One of the greatest challenges we face in our quest to enjoy our best lives now is the temptation to live selfishly. Because we believe that God wants the best for us, that He wants us to prosper, that we have the favor of God, and that He has much more in store, it is easy to slip into the subtle trap of selfishness. Not only will you avoid that pitfall, but you will have more joy than you dreamed possible when you live to give, which is the sixth step to living at your full potential.
Society teaches us to look out for number one. €œWhat`s in it for me? I`ll help you, but what will I get in return? We readily acknowledge this as the €œme generation, and that same narcissism sometimes spills over into our relationship with God, our families, and one another.
Many people nowadays are blatantly and unashamedly living for themselves. They`re not interested in other people. They don`t have time to help others in need. They focus only on what they want, what they need, what they feel will most benefit themselves. Ironically, this selfish attitude condemns them to living shallow, unrewarding lives. No matter how much they acquire for themselves, they are never satisfied.
Friend, if you want to experience a new level of God`s joy, if you want Him to pour out His blessings and favor in your life, then you`re going to have to get your mind off yourself. You must learn to be a giver and not a taker. Quit trying to figure out what everybody can do for you, and start trying to figure out what you can do for somebody else. We were not made to function as self-involved people, thinking only of ourselves. No, God created us to be givers. And you will never be truly fulfilled as a human being until you learn the simple secret of how to give your life away
When I`m tempted to be upset or worried, or when I lose my joy, the first thing I ask myself is, €œWhat am I focused on? Where is the emphasis? What am I thinking about? Nine times out of ten I`m thinking about my problems. I`m thinking about some concern or frustration in my life. I`m thinking about what I must do tomorrow. When I get all caught up in me, it`s a formula for depression and discouragement. We must learn to get our focus off ourselves. The late singer Keith Green said it well: €œIt`s so hard to see when my eyes are on me.
We Were Created to Give
You may not realize it, but it is extremely selfish to go around always dwelling on your problems, always thinking about what you want or need, and hardly noticing the many needs of others all around you. One of the best things you can do if you`re having a problem is to help solve somebody else`s problem. If you want your dreams to come to pass, help someone else fulfill his or her dreams. Start sowing some seeds so God can bring you a harvest. When we meet other people`s needs, God always meets our needs.
I met a man not too long ago who was extremely disgruntled with life, disappointed with God and himself. He had been highly successful at one time, but through a series of poor choices, he lost his business, his family, his home, and his entire life savings. Now, he was basically living out of his car.
He was deeply depressed, so I attempted to cheer him up and encourage him. After I finished praying for him, I gave him some practical advice. €œListen, sir, you`ve got to get your mind off your problems, I told him. €œGet your mind off the mistakes you`ve made and all the things you`ve lost. I told him, €œIf you really want to be happy, if you really want to be restored, you`ve got to change your focus and go out and help somebody else in need. You`ve got to sow some seeds.
€œDo you know that no matter how big your problem is today, somebody else has a bigger problem, a tougher road, a more heartrending story than yours? You can help make a difference in somebody`s life. You can help ease somebody`s burden. You can cheer somebody up, and give somebody a fresh new hope.
The man promised that he would take my advice. He connected with some men at Lakewood who help people overcome addictions. Instead of moping in his car, thinking about what a failure he was, he began spending his time helping to care for those drug addicts. He became a friend to many of the addicts, listening to their struggles, encouraging them, praying for them, and challenging them to believe for a better life. He became a giver.
He showed up at church a few weeks later, and I`ll never forget seeing him walk through the front lobby. He was beaming with joy. He had a smile from ear to ear. I said, €œHey, man, you look great. What`s going on?
He said, €œJoel, I`ve spent the last two weeks taking care of cocaine addicts, and I`ve never had so much joy in all my life. He wiped a tear from his eye as he said, €œI`ve never been so fulfilled. He said, €œI spent my whole life living for myself, building my career, doing what I wanted to do, whatever I thought would bring me happiness. But now I see what really matters.
We were created to give, not to simply please ourselves. If you miss that truth, you will miss the abundant, overflowing, joy-filled life that God has in store for you.
