Cultivating a Selfless Spirit
“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” – Phil. 2:4 (NKJV)
As the crisp air turns into chilly air, the pumpkins that decorated our porches are brought inside to convert into pie. We hustle with preparations to gather with friends and family for delicious meals and delightful fellowship. The times of our beloved traditions are upon us, for November marks the beginning of the holiday season.
For generations, this segment of the year has brought great joy and gladness from celebration, even amid God’s shift of season. It gives us a reminder that solace is possible during solemnity, and that joy is stronger than nature’s dreariness. There is, however, a temptation to lose the full potential of blessing to be had in the months ahead.
Because of the materialism and self-centeredness that permeates our culture, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year can easily feed our fleshly appetite to please “me”! The food, the gifts, the celebration, can all become a means to please oneself. What better time of year is there to assess one’s own heart and to cultivate a Christlike, selfless spirit in preparation for the Holiday celebrations? Here are some ways that we all can ask the Holy Spirit to cultivate in us a selfless spirit, especially considering the upcoming holidays.
- Be a “giver” more than a “getter”
When we walk according to the flesh, our overall purpose in life is to “get”. Our ambitions and goals in life are the things that we can get, the titles we can get, the recognition we can get, the pleasures we can get, the affirmation we can get.
We reason with ourselves, “Oh, I get to do this!” or, “Oh, I get to have that!” We approach our schedules thinking of what we will get out of the appointments. We come to church to get a blessing. We meet with friends and family to get a good time of laughter.
To be sure, “getting” is a natural, necessary part of life. There are things we need to get, without which, we couldn’t possibly live a fulfilling life in Christ. God has blessings for us to get, provision for us to get, and people for us to get to know.
However, the flesh will gladly take these provisions and use them for the purpose of solely pleasing oneself.
Our Lord Jesus Christ came to show us that the nature of God is to be focused on what we can give, more than what we can get, for our God is a giving God:
“The Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” – Psalm 84:11 (NKJV)
Jesus Christ Himself is a living example of God’s desire to give.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16 (NKJV)
When we ask the Holy Spirit to cultivate a giving spirit in us, the focus on what we can get out of a situation diminishes. Instead, our hearts beat with intentions to give to others and to think about how others may benefit from our interactions.
This is so much deeper than just giving money and material gifts. For example, when you consider an upcoming family or friend gathering, a “getter” would be more concerned about how he personally will benefit from the gathering. A “giver”, however, focuses on how he could bless those around him. A “getter” will think about the ways that he could have his own spirit refreshed in the Lord through his time with friends. A “giver”, however, will think about the ways that he could encourage his friends in the Lord. A “getter” will think about the ways that he could have his needs met by his peers. A “giver”, however, will think about the ways that he could meet the needs of his peers.
Again, getting something is not a bad thing. And pursuing a relationship in order to receive something is not automatically selfish. We simply need to cultivate the selfless spirit, such that if we do get something in the interaction, the getting is for the purpose of giving.
We get so that we can give, rather than give so we can get.
Thinking this through, we cannot give unless we have something we got which can be transferred to another. But a “getter” will gladly receive those things that others impart to him, and use them to feed his own mind, body, and soul. A “giver”, on the other hand, will take it one step further and think about the ways such benefits could transfer to others.
- Be a “listener” more than a “lecturer”
We love to talk about ourselves.
It is no wonder because, aside from the Lord, who occupies our time, energy, and resources more? Ourselves! Who do we know most about? Ourselves! Who are we most used to being around? Ourselves!
So, it is easy to focus on ourselves in conversation. It takes effort to transfer the focus of oneself to another in the middle of a conversation. The Bible knows this all too well:
“My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” – James 1:19 (HCSB)
I remember being at an evangelism seminar in our church back in Rhode Island. The leader was a big-black-Gospel-preachin’ evangelist with a vibrant, bold personality. During a period of discussion, a reserved, older woman asked him how she should handle a kind of situation where the person she is interacting with keeps talking and doesn’t give an opportunity for her to give any input. I’ll never forget his answer.
