This week, we’re exploring our fifth and final spiritual enemy, self-absorption.
Self absorption: being preoccupied with our thoughts, feelings, desires, and concerns above all else.
And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
- John 12:23-33
Jesus uses the analogy of a seed to unpack a reality about how life works: A seed’s purpose is to produce fruit, but in order to accomplish this purpose, the seed has to die.
Seeds can self-protect, but this requires them to stay on a shelf, hidden and alone. If the seed remains alone, never producing fruit, is not and can not fulfill its intended purpose. Seeds are to be planted and spent. This is what Jesus is about to do by sacrificing Himself on the cross (John 12:32-33). He is about to die, and in doing so, He will produce much fruit. His death will birth much new life.
In verse 25, Jesus expounds on the seed analogy when He says, “whoever loves his life will lose it, and whoever hates his life will keep it.” This is a warning against self-absorption. In focusing all our attention, time, energy, money on ourselves and our lives, we will lose our lives. We end up like a seed that stays on the shelf. And in doing so, we lose the purpose of our lives.
This hits right at the heart of what sin does to us. St. Augustine first used the Latin phrase, “incurvatus in se” to describe sin. It means curved inward on oneself. Sin causes us to bend inward and use physical and even spiritual goods for our own purposes. Sin even blinds us to the fact that we are bent inward and away from God.
And this inward, self-absorbed bent is what we observe when children throw tantrums. The tantrum is their form of protesting the fact that the universe isn’t about them. “I do not like that the universe is not custom-built to my specifications and preferences!”
Just because we grow up doesn't mean we accept the reality that life is not about us. Much of our frustration in life is caused by this. The more we operate as though the world is supposed to be built around us, the more we are going against the grain of how the world actually works. You will be perpetually frustrated with your job, annoyed with your spouse, disappointed by your friends and infuriated by your children if you believe that they all exist for you.
But the truth is: It’s not about you. Life is about God (John 12:28). Your work, marriage, kids, and friendships are not about you. They are about God. They exist to bring God glory. Other people don’t exist to serve you. Your job does not exist to serve you. Your LifeGroup does not exist to serve you. Your LifeGroup leader does not exist to serve you. God does not exist to serve you.
And in all of this, Jesus is actually fighting for our joy (John 15:11). Just like a seed that has to die, we can only find our life’s true purpose by dying. In refusing the temptation to be preoccupied with our own preferences and instead choosing to give ourselves away for God and others, we wind up being with Jesus (John 12:26).
Jesus is the greatest picture of the seed analogy: He gave Himself away for us. He died and was planted in the ground. And bursting forth from the ground He has brought an entire harvest of new life and fruit.
We believe the lie that we need to look out for ourselves. But the truth is, God has promised to look out for us (John 12:26). We have what we need in Christ. He is sufficient. We are free to spend our lives on the glory of God and the good of others. And when we do so, we can allow ourselves to be spent, bothered, and inconvenienced for other people.
So, this week in our Personal Liturgy challenge, we are fighting self-absorption by praying for another person in our lives for 10 minutes. Let’s use this challenge to shift the focus off ourselves and serve others instead.