Interestingly, my new friend went on to tell me how that week somebody had come by and offered him a job. He was moving out of his car and into an apartment. On and on, he related the great things that had begun happening to him in just a matter of weeks since he became a giver rather than a taker. And it all started when he got his mind off himself and began to help other people.
When you reach out to other people in need, God will make sure that your own needs are supplied. If you`re lonely today, don`t sit around feeling sorry for yourself. Go help someone else who is lonely. If you`re down and discouraged, don`t focus on your own need. Get your mind off yourself and go help meet someone else`s need. Go visit the nursing home or a children`s hospital. Call a friend and encourage that person. You need to sow some seed so God can bring you a harvest.
If you are believing for your child to find God, go help somebody else`s child to develop a relationship with God. If you`re struggling financially; go out and help somebody who has less than you have.
You may say, €œJoel, I don`t have anything to give. Sure you do! You can give a smile. You can give a hug. You can mow somebody`s lawn. You can bake somebody a cake. You can visit someone in the hospital or in a senior citizens` center. You can write somebody an encouraging letter. Somebody needs what you have to share. Somebody needs your smile. Somebody needs your love. Somebody needs your friendship. Somebody needs your encouragement. God didn`t make us to function as €œLone Rangers. He created us to be free, but He did not intend for us to be independent of each other. We really do need one another.
A Rescuing Hug
I heard an amazing story about a set of twins who were just a few days old. One of them had been born with a serious heart condition and wasn`t expected to live. A few days went by and one baby`s health continued to deteriorate; she was close to death. A hospital nurse asked if she could go against hospital policy and put the babies in the same incubator together, rather than in individual incubators. It was a big ordeal, but finally the doctor consented to allow the twins to be placed side by side in the same incubator, just as they had been in their mother`s womb.
Somehow, the healthy baby managed to reach over and put his arm around his little sick sister. Before long, and for no apparent reason, her heart began to stabilize and heal. Her blood pressure came up to normal. Her temperature soon followed suit. Little by little she got better, and today they are both perfectly healthy children. A newspaper caught wind of the story and photographed the twins while still in the incubator, embraced in a hug. They ran the photo with the caption €œThe Rescuing Hug.
Friend, somebody needs your hug today. Somebody needs your love. Somebody needs to feel your touch. You may not realize it, but there is healing in your hands. There is healing in your voice. God wants to use you to bring hope, healing, love, and victory to people wherever you go. If you`ll dare to take your mind off your troubles, get your mind off your own needs and, instead, seek to be a blessing to other people, God will do more for you than you could even ask or think.
Focus on Being a Blessing
Don`t live a self-centered life. You have so much to give, so much to offer. When you center your life around yourself, not only do you miss out on God`s best, but you rob other people of the joy and blessings that God wants to give them through you. The Scripture says, €œWe should encourage one another daily. It`s easy to criticize and condemn, to point out everyone`s flaws and failures. But God wants us to build people up, to be a blessing, speaking words of faith and victory into their lives.
€œJoel, I don`t have the time, I hear you saying. €œI`m so busy.
How long does it take to give somebody a compliment? How long does it take to tell your wife, €œI love you. You`re great. I`m glad you`re mine. How long does it take to tell your employee, €œYou are doing a fine job. I appreciate your hard work.
It`s not enough to think kind compliments; we need to express them. As the old saying puts it: €œLove is not love until you give it away. We should get up each morning with an attitude that says: I`m going to make somebody else happy today. I`m going to help meet somebody else`s need. Don`t go through life as a taker; become a giver.
€œBut, Joel, I have so many problems and so many needs of my own…
Yes, but if you get your mind off your problems and begin to help others, you won`t have to worry about your needs. God will take care of them for you. Something supernatural happens when we get our eyes off ourselves and turn them to the needs of those around us.
The Old Testament teaches, €œWhen you feed the hungry, when you clothe the naked, when you encourage the oppressed, then your life is going to break forth like the dawn. Then your healing is going to quickly come. In other words, when you reach out to hurting people, that`s when God is going to make sure your needs are supplied. When you focus on being a blessing, God makes sure that you are always blessed in abundance.
