Helping Yourself

PRINCIPLE: “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.”
J-O-Y. Jesus first – Others second – Yourself last. I wouldn’t say it was my mantra, but I heard it so often as I was growing up that it did become a deeply embedded principle of my life. When this is our priority as servants of Jesus Christ, we will experience joy.
To a point, it is true. Scripture is filled with admonitions to forget self, to follow Jesus, and to love others. It is, in fact, the crux of Jesus’ summary of the law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” J-O-Y. Then there are Jesus words in John 12:24-26 (CEV): “I tell you for certain that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat. If you love your life, you will lose it. If you give it up in this world, you will be given eternal life. If you serve me, you must go with me. My servants will be with me wherever I am. If you serve me, my Father will honor you.”  J-O-Y.
Yes, to a point, it is true. But only to a point. Jesus also told his disciples to come apart, get away from the crowd, and rest a while. “Take care of yourself.” Jesus certainly did so, repeatedly getting away, up into the mountains, to pray – some times all night. “Take care of yourself.” While preparing for the cross by praying at Gethsemane, Jesus told Peter, James, and John “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak.” “Take care of yourself.”  It doesn’t sound like J-O-Y, does it?
So what’s the deal? Twice recently I’ve heard an explanation. If you’ve flown you know that part of the pre-flight instructions concern how to use the oxygen mask in the event of an emergency. After explaining how to use the mask, the flight attendant says, Remember to secure your own mask before assisting others.” We cannot take care of others unless we first take care of ourselves. “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.” We cannot give what we do not possess. “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.” Without sufficient oxygen, we cannot give breath to others. “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.” Without sufficient energy we have no strength to serve others. “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.” Without the presence of the Spirit, we have no spirit to share with others. “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.”  J-O-Y must be coupled with “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.”
In a culture that bombards us with messages of selfishness, ‘me first’, and ‘my rights,’ we cringe at the thought of taking care of ourselves – we want to share the message of Jesus that we are to serve others, not ourselves. And we should. In a world where there are deep, and often desperate needs everywhere we look, we want to give all we  have to share the love and healing of Jesus. And we should. But we cannot do any of this for very long in our own strength. So when you hear the self-centered messages, and see the overwhelming needs, remember “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.” Through the prophet Isaiah God said, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Is. 30:15) Get apart, rest, read the Word of God, pray – breathe in the breath of God. Then share the breath of life with others. Taking care of yourself may just be the greatest gift you can give those who need your assistance. 

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