Imagine a person standing in the center of a universe that he has created. All of the roads lead to himself. To get near him is to be drawn into the vortex of his selfishness. Me, my, and I describe his primary relationships and daily thoughts.
You may want to read:
- The Fallacy and Futility of Self-Esteem
- When Obedience Collides with Your Emotions
- A Prayer to Help You Walk in the Spirit
He has self-esteem on steroids. His self-interests have run amuck. Paul’s appeal to him in Philippians to esteem others as more significant than himself is a parallel universe in which he does not live (Philippians 2:3-4).
He is a human sucking machine. His preferences and preoccupations draw you into his orbit and overpower you. I suspect you do not know anyone like this, but I do. I have just described my tendencies during any moment of any given day.
I am the most selfish person that I know. Though I do not consider myself a narcissist, where everything revolves around me, I am acutely aware of how selfish I can be. Maybe you are not a narcissist either, but can you be selfish?
Life is about me. (Narcissism)
Life is to fulfill my dreams. (Optimism)
God exists to give me what I want. (Deism)
In the kingdom of the Lord, there has been a revolt against the Divine. Rather than human beings living to serve and worship their great Creator and Sovereign Ruler of the universe, we decided that we want a piece of the action for ourselves (Genesis 11:3-4).
Forgetting our purpose in God’s kingdom is at the heart of the narcissistic worldview. In our unique ways, we began blazing self-centered and self-actualized paths through life.
Narcissism is the fuel that energizes the heart toward self-focused outcomes. A major tenet in the narcissist’s modus operandi is the realization of no limits—he can do anything his soul craves.
Though the eye is never full of seeing and the ear is never full of hearing (Ecclesiastes 1:8), he will die while trying to fill both his eye and ear to their gluttonous capacities. Life is fundamentally about him rather than the Lord.
When he reads, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen,” he thinks that verse is about him (Romans 11:36). He is a “human DisneyWorld” where all dreams come true.
Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty? – King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:30)
Mable is a narcissist. Though she has friends, their primary purpose is to serve her. Because of her self-interests, Mable has little discernment or perception of the needs of others. She can walk into a room and never perceive how to serve those in front of her.
She has no peripheral vision regarding people. If she sees anything, it is only a mirror that reflects her desires. She exhausts her friends. Frankly, she wears them down as she moves through life like the flitting bee, who goes from flower to flower sucking the nectar.
It is always about her and her drama. She rarely asks how others are doing, and if she does ask, it is only a matter of minutes before she is talking about herself. Again.
Self-centeredness is only the tip of the iceberg for the narcissist. What you see is not all you get. There is much more underneath the surface of their lives, and this was indeed the case with Mable.
Because you know so much about the self-absorbed person’s life, you can think you know them. You do not. You only know their image, their reputation, the specific things they project into their world.
You are interacting with Mable’s representative–the highly controlled image she puts forth to impress you. The underworld of her life is always kept hidden. There are secrets that she will not reveal to you. Her life has an air of fakery.
There is a perceived degree of artificiality and disingenuousness to her. This “air” creates relational barriers between her and others. True relate-ability (koinonia) is not possible–not until she decides that she is going to become the things that make relationships real: humility, transparency, vulnerability, honesty, integrity, and personal ownership for personal sins.
Rarely will a selfish person be self-disclosing about what is real about them. Typically, the Lord has to expose them, which was the case for Mable. The police arrested her for illegally buying medications.
She was a secret addict to prescription drugs. Mable later said that being arrested was the most humiliating experience of her life. But she was grateful because she refused to let others into her secret world.
Transforming a Narcissist
As her counseling progressed, Mable wanted to know how she could become other-centered. Being all about herself was all she knew. Genuinely loving and serving others was not her strength, habit, or desire. I told her that she needed to learn how to walk in the illuminating and empowering ability of the Spirit.
When your life is steeped in selfishness, being illuminated and empowered by the Spirit of God is not normal. God gives favor and power to the humble, but He builds an opposing army against the proud of heart (James 4:6).
Mable had been living in God’s resistance all her adult life. She did not know how to humble herself before the Lord or give herself up to the control of someone else, especially the Spirit of God.
She had always managed her life according to her desires, wants, and cravings. She protected and controlled her life, especially those aspects she did not want others to know.
I was appealing to her to let the Spirit of God manage her affairs according to His desires. I was pressing her to give up control of her life while relinquishing the desire to protect her highly guarded image.
Start with a List
The first thing Mable did was build an other-centered list. She began writing down things that she could do around her parent’s home. E.g., on Tuesday, Mable folded clothes. Wednesday, she cooked a meal. Thursday, she ran errands. And so forth.
This list was not a Spirit-empowered or illuminated; it was a behavioral modification system for change. But Mable had to begin somewhere and amputating (Matthew 5:30) the bad things from her life while putting on good things (Ephesians 4:24) was an excellent start.
Mable was trying hard to break the bondage of selfishness that had captured her mind. The to-do list was okay with me as long as she understood the pitfalls of being a list-centered Christian.
