrificially of myself to serve others and caring for myself. We all know (whether we act like it or not) that self-care is important, but it can also feel very selfish. Satan gets us all kinds of confused when we start to figure out how to make a decision in this area. If we feel the pull towards “spending ourselves” on behalf of someone in response to God’s call, he works hard to tell us that we deserve a break… that we need to think about ourselves more. And in moments when self-care is exactly what we need to better be equipped to “extend our souls” when the necessary times come, he makes us believe we’re worthless and dumb for not being a “good Christian” who would help anyone.
While this is something I think I will likely continue to wrestle with the rest of my life, a little hint of clarity came through a session at the conference I was at last week. To summarize, the presenter talked about both selfishness and selflessness. When those are the only options, it seems the only “good” option to choose is selflessness; who wants to be know as being selfish?!? However, she presented another option: self-interest. Here are some of the ways she described these options:
- Selfishness denies others. Selflessness denies self. Self-interest looks at myself in relationship to others.
- Selflessness and selfishness both creates victims (like what I was explaining above in the temptations of Satan). However, self-interest takes into consideration both myself and others and builds leaders.
- Selfishness leaves no room for you. Selflessness leaves no room for me. Self-interest looks at we.
She explained that the word self-interest comes from the Latin words “inter” and “esse” which means “to be among”. Basically self-interest could also be communicated as “self-among-others”.
Even Jesus wasn’t 100% selfless, at least not in our limited definition. Rather, He had a very clear purpose and self-interest. There were times when people wanted Him to stick around and teach more or heal more or do more for them. In our limited view, a “selfless” person would have given in and done what they wanted. But He saw the bigger picture; He saw the other people that needed to hear of His love. He saw even at times His own need to get away and be alone with His Father.
This concept of self-interest doesn’t solve all my struggles with trying to balance “pouring myself out” (Isaiah 58) with “come away and rest” (Mark 6), but it comes a little closer. I don’t deny self or others, but rather process each situation with God looking at the fact that I am constantly among others. God created me, and everyone, with the desire and need to be in relationship. We need each other! God also has a clear vision on our lives and as we seek to live our lives neither entirely focused on self nor on others, that path becomes a bit more clear.
One last story that seems to tie this all together. In Mark’s version of the feeding of the 5,000 we see some important context we don’t necessarily get in the other tellings. John the Baptist (Jesus’ relative) had just died. Jesus and the disciples were so overworked they hadn’t even had time to eat. He was leading them to what He thought was a secluded place so they could rest a while. They all knew some time away was needed, yet, when they arrived, a mass of people had ran ahead to meet them there. Tired, hungry, and grieving, this would have been the perfect space where we’d expect anyone to be a little more “selfish” and pull away. However, Mark describes Jesus’ counterintuitive response:
“Jesus saw the huge crowd as He stepped from the boat, and He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” (Mark 6:34).
He responded with compassion.
As the story continues the disciples tell Jesus the people are hungry and they end up feeding 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. While it doesn’t tell us for sure, when it says “they all ate as much as they wanted”, my guess is that the disciples and Jesus were included in the “all”. Sometimes God works this way too… He feeds us or gives us rest right in the middle of our being poured out. The disciples are so busy they don’t even have time to eat, and right in the middle of their work God feeds them. What a clear picture of this concept of self-interest… “self among others”.
Also, just to note, after all of that was over, Jesus did sneak away and went up into the hills by himself to pray. We need both times but there might not always be a clear rule to follow when deciding which which. May we never stop wrestling, never stop being poured out, never stop drawing near and letting God speak into our lives! He’ll lead the way!