Today’s post comes to us from my friend Nate Pruitt. Nate is consumed with the imagery of humankind participating in the dance of the Triune God restoring creation. He spends his days amazed by how his beautiful wife continues to be his greatest support, how his three kids have boundless energy, and how his faith community continually pushes him into a deeper love for God and humankind. Nate currently lives and ministers with a group of fellow misfits in Nashville, TN at Westwind Community of Faith. You can check out his blog here and follow him on Twitter at @N8overflows.
Sometimes those who claim to be followers of Christ can be so selfish!
Feeling defensive yet? Well, please, hear me out.
There are so many faithful, loving, giving followers of Christ- many with a true compassion for others. These wonderful individuals and communities do great things to benefit others. Some open their doors and the “neighbors” they love know they are always truly welcome. Others head into their neighborhoods and begin to touch lives as they see needs in beautifully poignant ways. These things are not uncommon. They look after the “least of these” and do so with a love that they honestly hope represents their love for Christ. And yet so many of them, or perhaps I should say us, refuse to actually live how Christ lived in regard to generosity.
If you’re treating this like an episode of CSI you’re probably already trying to figure out my motivation. After reading the last paragraph you might be led to believe that this is about how Christ gave so much and we don’t sacrifice near what he gave. That’s a pretty good guess. Unfortunately it’s not my point. While fewer in number there are plenty of individuals and communities that really are living sacrificially. Yet, after hundreds of conversations and thousands of hours around beautifully generous hearts, I’m starting to see something worse-
We’re selfish about receiving!
Or, rather, we try to deny the offers of grace from others.
A quick story: There was a tax collector, but not just any tax collector, a CHIEF tax collector. His name was Zacchaeus and to say he was a societal outcast would be understatement. No one wanted to be around Zacchaeus, but he wanted to see Jesus. So Zacchaeus climbs up in a tree to get a glimpse of the passing procession. However, Jesus called him down from the tree and let’s Zacchaeus know that he’ll be his host for the day.
Zacchaeus was thrilled!
Here’s another story: Jesus and his disciples are traveling in an area that the disciples don’t want to be in at all. While trekking through Samaria, where they don’t want to be, they get hungry. Jesus rests by a well while his disciples go to find some food. A woman comes to the well. She, like Zacchaeus, is an outcast. Jesus once again makes a request for generosity. He is thirsty and asks for water. Simply interacting with this woman is already a social faux pas. Jesus even reveals that he actually knows all about why she is an outcast.
Even though she understands that he has every reason to scorn her he is willing to let her provide blessing to him by giving him a drink of water.
This may not seem like a big deal to us, but I hope we’re starting to see the issue.
Perhaps one more story: Jesus is dining in a Pharisee’s house when a woman “who lived a sinful life” came in to see him. In case that doesn’t make sense- she was a prostitute. The Pharisee is taken aback and tries to discount Jesus’ ability as a prophet thinking he would surely know what this woman did, since any non-prophet could probably figure it out, and then Jesus reveals that he knows. In fact, not only does he know, but he’s grateful to receive what she offers!
“You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.”
“You did not give me a kiss… [but she] has not stopped kissing my feet.”
“You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.”
Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, and the woman “who lived a sinful life” all received great, life-changing things from Jesus, it’s true. But they were also privileged to give to Jesus because Jesus was a kind and gracious recipient!
This is what we’re often missing. We’re selfish, in our pride, and unwilling to receive. There’s a great damage in this and here are a couple reasons why:
First, it conveys that “the least” can remain the least, but that we are not like them!
Second, it fails to disciple others in the life of generosity. We can’t just model generosity without allowing others to practice.
While that primary issue is just ugly, it’s not uncommon. I can’t tell you how many wonderful generous Christian’s I get to talk to that are privately stressed beyond their capacity. They have substantial needs, but can’t seem to grasp that God may have put people around them to meet those needs. They bottle everything up inside, and then pour out generosity on others while lying to those they serve when asked if there’s anything they need. It’s not an ugly, malicious lie- rather it’s that common lie of how we’re “fine” when someone asks how we are or if we have a need. We tell the lie to maintain balance and comfort in society.
There are so many compassionate outreach programs, so many non-profits, and so many churches that look at the people they help during those times and tell this same lie. Then turn around to ask someone else for help. Or, even worse, shut down because they don’t see that there could be any help for them. Maybe it’s just part of our grand desire for independence.
Denying service when others offer with skill and true hearts often shows how much we reject God in our independent aspirations. Jesus accepted water at wells and meals in tax collector’s houses. We want to help adulteresses and thieves without letting them help us. When it comes to service often we want to teach with our lectures rather than our gratitude. This is not disciple-making. We want to be part of the faithful Jesus-heroes, a category we construed in our own minds. We help others, we don’t ask for help from others. We are not “the least.”
regardless of our finances,
or our faith- we are the least.
Jesus embraced being the least, that others may be honored! If we want to be like him we should, too!
When others get to serve us they are discipled in what it is to be servants. We can’t complain because few serve at our churches when we don’t graciously give them that space in our own lives! Where is the discipling in that?
Can someone serve you today?
Or when it comes to receiving are you still too selfish to be a servant of all?
Are you still too selfish to embrace, like Christ did, your moments of being “the least”?
- Nate Pruitt