Lists are static and lifeless. If left alone, they eventually become legalism—a rote religion that eliminates the Spirit-filled requirements for walking with the Lord. Checking items off a list require little thought or effort.
It is like working on a production line. You have so many widgets you have to produce in a day, so you create them. It is painting by numbers—a restrictive exercise that removes creativity, imagination, skill, and personal growth.
Walking in the Spirit is life without boundaries (1 Corinthians 10:23). It is an “in the moment” adventure. You never know from where or when the Spirit will show up in your life (John 3:8). You live in a perpetual dependence upon Him to give you direction.
Walk in the Light
The way I explained it to Mable was like imagining every situation in your life as an opportunity to respond with a “yes” or a “no” to God. For example, suppose the Spirit of God was motivating you to give a word of encouragement to a friend.
This moment becomes an opportunity for you to say “yes” or “no” to the Spirt’s illumination. If you say “yes” and offer a word of encouragement, you are not quenching or grieving the Spirit of God (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30).
Your obedience moves you “forward and upward” with the Lord. You now have more light. If you were to say, “no” and withhold your encouragement from a friend, you would quench your fellowship with the Spirit of God, and you would strain and restrict what He could do through you (1 John 1:7).
Your resistance to the Spirit would not reward you with more light. You would continue to experience darkness, which is the world of a selfish person.
Walking in Spirit
The graphic is how I talk about walking in the Spirit with our family. The green and red thumbs are times during our day when we need to make a “yes” or “no” decision to the Lord. If we consistently choose “yes” we will be trending upward as far as having favor with God (James 4:6).
Let’s suppose Mable encounters several opportunities throughout her day to respond with a “yes” or “no.” If she answers correctly to the Spirit, she will receive more of His favor–she trends upward. If she does not respond correctly, she will receive His opposition (James 4:6).
Let Me Illustrate–recently I said something unkind to Lucia. The Spirit of God convicted me of my sin. In that precise moment was my opportunity to respond to God. If I said “yes” to the Spirit and repented to Him and her, He would give me more favor.
But if I would have said “no” to Him and her, the Lord’s favor would have been diminished in my life. As you can see, walking in the Spirit is far more exciting, intriguing, and adventurous than having a list that you can check.
If I only had a list of to-do’s, I would have missed this Spirit-illuminated and empowering opportunity to walk with God, to be blessed by God, to grow my relationship with Lucia, and to have more light for future decisions.
As you can see in the graphic, there will be times where Mable, like me, will choose the wrong way. These junctures are where you observe the red circle, where “no” was said rather than the upward “yes.” This “negative” is okay because an adverse outcome at any given moment should not be the end of the world.
The key is for you to be trending upward. If you are praying for God’s illuminating power in your life and if you are consistently choosing the right response, your overall trend will be up, and your relationship with God and others will be maturing in satisfaction.
Practical Steps in the Spirit
For a person to move from (1) being a self-centered narcissist, (2) to work from a duty list, (3) to being empowered moment-by-moment by the Spirit of God, the following steps will help.
Step 1 – Understand the problem: we all are selfish if there is not Divine and community intervention and instruction.
Step 2 – Own and confess your selfishness to God and others. Ask the Lord to forgive you and begin immediately to live in the freedom of God’s forgiveness.
Step 3 – Plead with the Father to open your eyes to the needs of others. Ask the Father to show you how you can serve others for His glory and their benefit.
Step 4 – When the Spirit shows you how you can serve others, choose “yes” and do not quench the work that He is doing in your mind.
Step 5 – Prepare your heart to look for the small things to respond to with a “yes.” You live most of your life in these mundane moments.
Nearly all “Spirit-empowered acts of right decisions” happen in the smaller affairs of your life. It is the one hundred little things that cross your path each day that develops the habit of walking in the Spirit.
Help me to be sensitive to your Spirit. Show me what you are up to and how I am to respond to the things you bring before me on a moment by moment basis. Give me the grace to choose like Jesus would when those moments come. I want to be your other-centered servant because I am not here for others to serve me. I want to bless you and others (Mark 10:45).
This simple prayer, prayed daily, can revolutionize your thought life. It can change how you view others. The Lord can release you from the frustration of seeing other people as an interruption to your life and fill you with faith to engage these moments as opportunities to put Jesus on display.
Call to Action
It is typically not a challenge to discern the Spirit. The more significant problem is overcoming the stubbornness so you can say “yes” when God is speaking to you. How many times have you felt compelled to do something? How many times did you quench or not quench the Spirit?
Never a day goes by where I am not impressed to do specific things for others. And the more I respond to Him in the affirmative, the more illumination and power I have for future opportunities in my daily journey (Hebrews 4:7).
You have the power working in you (Ephesians 3:20) to make the light come on—the illumination that forms the habit of leaving a little bit of Jesus everywhere you go.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1:7
- What is one thing the Spirit has impressed you to do today (or this week)?
- How did you respond? What was the result?
- In what way do you need to change in response to this article? What is your specific and practical plan to improve? Let someone know about your thoughts and ask them to help you to keep it in your mind, while practically working it out in your life.
- Read my companion article: How to Assess Yourself to See If You Are Mature
Also published on Medium.