By Leanne Swift
I’ve been praying lately that the Lord would show me how I could be more effective in his service. I think he answered by revealing something that has been holding me back in many ways: self preservation. It has begun to gnaw at my soul.
Websters defines self-preservation like this:
1. preservation of oneself from destruction or harm and 2. a natural or instinctive tendency to act so as to preserve one’s own existence
I think we can agree that we have a natural tendency to look out for ourselves. Sometimes it is good. Sometimes it is not. There is a positive sense of the term, such as choosing to keep hands off a hot stove. If we’re thinking of it in terms of making wise decisions, it can be good thing. But what I’m considering for the purpose of this article is the negative sense of the term, and specifically, ways that looking out for “number 1” can be a crushing hindrance to ministry effectiveness. There are many ways that this notion of self-preservation can be crippling to our service to God.
Here are some examples:
Our reputation: Ever been afraid that someone would say something bad about you? I have. I generally would like for my reputation to be free from anything negative. But what that really means is that I want people to say only good things about me – basically I want everyone to think I’m just about the greatest thing ever. I’m exaggerating, but what I’m noticing is that in my efforts to write and encourage people and to live a godly life in general, I’m finding I have some ulterior motives creeping up – like gaining and keeping a good reputation in the eyes of others.
This way of life keeps a person in chains. If we are ruled by the opinions of others, so much unnecessary and exhausting time is wasted trying to keep up appearances – all the while, God sees our hearts. While we may or may not be successful keeping it from others, he sees the sinfulness there, and how we’re shriveling in our usefulness for him. But there is always hope! It can be forgiven. And the hope is not in our ability to keep our motives pure, but on Christ’s work on the cross that atoned for every impure motive.
Proverbs 29:25 tells us, “the fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” Let us also hear some encouragement from Paul. He says he is “well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake” for when he is weak, then he is strong (2 Cor. 12:10). We serve God more effectively when we’re not trying to preserve ourselves from those things with which God has designed to give us strength (like weaknesses, etc).
Our commitments: Have you ever signed up for something and then didn’t follow through? We understand that sometimes the Lord intervenes on things and that’s not what I mean here. But what I have done on many an occasion is to calculate the cost of following through on a commitment and how it will affect me. If negatively, like perhaps I might not get enough sleep or I won’t be able to do something that I enjoy, then I’m quite tempted to change my mind.
A verse that has been so helpful here is Psalm 15:4 where it says, “he swears to his own hurt and does not change”. Basically this verse says, keep your word even if it’s going to be uncomfortable. Here is some encouragement for you, if you find yourself struggling to keep a commitment – maybe you feel physically or emotionally unable to follow through—then pray, asking God for the grace to endure. While it may seem like an obvious thing, I know, sometimes we forget what God can do for us. There have been things I have absolutely thought I could not do and I have sought the Lord for help and he has answered far above what I could ever expect. Ask him for help with your commitments even when it feels costly.
Our emotions: We’ve all been hurt from time to time, but how to do we respond? Perhaps by pulling back a bit? Holding on to a little bitterness? Stamp that with self-preservation, too. But we can repent and be cleansed from that and be stirred to right responses instead:
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity (Col. 3:12-14).
Can you think of other examples in your life? I’m asking the Lord to reveal areas where my first instinct to preserve myself. This is not an attitude that Christ ever demonstrated, so I want it cleansed from my heart and life. I’m thankful for eyes to see how this can truly interfere with ministry effectiveness, but even more importantly, how it is disobedience to Christ. He made that clear in Matthew 16:24-25 when he said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
We are daily faced with opportunities to die to ourselves, to turn from self-preservation, and to forget about self altogether. When we lose our lives for the sake of Christ, he promises that there we will find them. This proves itself to be true over and over again.
Leanne Swift (BA Christian Ministries, The Master’s College) lives in Cleveland, OH with her husband Brian and two bunnies Zoey & Sophia. She is pursuing biblical counseling certification while writing her first book on delighting in the Lord. She has contributed to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s Gender Blog, has written for Modern Reformation Magazine, and blogs at hiswillmyhome.com.
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