Episode 1. A Complete Turnaround
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We all want to be blessed. Sure we do – problem is, sometimes we have a bad sense of direction We expect all the blessing to flow in one direction – inwards, to us. Hmm. That’s not how it …
We all want to be blessed. Sure we do – problem is, sometimes we have a bad sense of direction We expect all the blessing to flow in one direction – inwards, to us. Hmm. That’s not how it works.
Asset or Liability
The other day on twitter, I picked up this quote from Dr Tayo Adeyemi in the UK (not sure if I’ve pronounced his surname correctly there) anyhow this quote really caught my eye. This is what he said:
You are either a blessing or a burden; an asset or a liability; a problem solver or a problem. Your choice!
I started going through all the people I know, people I’ve worked with, friends, colleagues and you know something, it was really easy to categorise them either on one side of that ledger or the other. Let’s stick with the accounting metaphor. They’re either an Asset or Liability? Hmm … I’m imagining that if you went through the same exercise, you’d find exactly the same thing.
Of course, nobody is a complete liability, nor is anyone perfect. I mean, none of us are. We all contribute to some extent, and we all drain to some extent as well. That’s because firstly, none of us is perfect and secondly, we’re all good at different things. But even taking all those things into consideration, on balance, weighing all their pros and cons – some people overall are an asset, others are liability. Some are a blessing, others are a burden. Some are problem solvers, and some are, plain and simple, part of the problem!
So then … then I began to imagine a world in which more of us become assets than liabilities. In which more of us become more of a blessing than a burden. Just imagine how different this world would be if that started to happen. You and I aren’t necessarily in a position to change the world. We can’t change every one of the 7-point-something billion people on the planet. Hey, we can’t even change our wives or our husbands or our children.
But there is one person we can change. Ourselves. You can change you. I can change me. I wonder if you consider yourself for a moment, on balance – are you a blessing or a burden? An asset or a liability? A problem solver … or a problem?
We have to be kind of careful in answering that question. Because if the truth be known, we’re a lot more generous in judging ourselves, than we are in judging other people. We’re pretty good at rationalising our weaknesses, our failures and our blind spots. We trivialise them. We sweep the under the carpet. So if I asked those close to you – your family members, your work colleagues – whether you are on this side of the ledger or that, how would they answer?
The Apostle Paul was sitting on death row in a Roman dungeon when he wrote a letter to his friends in a place called Philippi. This is one of the things he said to them. Philippians Chapter 2 verses 3 and 4:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
This is an encouragement, to be a blessing instead of a burden. If we’re expecting everybody to do things for us, to look out for our interests, to meet our needs, and yet we don’t do the same for them – because all we care about is our interests and not them … well, you know what you call that, that’s being a hypocrite. This thing – call it what you will, selfishness, self–centeredness, whatever – there’s some of that in each one of us. See how Paul starts out, he says to his friends, and to you and me – do nothing, nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.
Imagine a sea, a land locked sea like the Dead Sea for instance, where all the rivers flow in, but none of them flow out. That’s exactly what happens with the Dead Sea. The only way the water gets out is through evaporation by the heat of the sun. And the reason it’s called the Dead Sea is because there’s so much salt in it because all the water flows in and never out, that nothing, not a single organism pretty much – can live in its water. It’s a Dead Sea. Our selfishness is like the Dead Sea. We want everything to flow inward towards us, we want others to be a blessing to us, we want circumstances to favour us, we want, we want, we want … It’s all about the direction of the flow of the blessing.
Many a man’s life, many a woman’s life, writes a man S.D Gordon a few hundred years ago, is like the circumference of that Dead Sea. When everything flows inwards … it becomes dead. And by experience you and I know that that’s true. Hey, I’m someone who spent the first half of his life trying to live that way and I wondered why nothing could ever satisfy me and why I was never truly happy and contented. The Apostle Paul addresses both sides of this equation in that short passage we just read.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but instead … look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
In other words, stop living your life trying to be blessed all the time, and start blessing others. Turn the direction of the flow from inwards, to outwards. Just think about the mentality we have about blessing. Everything flows into me and then I spend the blessing, a bit like the water evaporating out of the Dead Sea. And then what’s left is this muck and this salt in which nothing can live.
It’s the same when we want blessing to flow inwards to us and we spend that blessing, we do whatever we think we should do with it and what’s left is this empty dead feeling because that thing that we spent money on, that holiday, whatever it was, just didn’t satisfy us. That’s why S.D. Gordon said, “Many a man’s life and many a women’s life is like the circumference of that Dead Sea.”
Now, as evidence of the fact that what Paul is saying here of looking not to your own interest but to the interest of others actually works, he goes on with the prime example, the most obvious example of all. He goes on in the very next breath to site what Jesus did. I’m reading from the message translation here (Philippians 2:5–11):
Think of yourselves the way Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honoured him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honour of God the Father.
