We all want to live in our own private universe, but there’s only one problem: people. There are other people besides us in our universe. And they don’t necessarily want what we want. There are people who disappoint us, bother us and irritate us.
In fact, I’m sure that most of us could draw up a short list of people who we all would agree are irritating. But here is something to consider: Did you ever stop and think that you are an irritating person in someone else’s life? Quite possibly you could be – and to more people than you realize.
The Bible teaches that one of the keys to living a joyful life is found in the way that we think. So here’s a new paradigm for you: True fulfillment does not come from putting our needs first but from putting the needs of others first. It’s called upside down living. The way to self-fulfillment is thinking of others first.
And there’s something else: The way to happiness is sadness. Why? Because there can be “happiness” that is twisted and wrong. For example, if you rejoice at the misfortune of another person, that is self-absorbed and selfish. It’s the wrong kind of happiness.
I am not saying we should be gloomy all the time. But I am saying there are some things we shouldn’t be happy about.
In fact, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4 NKJV). In the original language, the word blessed means “happy.” So to paraphrase, “Happy are the sad.” How so? It’s being sad over our sinfulness, sad in the recognition that we all have been, and continue to be, selfish people.
So what are we to do? Here’s what the apostle Paul says: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:3–4 NLT).
It is worth noting that Paul brings up selfishness first. Think about it: Most of the quarrels and conflicts we have in life occur because we’re either being threatened, challenged, or ignored. It is all about us. And, by the way, that is pre-wired in us from the earliest days.
James tells us, “Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves” (James 4:1–2 MSG).
How true is that? We want our own way. That is what we all desire. The conventional wisdom of today says that if you want to succeed in life, you need to do whatever it takes, even if it means lying or conniving or manipulating. Whatever you need to do to get ahead is OK, we’re told, because that is how the world works.
One of the most self-absorbed generations that has probably ever lived is the baby boomer generation, of which I am a member. And now some experts say the children of baby boomers may be even more selfish than we are.
Think of all of the cultures and philosophies of the world that have focused on self. Greece said, “Be wise. Know yourself.”
Rome said, “Be strong. Discipline yourselves.”
Epicureanism says, “Be sensuous. Enjoy yourself.”
Materialism says, “Be possessive. Please yourself.”
Humanism says, “Be capable. Believe in yourself.”
But Jesus Christ is saying, “Be unselfish. Humble yourself.”
Maybe you’re thinking, “Humble myself? If I do that, people will walk all over me. That’s no way to get ahead in life. That’s no way to succeed.”
The reality is that it takes more strength to be humble than it takes to be proud. It is not difficult to be proud, but it is difficult to submit to someone. It is not difficult to lose your temper, but it is difficult to control it.
Paul also said, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” There’s a difference between pretending that others are more important and actually believing it. That doesn’t come naturally to any of us.
Maybe the best way to approach this challenging truth is to consider our own sin. We all know who we are in our heart of hearts. We know what we are capable of thinking and feeling. The Bible says, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT).
Are you shocked sometimes by the kind of thoughts that can run through your mind, the kind of things you realize you’re potentially capable of doing? If so, then how can you be so hard on someone else?
The great evangelist D. L. Moody said, “I have had more battles with D.L. Moody than with any other man who ever crossed my path.”
If, like Moody, we know our own shortcomings, then how can we not think of others more highly?
If you wait to feel love for people, you will never do anything. If you wait to feel forgiveness in your heart, you won’t feel it. And if you wait to put that relationship back together, it will never get put back together.
Maybe you’ve been unwilling to break that impasse you’ve arrived at in a relationship and to say, “I’m sorry. Let’s talk.” Only God can give you the strength to do this. And you will be amazed at what God can do.
When you have a firm purpose of knowing and glorifying God, then personal satisfaction, fulfillment and, yes, even happiness, will come as a result.