I`ll never forget what my mother did when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer back in 1981. After she got out of that hospital, she could easily have come home and just sunk into a deep pit of depression. But Mother didn`t do that. She didn`t stay focused on herself. She didn`t constantly dwell on that sickness. In her time of greatest need, in the darkest hour of her life, what did she do? She went to church and prayed for other people who were sick or in need. She sowed those seeds of healing. And just as the Scripture says, as she began to help other people in need, her light broke forth like the dawn, and her own healing came.
I`m convinced that many people would receive the miracle they have been praying about if they would simply turn their attention away from themselves, away from their own needs and problems, and start to focus on being a blessing to other people. All too often we spend most of our time trying to be blessed. €œGod, what can You do for me? God, here`s my prayer list. Can I have it by next Tuesday?
We should concentrate more on being a blessing than trying to be blessed. We need to look for opportunities to share God`s love, His gifts, and His goodness with others. The truth is, the more you help others, the more God will make sure that you are helped.
Let`s get practical. If you have things lying around your house or in storage that you are never going to use again, why not give those things away to someone who could use them? Those extra things aren`t doing you any good stacked in your attic, basement, or garage. If it`s not meeting a need, turn it into a seed!
A few years back I bought an expensive top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art push lawn mower. I was so proud of that lawn mower. Then, about that time, my dad went to be with the Lord, and a lot of things changed in my life. I became a pastor and my schedule became much busier. So busy, in fact, that I didn`t have time to mow my own lawn anymore. I had to hire someone to do it.
I stored my state-of-the-art lawn mower in my garage with all my other lawn equipment. Every time I pulled my car into the garage, I could see it and enjoy it.
One day as I pulled into the garage I heard a voice deep inside saying, Joel, you ought to give away all that lawn equipment.
My first reaction was, Hey! Wait a minute. I paid a lot of money for that lawn mower. I`ve hardly even used it. It`s brand new. Besides I may need it again one day. What if I get fired?
Our minds can conjure up all kinds of excuses when God begins unclasping our sticky fingers. Human nature wants to hold on to everything. So, being the deeply spiritual man that I am, I totally ignored that voice.
Week after week went by, and every time I pulled into my garage, I felt convicted. There was my brand-new lawn mower€”hardly used€” and it was not doing anybody a bit of good. There was my leaf blower, my weed-eater, and my edger. There was all that other wonderful lawn-care stuff.
I knew I was never going to use it again. I knew that twenty years from now it would probably still be sitting there. But I just couldn`t bear the thought of giving away something so new, something I loved so much. After all, I had hardly even used it!
I pulled into the garage another day; and I heard the voice again; Joel, you either give that lawn mower away, or you`re going to start mowing your own lawn again.
I gave it away less than thirty minutes later!
You probably have some items like that lying around your house as well. Clothes you haven`t worn in years, cooking utensils still packed in boxes from your last move, books, your children`s crib and baby clothing, and all sorts of other things that you haven`t used in ages! Most clutter experts say, €œIf you haven`t used an item within the past year, give it away! If it`s not meeting a need, turn it into a seed. Remember, we will reap what we sow. When you do good for other people, that`s when God is going to make sure that His abundant blessings overtake you.
If you want to live your best life now, you must develop a lifestyle of giving: living to give instead of living to get. Have an attitude that says, Who can I bless today? rather than How can I get blessed today?
To catch monkeys years ago, hunters would take a large barrel and fill it with bananas and other treats appealing to monkeys. Then they`d cut a hole in the side, just large enough that the monkey could barely get his hand and his arm through it. The monkey would reach in the barrel and grab one of those treats. But when he clenched his fist, it would be too big to back out of the hole. That monkey would be so stubborn and so intent on holding on to what he had in his hand, even when his captors converged on him, he wouldn`t turn it loose. He was easy prey for the men with the nets.
Sadly, monkeys are not alone when it comes to selfishness. Many people live like that, too. They live with their hands clenched. They are so focused on holding on to what they have, they don`t realize that it is robbing them of the freedom and the abundant blessings that God has in store for them. They are selfish with their money, with their resources, and with their time.