In other words, the answer is in being a blessing instead of a burden, an asset instead of being a liability, a problem solver, instead of being a problem. It’s about a complete, fundamental, 180-degree change in direction from having blessing flowing inward, to, like Jesus, letting the blessing flow outward through us no matter what it may cost us. There’s a lot in that, so we’re going to spend some more time after the break chatting about that very thing. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with that quote again, for you to ponder:
You are either a blessing or a burden; an asset or a liability; a problem solver or a problem. Your choice!
A Change of Direction
It turns out that the direction that we’re travelling in really matters. The first time I used a satellite navigation system in a car was one dark, wet and stormy night when I had to drive from London up into the midlands in the UK. It’s about a 3-hour drive, give or take. I had absolutely no idea how to get there. But the friendly woman at the hire car place at Heathrow Airport punched my destination address into the Satnav unit in the car. She told me how to use it and off I went. Now the British are pretty clever in this regard. They have rather long postcodes, which define not only the town, but also the street and street number. So all she had to do was to punch the number into the satnav and hey, presto, I was on my way. Great stuff!
But about an hour and a half into the trip I started to get really worried. What if she’d punched in just one wrong number? It’s the first time I’d driven in England – it was dark, it was wet – I had really no sense of direction, I really didn’t know where I was headed. I was relying completely on this satellite navigation. This clever, efficient little unit could well be taking me to a completely different part of the country if the women had punched in the wrong number. I remember when that thought hit me – I had a bit of a panic attack thinking, “what if I end up in completely the opposite side of the country?” So I pulled over, stopped, checked and yep, fortunately that woman at the car hire place had indeed punched the right numbers into the Satnav.
When you think about it, we make the choices we make in life, we head in the direction that we head in life, based rather a lot on the way in which we’re programmed to function.
Our parents, our teachers, our experiences, our own selfishness, capitalism, desires … all those things somehow, little by little, imperceptibly end up putting us on a certain road heading in a certain direction. And when we come to an intersection in life, a roundabout, a fork in the road – we choose, based on … what? Turns out we’re a bit like that clever little satnav unit in my car, we choose based on how we’ve been programmed over the course of our lives thus far.
So … what if we’ve been programmed incorrectly and what if we’re heading in the wrong direction? Have you ever thought about that? Well – there’s a very obvious consequence if you are heading in the wrong direction. If you’re heading in the wrong direction in your life, you aren’t going to arrive at the place that you were expecting to arrive at, that you were hoping to arrive at, that you were wanting to arrive at.
This week on the program we’re asking the question – each one of us – am I a blessing or a burden, am I an asset or a liability, am I a problem solver … or a problem? And a lot of it has to do with the direction that we’re headed in.
Not just a slight shift for most of us, but a profound, radical 180-degree change in direction. Whatever you may think of Him, this man Jesus a couple of thousand years ago said some really profound things. One of them was this:
It is more blessed to give than to receive.
Just a few small words, but in them is the power to make that 180-degree shift. And that is not an easy one to make. We all know that turning a big ship around from heading north to heading south, isn’t something you do in a few hundred yards or metres. If a big ship is powering ahead heading north, it can take miles for it to slow down, turn around and head south. Our lives are like that – because this idea that all the blessing flows inwards and then we’ll be happy is so seductive and powerful.
It’s been programmed into us, much like that address was on the satnav. The problem with this direction – the idea that blessings flow inwards – is that it doesn’t get us to where we want to be. We get to the destination and the sense of happiness and contentment and fulfilment that we were expecting by making ourselves the centre of the universe – just isn’t there.
I know that because I spent a lot of my life heading in that direction. And chances are that you know too, because you’ve tried it as well and it hasn’t worked. We want it to work, we really, really do, but wanting isn’t enough. Because it is a fundamental law of the universe that when we spend all our effort, time, money and talents trying to make ourselves happy, then we will never be happy.
It is more blessed to give than to receive.
In other words when we change the direction of the flow of blessing from inward to outward, that’s when we experience the happiness and contentment that we’ve been looking for. Any parent who has struggled and sacrificed to bring up children can tell you that. There is nothing more satisfying than when we’re able to use who we are and what we have to leave a lasting mark of love and encouragement and achievement on the heart of another. Blessing is awesome. If it flows out of us, we are indeed a blessing. If we want it always to flow into us – then we’re going to be a burden.
The Bible is replete with Scriptures that speak about this very thing. Yet scores of people are being robbed of the sheer delight and joy that comes when we bless others, because someone’s punched the wrong destination into them. 1 Peter 4:10:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’.
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
That’s just a few of those Scriptures – there are lots more. And not because God wants to put us into servitude or slavery somehow, because He knows how we function – after all He made us this way and He wants to set us free. Freedom is when we use who we are and what we have to love others by serving them … and in doing that we discover that as all this blessing flows out of us from God and outwards to others … our heart light up with the joy that all along we’d been looking for. Hallelujah! Jesus was right – it really is more blessed to give than to receive. How come we didn’t think of that?