With great restraint, he calmly looked down in front of him and meekly responded, “Well, I would simply ask the person…”
And then, as a flame of fire bursts forth from a rocket ship, Larry, with a bellow in his belly and a gunshot in his glance, looked straight up saying,
“Is this a conversation, or is this a lecture?!!!”
Now, it may not be wise to say that to someone, as it might be rather offensive. However, it is worth asking the question, are we lecturing to others, or are we conversing?
A “lecturer” focuses on talking about himself – his happenings, his accomplishments, his possessions, his thoughts, his aspirations. A “lecturer” feels like the conversation in more one way – himself speaking to another. A “listener”, however, sees a conversation more as a two-way street. A “listener” wants to learn about the other person’s interests and happenings.
Granted, a person must share information about himself if the other person is interested. But we are benefactors of the interaction when the overall focus rests on the person you are speaking to.
This seems difficult when you consider a situation like counseling. When I sit down with someone to offer counseling, I want them to talk about themselves. But this is different than a one-way-street conversation. I let the person share their heart and then I seek to offer biblical, Spirit-led advice – and we both are blessed in the process.
Therefore, if you are sharing your thoughts and beliefs and ideas to another, it is because you sense that they are both benefited from hearing you and interested in understanding more about you. Also, they want to know how they can serve you.
- Be a “builder” more than a “breaker”
When we meet together, whether in our homes, God’s house, or any other context; the motive of our conversation and interaction is to build one another up according to their needs:
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (HCSB)
We are a temple of the Holy Spirit, a structure where the shekinah glory of God can shine.
“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:5 (NKJV)
Consequently, when our motives are purified by yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit, we see our interactions more as opportunities to build other people up, rather than opportunities to break other people down.
I have been blessed to build many structures in the past five years, working as a part-time carpenter. One thing I’ve learned is that most of the job should be about building, not breaking.
There was one home addition our company was doing where I was given the task to frame the interior doorways. Well, I ended up either reading my tape measure wrong, or doing some other careless thing. Later, when I was installing the doors, one doorway was framed too small, and I couldn’t fit the door inside. I then had to take a Sawzall, and rip-cut down the two-by-four to widen the doorway, often stopping to hack away with a hammer the splintered pieces that were falling off.
It wasn’t easy, nor enjoyable.
Our relationships are the same. We have a selfless spirit when we yield to the Holy Spirit in becoming builders more than breakers.
A “breaker” wants to tear others down around them, whereas a “builder” sees the relationship as a structure where effort is given to build up the person according to their need. A “builder” has the motive to see another grow in their faith, even if it hurts.
Sometimes a “breaker” uses criticism, sometimes a “breaker” uses flattery – whatever works to see that another is brought down. For example, if a brother or sister is cultivating a bad habit, a “breaker” might flatter them in order to see them continue in their habit. Or, if a brother or sister is growing in an area of obedience, a “breaker” might try to find fault.
A “builder” however will exhort, even rebuke, that brother or sister who is cultivating an ungodly behavior – why? – for the purpose of seeing them grow! And a “builder” will further encourage the brother or sister who is gaining victory in areas of obedience.
We have the sword of the Spirit to cut away at those things which cultivate evil within a relationship. This is good and healthy.
This was the heart of Paul toward the church in Rome:
“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established.” – Romans 1:11 (NKJV)
The best Example
We often see the “ideal” selfless spirit as impossible given our tendency to be so self-focused. There is, however, the promise that the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ can turn our eyes off ourselves and on to others. The more we focus on Christ and yield to His Spirit, the more the selfless Spirit of Christ will reign through us and pour into others. He is our greatest example, and He is our source of strength.
“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” – 1 John 3:16 (NKJV)
Jesus Christ is the embodiment of selflessness. This holiday season, let us celebrate the wonderful opportunity God has given us to live out the selfless life of Christ to others.
For His Church,
– Pastor Alex