Overcoming the “Me First” Mentality

This blog was originally posted in August 2015. Entry one of a six-part series.

Imagine for a moment how you would feel if you were in their shoes…

It was a phrase I heard many times as a kid. I remember vividly the birthday party that really helped me grasp this concept.

I don’t remember the year for sure, but I was probably in 4th or 5th grade and was invited to go to a birthday party. Now, I really liked birthday parties but the problem with this one was that the birthday girl hosting the party wasn’t popular. In fact, she was kind of annoying, a little overweight, and not someone I enjoyed spending time with. I didn’t want to go, and had a laundry list of other things I wanted to be doing with my time that day. (Shooting hoops, playing Tecmo Bowl, building a Lego fort… anything but going to that party!) My friend Brad and I didn’t want to go and had heard that others weren’t going either. However, through the persuasion of our parents and the “Imagine if you had a party and no one came…” speech, we decided to attend together to make it a bit easier. We showed up with our presents to realize that of the 20 “friends” who were invited, only two showed up—Brad and me. We played the games, ate the cake, and had a good time. I remember driving home in the car that day with a sinking feeling. What if no one had shown up? How devastating that would have been to her! I was so thankful we decided to go. No agenda I had for myself would have been greater than the opportunity to encourage her that day.

In a culture that focuses on “me first,” it is important to understand that God does not function in the same way. In fact, Jesus states in Matthew 6:33 that we are to seek first the kingdom of God, not our own wants, desires and feelings.  

As I have thought about the obstacles to Christians reaching out and loving the vulnerable, I have come to realize that for many (including myself) the biggest obstacle is not money, opportunity or even fear, but me. My time, my agenda, my desires, my choices…. “me first” is often what we prioritize as most important. Though it is often done on an unconscious level, the desire to fulfill our personal choices and desires often trumps our desire to see others served and encouraged. We are by nature selfish people and that selfishness is one obstacle that prevents us from receiving the joy that comes from loving others. Even more, the sad part is that the church seems no better than the world at refocusing our lives and prioritizing the needs and struggles of the vulnerable. [1]

The bottom line for Christ followers is this: it is critical for Christians to be involved with the poor because the poor help us overcome our “me-first” mentality.

So where does that “me-first” mentality come from?

Christians live in a world that tends to separate faith from the rest of life. Like two opposing buckets, we place all of our religious activities and feelings (church, Bible study, God talk) in one bucket and our life activities (work, entertainment, finances) in another. It’s called the sacred/secular divide. (For more on this concept read here.) What that dichotomy of thinking has done is not only to detach our faith from our “daily life,” but it has also forced us, in a subtle way, to redefine the nature of our faith as a whole. The sacred/secular divide has effectively narrowed our perspective on faith to a personal pursuit of God that focuses solely on personal morality and holiness. We in turn lose grip on the outward/others aspect of our relationship with Christ. Loving God and neighbor has become about personal morality, purity, knowledge and holiness and less about serving, sacrificing and placing others’ needs first.  And we have become content and OK with that!! Now it is absolutely critical that part of our faith involves personal holiness, but if that holiness doesn’t extend to loving God and loving others then is it really biblical faith at all?  (James 2:18)

Here’s where being involved with the poor and vulnerable comes in. When we interconnect our lives with those who are struggling and are vulnerable, our two personal worlds (the sacred and the secular) are forced to collide.  We are faced with issues of poverty that force questions of morality, justice, legislation and dependence on God. We confront the complexities of knowing when to give and when to withhold, what helps and what enables. It’s real-life issues meeting real-life faith. Our “sacred” life, by default, spills over into our “secular” life, meshing the two together as one. What happens when our Sunday morning understanding of God is sloshed out of its sacred bucket and thrust upon unemployment, hunger, loneliness, injustice and addiction? How will we reconcile the two? Our faith becomes about more than just personal holiness but also about serving, listening, caring, giving and sacrificing. In essence the dividing wall between the sacred and secular crumbles away and our faith becomes more than “me first.”

It seems simple to understand and yet we often struggle to connect the dots. What happens in our churches and during our Bible studies needs to translate to our lives in the office, at the field and on our street. As a former pastor of mine used to say, “Our walk with Christ is personal but not private!”

Being me-first people is not biblical… it’s cultural.

Giving up time, energy and resources to care for the least of these is not easy. It requires sacrifice and selflessness. However, there is a reason why I believe the Bible says the poor will always be with us (Deut. 15:11). One of the many reasons is not because God isn’t capable of eradicating all the sin in the world and eliminating poverty (that day is coming), but because I believe it’s through caring for the poor and vulnerable that God teaches us. He teaches us about selflessness, humility and thankfulness. He teaches us that life is bigger than us and that when we give it up for the sake of others we actually gain it ourselves. It’s in our loving that we learn the beauty of “doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but rather, in humility valuing others above ourselves. (Phil. 2:3) It’s when we look “not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4) that we slowly win the battle of overcoming the “me-first” mentality.

Let’s face it—we are selfish people. We love comfort, control and diversion from stress and busyness; but God calls His people to love, and that love means sometimes placing others’ needs in front of our own.

Church, if you are tired of the selfish “me-first” mentality of our culture, make a commitment to changing it. It’s not easy, but it is critical to being the people God desires for us to be.

By | 2017-04-04T05:30:45+00:00 April 4th, 2017|Categories: Learn and Apply|

About the Author:

John Warden is Reconciled World’s global staff pastor and the facilitator for 2:10. He holds a Masters of Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has more than fifteen years of ministry experience. He lives in Sioux Falls, SD with his wife and two daughters. You can contact him directly at johnw@reconciledworld.org.

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