How about you? Are you so focused on getting what you want, what you need, that you don`t obey that still, small voice when God tells you to bless others? Open your hands; don`t hold on so tightly. God will not fill a closed fist with good things. Be a giver, rather than a taker. You won`t have to look far before you find someone you can help. There`s a whole world out there that`s crying out for help. You have an opportunity to live unselfishly, displaying the character of God. God is a giver, and you are never more like God than when you give.
God promised the Old Testament patriarch Abraham, €œI will bless you [with abundant increase of favors] and make your name famous and distinguished, and you will be a blessing. We often read such promises, and say, €œAll right, God! Come on; pour out Your blessings on me! But notice, there`s a catch. We must do something; better yet, we must be something. God is implying that we will not be blessed simply so we can live lavishly or self-indulgently. We will be blessed to be a blessing. Indeed, unless we are willing to be a blessing, God will not pour out His favor and goodness in our lives. We will receive from God in the same measure we give to others.
€œBut Joel, you just don`t understand. I don`t have anything to give. I don`t have a lawn mower lying around like you did.
Perhaps not. But it all depends on your attitude. You must be faithful in the little you have right now before God will bless you with more. A lot of people say, €œGod, when are You going to bless me? But if we`d listen more carefully, maybe we`d hear God saying, €œWhen are you going to start being a blessing?
Giving is a spiritual principle. Whatever you give will be given back to you. If you give a smile, you will receive smiles from others. If you are generous to people in their time of need, God will make sure that other people are generous to you in your time of need. Interesting, isn`t it? What you make happen for others, God will make happen for you.
Live to Give
I saw an interesting report about a young man in Saudi Arabia. He was extremely wealthy and lived in an ornate palace almost too grand to describe. He had scores of automobiles and airplanes. He owned several cruise ships just for his personal use. The man was rich beyond anything my mind could fathom.
But what intrigued me about him was the interesting way in which he used part of his wealth. Every couple of months or so, he would bring in hundreds of poor people from his country. He met with them individually and discussed their needs. Then, in most cases, he would give the people whatever they needed. If they needed a car, he would buy them a car. If they needed a home, he would buy them a home. If they needed money for an operation, he provided that as well. Whatever the need, he would meet it. He gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars and literally millions more in property and materials. Is it any wonder why his business continues to flourish?
I doubt that the Saudi man practices the Christian faith, but the principles of giving are spiritual principles. They work regardless of nationality, skin color, or even religion. If you give unselfishly, it is going to be given back to you. If you meet other people`s needs, God will make sure your own needs are supplied in abundance.
The Bible says, €œWhen you help the poor you are lending to the Lord. That Saudi man has developed a lifestyle of giving, especially to the poor, and not surprisingly, that which he sows comes back to him exponentially. He has lent to God by helping the poor, and God will not be in debt to any person.
You may be thinking, Well, if I had all that money, I would do the same thing.
No, that`s where you miss it. You have to start right where you are. You must be faithful with what you have, then God will trust you with more. You may not have a lot of extra money to give, but you can buy somebody`s dinner every once in a while. You can give somebody a kind word. You can go out of your way to pray for somebody in need.
Now is the time to develop an attitude of giving. Friend, the closest thing to the heart of our God is helping hurting people. God loves when we sing and when we pray. He loves when we come together to celebrate His goodness. But nothing pleases God any more than when we take care of one of His children. Jesus said, €œIf you even give as much as a cup of water to somebody in need, I see it and I`m going to reward you. He said, €œInasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.
Somebody needs what you have to give. It may not be your money; it may be your time. It may be your listening ear. It may be your arms to encourage. It may be your smile to uplift. Who knows? Maybe just like that little baby, putting your arm around somebody and letting him or her know that you care can help begin to heal that person`s heart. Maybe you can give a rescuing hug.
John Bunyan, author of the classic book The Pilgrim`s Progress, said, €œYou have not lived today until you have done something for someone who cannot pay` you back. Make a decision that you will live to give. Be on the lookout each day for somebody you can bless. Don`t live for yourself; learn to give yourself away, and your life will make a difference.