If you could read my mind, and I am extraordinarily glad you can’t, it wouldn’t take long for you to notice that I think about myself…a lot. From trying to impress people, to obsessing over personal goals, I have a habit of operating as if life is all about me. And although peace and fulfillment is what I’m aiming for, disappointment unavoidably shows up, and I’m left feeling confused and lost when things don’t go my way.
If you’re a human being, I think you’d have to say that we all share this experience from one to degree to another. The human heart loves to be at the center of the universe, and our American culture especially embraces the idea of the self-made individual. We’re fixated on achieving the best jobs, the best romances, and the best homes for ourselves because we’re convinced that they will make us content and whole.
Even those of us who are Christians allow this worldview to permeate our theology. Maybe we wouldn’t outright say it, but we often function as if God is primarily a helper who exists to get us what we want, rather than a worthy King to be adored and served. Our charity and love towards other people sometimes happens only when it’s convenient for us, and we can rely on our faith just to make us feel secure while we go about our comfortable days trying to reach our own ends.
But, whether you’re a Christian or not, hardships come to all of us. No matter how much we try, there are failures, disappointments, anxieties, and longings. No matter how safe and successful we feel, there are broken relationships, financial setbacks, cancer, and depression. Since we work so hard at writing our own success stories, we have no idea what to even think when these storms inevitably hit. Suffering is everywhere, but when our lives revolve around our wellbeing, it doesn’t make sense. We view suffering as a mistake and do everything we can to avoid it at all costs.
The reality we all must face is that we cannot avoid this brokenness. Yes, there are joys and blessings in and around us that we should absolutely pursue and embrace. Yes, we should hate the suffering in our world and seek help for others and ourselves. But the sobering truth is that there will always be pain, grief, dissatisfaction, and misery before Christ’s return. Suffering exists because we live in a fallen world that is under God’s judgment. It is precisely because we all fight to make our lives about ourselves instead of God, that our human experience is twisted and stained with imperfection. If we functionally believe that the world exists for our benefit, we will default to live each day selfishly for our own advantage and will be mystified or horrified whenever pain and suffering enters the picture and prevents us from living how we’ve dreamed.
There was one man who lived an entirely differently way. Jesus Christ came to earth not to be served, but to serve. Not only did he enter into our world filled with suffering, but He chose to bear the full extent of God’s punishment against our arrogance. It was agony. He knew that the cross would be a hurt like none other, but since it was God’s will, he obeyed. Just hours before he was nailed to the cross he prayed “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus laid down his preferences and drank down the full cup of God’s wrath against sin so that anyone who’d believe and follow him would never have to taste its poison. Christ didn’t live for himself, but died to give glory to God by saving selfish sinners like you and me.
Although I hear these precious words of the gospel so often, I can become so cold to their power, and I imagine you can too. Take a moment to really consider the beauty of his sacrifice. The cross of Christ provides us deliverance from God’s judgment against all our selfish ways. The prophet Isaiah put it this way, “We have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the sins of us all.” Because Christ didn’t live for himself, but took on our sin, we can be forgiven for our own egotistical hearts. Because Christ rose from the dead, we can one day be delivered from the brokenness of this world. What an astonishing love!
Not only does the cross give us eternal salvation from the penalty of our selfishness, it also shows us what our lives are about today. Instead of spending my days anxiously and hopelessly consumed with building the best life for me, a life surrendered to Christ is infused with purpose as we participate together in his amazing story of restoration. Because of the cross, our hope is stored in heaven together. We can now spend our lives serving people, bringing love and hope to others, enduring disappointment when it stings, grieving yet growing in suffering when it comes, and finding the joy our souls were created for as we make much of God. It doesn’t happen overnight. But as we begin to be astounded and thrilled by the depth of Christ’s sacrificial love for us, and respond by giving up our selfish interests to our God, we will discover that He really is in control, He really does cares about us, and His glory really is worth our lives.
So no, as much as I may like to think otherwise, my life is not about me. And your life is not about you. But, because of Jesus Christ, that is such good news.
"For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
- Matthew 16:25