John F. Kennedy told the American people in his famous address in January 1961, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” He spoke these words during what is regarded as one of the finest inauguration speeches in American presidential history. He not only stood for the rights of citizens but also spelled out their responsibilities.
In any field of life how we balance our rights against our responsibilities is a sign of our maturity. It is childish to demand from others what we are not prepared first to give to them. Focusing on our rights, what we are needing and wanting, without first considering our duty and responsibility to others is now so much a part of how we think and behave that we barely notice how it is affecting our lives. Every successful relationship includes mutual respect and consideration of one another’s needs. Social cohesion, peace and harmony are impossible without it. Self-centred, “me first” thinking also works against our spiritual health and well-being. It hinders our relationship with God and others, and draws us away from his life-giving purposes. One of the biggest steps towards spiritual maturity is taken when we realise that the Christian life is about “God first” and not “Me first”.
Jesus is the great example of a life lived totally for the glory of God, without any consideration for personal comfort or security. His very food was to do the will of God who sent him. This is what sustained and nurtured him. Faithfulness to the Father was the beginning and end of a fulfilled and satisfied life. This is the paradox of vibrant and mature spirituality. The moment we take our eyes off self and focus and God’s purpose we discover levels of satisfaction that go deeper than any other form of fulfilment.
This is also the greatest test of faith. Can we reject the thinking of this world which promises happiness without God being at the very centre of our lives? Is a life dedicated to meeting the needs of others rather than ourselves the best way to deep and lasting joy? Is church life more about what we give than what we receive?
God’s answer is “Try it and see!” That’s why the Apostle Paul says that when we refuse to conform to this world’s values and give ourselves totally to God we prove that his will is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). In other words, whatever the particular life challenge we are facing, “God’s way is always best.”