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Looking Outward in the Age of Self Interest

OCTOBER 2021

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by D.J. Morgan D.J. currently serves as EM's Creative & Marketing Director, helping connect volunteers to life-changing opportunities to serve and grow together on mission trips.

If there's a central idea making its way through our culture these days, it's that life is all about me. It's being communicated from all directions that what matters most is our self-interest—our happiness, our comfort, our desires, our political opinions, our privacy, our autonomy, our safety, and everything else connected to how each of us personally feels about this world and how it affects us. Sadly, the idea of making choices that benefit others (at the potential expense of ourselves) has almost been completely lost. But it doesn't have to be, and it shouldn't be for followers of Jesus.

Strikingly, this focus on self-interest above all else is not "the way of Jesus" laid out in the gospel accounts of his life and ministry. Jesus routinely challenged people to abandon the comfort of their life, job, status, wealth, and more to follow him. Like in Matthew 16...

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" (v. 24-26)

Those of us with the most to lose have always found this truth incredibly challenging, with the "Rich Young Ruler" walking away sad because he didn't feel up for Jesus' challenge to give his material wealth to the poor (Mark 10). The idea of living in a world where "the last will be first, and the first will be last" (Jesus again, in Matthew 20) is difficult to grasp for anyone who finds themselves at the front of the line.

But it's possible to break out of this pattern of thinking. First, we must acknowledge that we've bought into the lie that looking out for our own self-interest is the pathway to the good life. Then, we can start living into a new reality where we go out of our way to “love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” just as Jesus taught his disciples. So, why should we intentionally cultivate a life of looking outward in this age of self-interest? Here are 3 reasons:

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1. Looking outward takes "me" out of the center of the story

We all have a tendency to live our lives as if the world is a movie all about us. We are the main characters, our friends and family have important supporting cast roles, and everyone else in the world is filling the background. But the reality is we all play equal parts in God's story. There is no "main cast" with special privileges or blessings and no "bit parts" for those on the margins. When we take ourselves out of the center of the story, life becomes less about our comfort or security, and more about experiencing God's presence and joy by entering into what He is doing in and through the lives of others.

2. Looking outward forces us to see everyone as equal in God's eyes

Our own needs, wants, and desires live at the top of our minds and make a pretty compelling case to be heard over those of other people. But when we intentionally look outward and take ourselves out of the center of the story, we cannot help but humbly acknowledge the reality that each and every person is the same in God's eyes. Each of us offered the same love from our Creator, the same potential to live into God's calling for our life (or not). Each of us is worthy of love, no matter what our circumstances, bearing innate human dignity as divine image-bearer. When we start seeing all people as God does, we can no longer write people off because we disagree or turn a blind eye to injustice because it doesn't affect us.

To truly live, we have to engage with the reality that "God so loved the world" and we should too.

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3. Looking outward opens up a gateway to the Kingdom of God

One of the biggest misconceptions from the outside about followers of Jesus is the nature of the Kingdom of God. It's often viewed as just another set of religious rules to be agreed with or shunned. But the life and teachings of Jesus speak about the Kingdom of God not as a religion to be joined, but as a reality to be experienced. "Life in the Kingdom" is life as it was always meant to be, where all people experience mutual love, forgiveness, understanding, compassion, kindness, self-control, and every other good thing—all flowing from God.

But we cannot fully experience this reality when our main mode of operating is that of protecting our own self-interest. That path always leads to more anger, envy, pride, and hatred. If I'm "#1", everyone else is “#2” through infinity, competitors in a zero-sum game for happiness and fulfillment.

In the upside-down kingdom of Jesus, we find that we are provided for, cared for, loved, forgiven, and known precisely when we look for those things from Jesus and the family of God instead of fighting to get them for ourselves. Then, we are able to accept God’s invitation to fully participate in bringing a more holistic, equitable, people-first way of life to the world each and every day. “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done.” And THIS is "life to the full."

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Looking outward in the age of self-interest is hard, but infinitely worth it. We hope you are encouraged to fight for a new path—a way of being in the world that brings light and life instead of darkness.

If you're looking for tangible ways to look outward that will help you kickstart your life in this direction, check out EM's upcoming group mission trips, 1-9 month IMMERSION programs, and summer missions internship program.

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