Death of Selfishness is the Pathway to Joy

In the early 1500’s a Polish astronomer named Nicolaus Copernicus discovered we are not at the center of the Universe. Up until this revelation, the widely accepted view was the earth was the center of the solar system, and everything orbited around it. What is now known as the Copernican Revolution was the groundbreaking realization that the sun is actually the center and everything, including us, revolve around it (Encyclopedia Britannica). This discovery changed our world forever. We had a new center.

When Jesus saves us, He begins doing a similar work in our hearts. I used to be at the center of my own universe and I expected everyone to revolve around me, including God. My opinion is what mattered. Everyone and everything was created to meet my needs and serve me. This is the mindset of most people, especially addicts. The truth is, God does not revolve around us like some sort of deified butler; we revolve around Him. People are not here to meet our needs; we’re here to serve them and point them to the real Center. I am not the crown jewel of the Universe; God is.

When this miracle happens, everything begins to shift and we reap the benefits. Our joy is multiplied when Jesus takes His rightful seat at the center of our universe. John Ortberg observed, “An addict is the supreme example of trying to satisfy the soul with all the wrong things. The more it's fed, the more it craves... We were wired for ecstasy. Not the drug, but pure ecstatic joy. Our ceaseless craving for more, though it can kill us when unredeemed, may be a hint of the joy that we were made for when the soul finds its center in God. The paradox of soul satisfaction is this: When I die to myself, my soul comes alive” (Soul Keeping, page 167). 

SELFISHNESS VS. SELFLESSNESS

Self-centeredness is the antithesis of joy in God. When we are consumed with ourselves, we’re miserable, but when we die to ourselves and God becomes our new center, we come alive. Jesus said this in many different ways. 

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:24-25

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26

Rather than expecting people to serve us, we are called to give up our lives for the good of others. Rather than being served and miserable, we’re called to serve others out of an overflow of joy in God. Paul points to Jesus as the ultimate example: 

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:3-8

The antidote to a miserable, selfish life is selflessness that flows from a heart that has been transformed by the Gospel. The most satisfying life is one lived for the glory of God and the good of others. Jesus laid down his life, “for the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2), and we are called to do the same. 

Early in my freedom journey, a young homeless man with mental health issues and alcoholism came into my life. He was fairly annoying and most everyone had written him off after countless vain attempts to help. His social skills felt like nails on a chalkboard. I believe God sent him to teach me this vivifying concept. 

I spent countless hours with him, hearing about his past and sharing how he could know God and break free from his alcoholism. There were many times when I was dreading spending time with him, but afterwards I was filled with such a pure joy that I sat in solitude hoping not scare it away. The love of God was more real in those moments than nearly any other time in my life. 

I’ve since become addicted to the joy serving people brings to my soul. There are times I feel like it and many when I don’t, but I do it anyway, knowing the sweet joy waiting on the other side of selfless service. Jesus encouraged this, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Serving people who aren’t able to return the favor is equivalent to serving Jesus. When we get out of ourselves by serving others we align ourselves with Jesus and feel His rich presence. This is the essence of love.