What's In It For Me?
It is generally viewed as being quite selfish to come to the Christian life with an attitude of “what's in it for me”. This is sometimes met with quick reprimands using Jesus' admonitions about getting focused on what God wants or serving other people's needs and other such things designed to induce a sense of shame and guilt for ever slipping into such a base way of thinking.
But as I think about it this morning I am not so sure that God may not have designed us to operate from this motive at least to some degree. As I contemplate many of the teachings of Jesus there seems to be a common thread of making offers to us to offset whatever it is God is asking us to give up in order to enjoy them. Even the example of Jesus Himself in going to the cross seems clearly to involve a desire to secure what was in it for Him as a means of bolstering His heart to endure that horrendous experience. ...Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
And what about the whole issue of rewards promised to those who are overcomers? It cannot be discounted that God does offer rewards for certain things, even though that concept has been seriously misrepresented and abused by Christian leaders throughout the ages. There really are benefits for living a healthful lifestyle, for treating others with respect and love, for obeying God and all sorts of other things. Sin offers quite a few rewards of its own in order to induce us to indulge in its pleasures but in the end it all results in the final wages of death. But that is almost never obvious at the beginning of that path.
But the real issue I want to ponder is whether the fundamental idea of making decisions from the basic motive of benefiting myself is tainted with too much selfishness or whether it might be something that is legitimate and is part of God's original design for humanity. Is it really wrong to use a cost/benefit analysis as one means of deciding what direction we want to go, or are we supposed to eventually become completely weaned away from all such thinking and only act strictly on principle? But even that, when analyzed more closely is still based on what is in it for me. For even people who claim that we should act only from altruistic motives at root are still choosing that principle because they believe in the end it is going to be the best way to produce a better outcome for themselves.
So what I am seeing here is a somewhat confusing conflict between living from motives of self-preservation that underlies many of the desires that cause us to sin, and this seemingly inherent principle of making long-term choices that will result in finally bringing about the very same thing – my eternal existence, preservation and happiness. It is starting to appear that maybe the real problem is not so much rooted in our desires to stay alive and avoid pain and death but is in the path that we choose to arrive there. What way will I choose to get there from here?
This is where Satan has so confused and distorted things that it has become nearly impossible to sort it all out. Many things that God warns us to avoid seem to be along the lines of self-preservation, and yet at the same time He offers us incentives that appear to appeal to the very same part of our thinking. That is what is leading me to believe that maybe it is not our fundamental desire to stay alive that is our problem but is our desire to do it apart from total dependence on the only Source that can keep us alive.
This may seem like a non-issue for many people and maybe it is. But for me this has been a point of confusion that has been perpetuated by insinuations and assertions in religion from all of my life. It also can be mistakenly assumed from an improper evaluation of some of Jesus' statements if not viewed in context of everything else God has revealed.
Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. (Luke 17:33) If this is read isolated from everything else it might be construed to mean that we should quit caring about staying alive at all. It could even become a motivation for suicide if taken literally by an immature mind or a literalistic reading. And yet it seems to me that the effect of this kind of logic actually pervades much of our thinking without really being challenged seriously.
What God seems to be saying as far as I can see so far is that I must let go of my own methods and formulas for keeping alive or planning for my future if I am ever going to be capable of embracing His ways and plans for accomplishing the very same thing for me. As long as I think I know better than God, or maybe think that I know what God is thinking without really letting Him speak for Himself, then I block my own ability to hear His counsel and warnings and directions for me properly and my own carefully laid plans will not accomplish what I thought they would do.
No matter how many Bible texts I can arrange to prove my opinions about how to preserve my life both here and for eternity, I must be open to listening to the frequent corrections and insights and promptings of His Spirit that may at times require the dismantlement of long-held beliefs that I thought would never be questioned. I must be willing to allow all of my opinions, beliefs, doctrines and everything else to be constantly accessible to the updates and revisions that the Spirit is sent to provide for those who are honest of heart. The nature of deception is so subtle that many will firmly believe they know and follow the truth when in fact they are clinging to what was true for them some time back but is in serious need of updating if they had just been willing to receive it.
We cannot afford to be using an outdated operating system in our minds and hearts when God wants us to be constantly willing to receive constant updates and new revisions of what is needed as things change. Truth is not static. And while we claim to believe that, our actions and thinking and prejudices betray that we feel otherwise.
So I can see that I may need this part of my fundamental assumptions revised as God shows me how my thinking on this has been based on opinions and insinuations by religious people instead of on revelations from Him and His Word. I am starting to see that maybe God intends for me to want to live, to thrive and to relish life even when He makes statements about my being willing to die in order to get there. This is one of the great dichotomies that have to be embraced by a growing Christian and that might be a source of confusion if not understood correctly. But when I see it better it can be a source of positive motivation and a great help in seeing the heart of God more clearly.