The Person Comes First
Have you ever woken up with that intention in your heart? Jumped out of bed to bless that really annoying person in your life? No – I didn’t think so. And what that tells us about ourselves, because most of us are like that, is that we’re far more concerned about ourselves than the other person. You may think that’s a little unfair. I mean after all this person drives you crazy. Most days it seems that they don’t have a single, redeeming feature. Why on earth would you want to bless them?
That’s our natural response. But emotion aside, if we choose to bless or not bless a person, based on their impact on us, then quite clearly we are more concerned about how their actions affect us, than we are about how we could help them. We’re putting ourselves first, and them last. Perhaps to protect ourselves, or maybe to punish them … but whatever the reason, the choice to withhold blessing from a person who annoys or hurts us is based on us, and not them.
We tend to judge people by how they look, how the speak, how they … smell frankly, what their status in society is, what they earn, where they live, what they drive, how they speak, how they act. We judge people based on our prejudices and their outward appearance. Put it that way and it’s a bit scary. I’m trying to imagine here for a moment, if my parents had judged me that way when I was growing up and being a difficult teenager, I’d have been in a lot of trouble. Looking back on it with the wisdom that comes with years, I must have been a difficult teenage. I was a tough nut. Strong. Smart. Quick. And very, very self-centred.
And to be sure my mother and father did get annoyed with me from time to time and angry with me from time to time and sometimes they had to punish me. That’s the way it ought to be. But overall, they didn’t stop blessing me. They didn’t stop loving me. They didn’t stop wanting the best for me.
Now if we know this as parents – why don’t we know it as wives and husbands. Why don’t we know it as brothers and sisters? Why don’t we know it as work colleagues and friends? Hmm? I’ll tell you why? Because somehow along the way we’ve been programmed to look after number one – ourselves. I’ll look after me; you’ll look after you. Come on – it’s true isn’t it? So let’s get back to our natural response in dealing with those difficult people in our lives. And let me ask you, how well is it actually working?
When you look at the conflict in your life, the conflict in families, neighbourhoods, suburbs, towns, villages, cities, between countries; when we look at the almost 50 wars raging around the planet today. When we look at how the poor and marginalised are faring. How well is our current approach working? You’d have to conclude – by any measure – not very well at all.
I wonder if there is a different way, a different plan – something totally different that we can try – in order to be a blessing rather than a burden, to be a problem solver rather than the problem.
You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, ‘Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you’.
I’m not a great student of history – but there’s one leader in my lifetime, one man who exemplifies this thing that Jesus is talking about. Nelson Mandela. A man who as the leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa spent 27 years in prison. And when he was released, instead of leading a violent purge of retribution against his former jailers and oppressors, Mandela presided over a period of healing and reconciliation in his country. Of course, South Africa has a long way to go – but if anyone can be said to have turned the other cheek, it would be Nelson Mandela.
My point is that his life bears testament to the truth of what Jesus is saying about turning the other cheek, going the extra mile. At the end of the day – love, service, sacrifice – these are the things that change the difficult people around us. They’re the only things that can change the difficult people around us.
The thing I’ve noticed about turning the other cheek, is that it rather hurts sometimes. Jesus wasn’t just talking figuratively there – he was talking about practical real things that happen. If someone hit me on one check, I’d want to punch their lights out, not turn the other one. If someone sued me for my coat, the last thing I’d want to do is to offer them my cloak as well.
So, why is Jesus telling us this stuff? Why is He coming at us with this totally counterintuitive, totally against-the-grain approach to dealing with the people who drive us nuts?
Here’s why – because it’s the only way you’ll ever change them. When we respond to someone in love, with practical love – love that serves them, love that accepts them, love that affirms them – when they know that they don’t deserve the love that we’re giving, when we do that to them time and time again, it’s going to have an impact on them. Eventually, they’re going to ask the question – hang on a minute, why is this person treating me the way they are. Why are they giving me what I don’t deserve?
How can they have that sort of strength? And the answer we’re going to be able to share with them then is – “well, I had a listen to what that Jesus guy said. And it’s hard some days. But it makes sense.”
Love is the only thing that will change the world. And when we love people who don’t deserve it, you know what we’re telling them? We’re saying you are more important to me than how you behave. You are more important to me than the hurt that you cause me. You are more important to me.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that there is any more powerful way of reaching a person, of communicating with them, than with practical love which they simply don’t deserve. That sort of love has a way of getting through to even the hardest heart. It’s about showing mercy and giving grace.
When you think about it, mercy is withholding from a person the thing that they do deserve, the punishment. And grace is giving them the love that they don’t deserve. And it turns out – this stuff really works.
My friend, I want to encourage you to look at the difficult people in your life, the people who are hurting you, the people who are causing you angst, and go and love those people. Maybe there’s just one of them. Go and love that one person with the same love with which Jesus loves you.