I visited a congregation today that reminded me that most of us are busy trying to live life backwards – just the opposite of how Jesus tells us to live life. This congregation is preaching a sermon series focused on 3 objectives: Reach Up; Reach In; Reach Out. Succinct and all worthy goals for followers of Jesus, but here’s the problem. Most of us are taught, and most Christian leaders I know, believe there is a sequence to these objectives: First we have to grow in our relationship with God (Reach Up). Next we have to grow as a disciple and experience real community with other believers (Reach In). Once those two things have happened, then we will be motivated and able to (Reach Out) to the lost and hurting.
Yet, for most of us, this never really happens. Why? Because we’ve got the sequence backwards! This approach leaves the focus on me, on my needs and on my neediness. I never get enough in my relationship with God. The more I get, the more I want. That’s true for spiritual nurture and fellowship. The more I am loved by others, the more I need love. So we never get to reaching out, because our own needs never get fulfilled (our expected starting point for caring for others).
Jesus teaches us to reverse the pattern. We’ve got the sequence backwards. Jesus teaches us, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:34-37)
This principle, which I have labeled the Paradox Principle, runs all through Jesus’ teaching and the New Testament Scriptures. If the focus of your walk with God is to meet your own needs, you will never discover the power of the Gospel – Jesus says you will end up missing out on life completely! How do you get your needs met, according to Jesus? By ignoring them and focusing on the needs of those who are worse off than you are. It’s a paradox – it’s exactly the opposite of what you’d expect to happen.
So here’s my suggestion. Start today and live your life backwards. Stop worrying about “me, me, and me – our three favorite topics. Look around you today and find one lost, needy hurting person. Reach out in friendship. Do for them what Jesus would do for them. Ask questions and listen. Show interest. Include them, ask their opinion, help them in some small practical way. If you begin to focus on caring for just one lost & hurting person, I guarantee it will revolutionize your life. The first thing you will experience is your own inadequacy at being Jesus With Skin On to another. This will drive you back to God. You will learn to pray & rely on the Holy Spirit. You will search the Scripture to learn more. You will seek out community and mentors to help you grow into the task of really learning how to love. You will know you can’t do this alone. (And while you give your life away to someone worse off than yourself, bada bing! you will gradually discover, not only are you helping someone, but somehow, your own needs are being met). Don’t ask me how, it’s a mystery. Ask Jesus. And start living life backwards today!