“You need to take care of you.”
“Find what makes you happy and do it.”
“Only you can change your life.”
“You deserve more.”
“You are the answer to your problems.”
Sound familiar? All statements with one common denominator—you.
The admonition to take care of ourselves, above anyone else, is screaming at us from every direction these days. Advertisements, social media, TV, how-to books (Christian and non-Christian), counselors, people we respect (and some we don’t), cereal boxes, clothing lines are all telling us the same thing: to focus more on ourselves.
A False Pathway to Fulfillment
“Find what works for you and go for it.” Who doesn’t love encouragement like that? We all do. So just for a minute, let’s explore this supposed pathway to fulfillment. If the goal is to do what works for me, I can tell you right now cooking dinner is off the table. (No pun intended.) In fact, I demand a maid. I hate cleaning toilets and showers and floors. And forget about taking the kids to soccer practice. Sitting in the car for an hour—who’s got time for that?
Also, I need sunshine, so I think monthly trips to Florida are in order for some all-natural vitamin-D. Oh, and I need to go by myself, because hello, I need my alone time. Who cares about my kids or my husband or my friends. If I’m going to be happy and healthy, then mama’s gotta do what mama’s gotta do.
Sounds selfish, right? And ridiculous. And it would more than likely ruin my kids and my marriage and any friendships I have. Chasing our every whim and desire does not lead to satisfying places, but instead, it catapults us down paths of emptiness, isolation, and intense sadness.
Satisfaction Is Not Found in Self-Gain
If we could find satisfaction in self-gain, the Bible would have encouraged us to put our own needs first. But nowhere in Scripture does it encourage us to think of ourselves above everyone else. In fact, it says the opposite in 1 Corinthians 10:24, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). That is exactly what Jesus did for us. He counted us more significant than Himself, He hung on a cross. Praise the Lord that Christ wasn’t thinking first and foremost about Himself, right?
In Matthew 16:24 Jesus said to the disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself.” In other words, stand firm against yourself. Abstain from yourself, because our flesh-induced desires cannot be trusted. Apart from Christ, our hearts—our innermost being—are filled to overflowing with the effects of sin.
Our sin anchors itself in selfishness and self-preservation and self-focus. The moment sin entered the world through Adam and Eve is the moment we began putting ourselves above God. And now we fight the devastating effects of self-centeredness.
Me, Myself, and I Took Over
“You deserve that piece of fruit,” chimed the serpent to Eve in the Garden, thereby deceiving Eve into thinking of herself above God. Unfortunately, we’re still falling for the same old trick today as we buy into philosophies like:
It’s your happiness that matters most.
If you don’t look out for you, then who will?
You just need to love yourself more.
Make a plan and stick with it. You determine your destiny.
But let’s call a spade a spade. Every single one of those ideas is a lie of the devil meant to destroy us. They effectively replace worship of the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—with the false trinity of Me, Myself and I, leading us away from God and the joy of living life for God’s glory instead of our own.
Yet, long ago, God told us what was best for us. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). I don’t think it’s by accident there are three parts to that mandate, my friend. The pull of me, myself, and I is strong, and we have to love God with our hearts, souls, and might if we’re to win such an epic battle.
But hear me, since it’s God who fashioned even our innermost parts, it’s God who knows what will satisfy us and what won’t. He is for us, not against us. If loving ourselves was the best way, He would have commanded it. But the Lord knows that it’s loving Him first and foremost that gives fulfillment. And that secondly, loving others, as we already love ourselves, overflows our cups with satisfaction (Matt. 22:39).
Putting Ourselves First Is Not the Answer
The most loving thing we could ever do for ourselves is to love God with our whole hearts. We don’t need to bravely love ourselves more; we need to bravely love God more. We don’t need to bravely pursue ourselves more; we need to bravely, all-out pursue God through Jesus Christ.
To know the fullness of life God intends for us, along with joy and satisfaction, we don’t need to chase our dreams, we need to chase God, believing by faith that God is the dream, because ultimately there is nothing more satisfying than being in the presence of God—nothing.
Psalm 16:11 says,
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Our problem is not that we don’t love ourselves enough or take care of ourselves enough or spend enough time fulfilling our own desires. Our struggle with contentment stems from our struggle to love ourselves over and above how much we love God.
2 Timothy 3:2–5 says in the last days, “people will be lovers of self . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” Is that us? We say we love God, but do we then turn around and go our own way in the name of self-preservation?
God Has Our Best Interests at Heart
Pursuing what we think we most need is not the answer to our quest for fulfillment in life—pursuing what God wants is the answer. His will for us is good and loving and perfect and holy. His commands are for our benefit. He has our best interests at heart.
Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. (Ps. 119:165)
Jesus says in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
It’s not the accomplishment of my own agenda that leads to joy, but a willful surrendering to God’s. What does God have for me? What does God want for me? Putting myself on a pedestal will inevitably land me in a pot of pity that keeps me from God, while putting God on a pedestal will open doors I can’t open by myself that lead to places of true fulfillment and joy.
If it wasn’t so, God would have told us. Everything God says is trustworthy and true. So let’s stop believing the lies of the devil hook, line, and sinker and instead start believing the truths of God with heart, soul, and might. The answer to our dissatisfaction dilemma is not putting ourselves above everyone else, but putting God above everyone else (including ourselves).
Then, the love of God poured into our hearts through Christ will lead us in such a way that even we, ourselves, will be satisfied.