Let the monks bear in mind that noble God is their Father and holy Church their mother. Let their humility be not merely verbal, but let each one provide for his brother. When, through obedience, they go to carry out their duties, let their spirit be, “This is a heavy task, brother, let me do it.”
- Anonymous, The Rule of Ailbe, Irish, 8th century
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
- Philippians 2.3, 4
A few years back, when we were living in Northern Virginia, a local pop radio station dedicated an entire weekend to playing all the songs ever recorded by the Beatles, in alphabetical order. Being an unreconstructed Beatles fan, I naturally felt obliged to listen in for a bit.
OK, a lot.
Like almost all pop music, the lyrics kept coming back on the singers, pointing to them, emphasizing their feelings or point of view or deepest longings. Pop music is perhaps the most common symptom of the narcissism which has become simply the psychological air we breathe these days. The most common word in the titles of Beatles’ songs is, “I.” They even have one cut (on the Let It Be album) entitled, “I, Me, Mine.”
Back in the late ‘70s Christopher Lasch published his Pulitzer-prize winning book, The Culture of Narcissism, in which he reflected on the extent to which ours had become a society of every man for himself. About that time, self-help guru Robert Ringer published a series of books not merely noting the narcissism of the day, but celebrating and encouraging it, and teaching readers how to make the most of it. His best-known work is entitled, Looking Out for Number 1.
But this is nothing new under the sun, really. Read through Ecclesiastes 2, and note the many forms of the first person personal pronoun that appear – I, me, myself, mine. You’ll understand how Solomon’s fixation on himself derailed his determination to live and rule for God.
If anything, our narcissistic age is merely more narcissistic, and less inhibited about it, than previous generations.
How rare it is, indeed, to encounter someone who seems to have our best interests in mind, at least as much as his own. Yet this is the attitude toward others that Christians are called to sustain. As our Lord Jesus considered our needs more significant than His own life, so we are to regard others with that same self-denying love, and make it our business to serve, help, support, or bolster those around us by every means, at every opportunity (Phil. 2.1-11; Jn. 13.1-15).
The Christian faith is oriented Godward first, then inward, to bring our souls in line with what we see of God’s glory; and finally, outward toward others and their needs. As we take up our daily journey within this framework, embracing the mind of Christ, we will find the Spirit of Christ at work within us, making us willing and able to do whatever the demands of love require (Phil. 2.12, 13).
But how can we prepare ourselves, so that when the opportunity comes to put others first, we’ll slide into it as naturally as hand-in-glove?
When Jesus was facing the cross – the ultimate act of self-denying love – he went to the garden and poured His heart out to the Father in prayer. In prayer He was able to face the challenge of self-denying love, and all its attendant horrors. In prayer He attained the presence of God to strengthen Him for His great work. And from prayer He went forth renewed in His resolve to fulfill His mission and calling.
Prayer is the best way to make sure our minds and hearts are set to put others first.
Begin your day in prayer for the people you will meet each day, and pray for the people around you as often as you can throughout the day. Ask God for specific ways you might bear others’ burdens, even if only by a word of affirmation or encouragement. Get and keep your bearings in prayer, and you’ll find it much easier to show others the love of Christ when you are in their presence.
What is the defining orientation in your daily life? Is it the “I, Me, Mine” of the Beatles and our narcissistic age, or the “others also” that Jesus exemplified, and to which He calls us?
Psalm 145.18-21 (Brother James’ Air: The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want)
Be near to all who call on You; all those who fear You, bless.
Preserve all those whose love is true; save us in our distress.
Our mouths will speak with praise of You; Your holy Name we’ll bless!
Lord, give me the mind and outlook of Jesus, to put others first, so that today I will…
Thank you for your prayers and support.
Susie and I give thanks for you each day, but especially this time of the year, our hearts overflow with gratitude for your friendship, support, and collaboration in this work. God supplies our needs as we look to Him day by day, and He may be pleased to do so, at least in part, through you. Please seek Him in prayer concerning this matter. You can use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card or through PayPal, or you can send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.
T. M. Moore
All psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Ó Maidín, p.23.