When Christians are too “others-centered”


Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

This is a beautiful sermon Paul wrote on God’s instruction from Leviticus, to Love your neighbor as yourself. Yes it was in the Old Testament first. Certainly, American teens could learn from this. The idea of getting the focus off themselves even by an hour or two a day might prove transforming to their hearts and minds. There is one thing that can really transform people because self-centeredness is a global problem. The one person is Jesus Christ entering into the human heart and redeeming it. Other wise we are just trying to do the work through our own efforts of comparing and compassion.

The author of praying the scriptures for your children, Jodi Berndt, begins her devotion with the problem, the “self-centeredness disease” of today’s youth. She introduces us to a young lady. Julie, Julie embraces an others first mentality after a missions trip to china. She was changed, her mother who had prayed fervently for God to use the trip in Julie’s life, was not disappointed. When Julia returned home, she stayed up late in tears talking to her mother about others in need , Julia became aware of the difficulties in life others faced. She raised 800 dollars to fill backpacks for underprivileged kids. Her personal goal was to change someone’s life. She took on a big sister program, handing out blankets to poor neighborhood, and her primary delight was helping others. That is a picture of what every parent wants their child to be and do. it leaves me as a parent clamoring: What do I need to do, what prayers can I pray, what conversations can I have, what rules do I enforce to produce a “Julie” , or even that brand of teenager? This is a works based mentality, since it is the work of God that we beleive


 I think it is good to have selfless mentors and righteous role models in life that help direct  your teen into a life of faithfulness and service to Christ. However, I’m today addressing the human tendency to compare ourselves and our children to these Christian portraits of stereotypical “Christian-like” peoples. People we don’t know, and yet hold ourselves to. I confess I am tempted to compare myself and my teens to people like  Julie.

Berndt uses Julie’s story to paint a picture, a picture of what it looks like to be others centered and I find myself cringe. I’m exhausted from trying to accomplish this in and for  my children, and worse beating myself up that my teens are nothing like the “Julie.” .  There may be parents reading Berndt’s devo whose teens are a nightmare to live with, in prison, pregnant out of wedlock,  who are dealing with drug addictions, estranged and other unholy things, and that may be us at some point. These are tough and very real issues many parents face, praying for them to be other centered seems a little juvenile and yet God still says love your neighbor as yourself. 

 God give me the heart to love my self-centered, selfie- saturated, greedy, argumentative, sometimes rebellious teenagers. Give me grace when I want to smash cell phones, and kindness when I want to be hateful, vision when all I see is this dark moment and help me share your faithfulness when I see no signs of Christianity or godliness in my teenagers. and LORD PLEASE HELP me be kind and gracious to myself when I fail to imitate you.

Most parents today are dealing with rebellion, sin and grief in their culture-infused secularized children. Is it good for your kids to do unto others? If your task becomes to get them to go on a mission trip or serve soup at a homeless shelter in order to change their hearts – I believe your going about it the wrong way, first because Christ alone changes hearts and second  If it becomes your work to get them to participate their hearts not ready.  All the works of charity in the world will not change someones heart.

I don’t need another picture of a perfect Christian teenager, whose greatest delight in life is ‘helping others’, to hold my flawed and argumentative teens to. I need a blood-stained reminder of a hope and a merciful savior that is powerful enough to save my teens without my intervention.

These Christian “billboards” as I call them, are creating the wrong focus. They are putting all the burden on people to do something, make something happen, pray more, serve more, give more. Prayer is important part of our relationship with God, it’s not a magical remedy, close, but someone can pray every day and still not have a circumsized heart.

I know a Christian couple who prayed fervently for their son’s mental health and he ended up in Jail for attempted murder. I prayed for a friend’s marriage, diligently with tears, and they still got a divorce. Prayer ought to be an offering, an act of worship and faithful service To the Lord, not a token for a vending machine. Sometimes we pray and God answers yes, sometimes we pray and God heals, sometimes we pray and hear nothing, sometimes we pray and the miracle is that we have a closer walk with God. Is it a gamble no, prayer ought to be an act of worship not an exchange of goods. And it is never a waste to worship the One true God. We pray because we want to connect with God. and in the process, he responds according to his will. and in response we surrender and our trust becomes an aroma that pleases him. 

When Christians present models of the Christian life, rather than the person of Christ, they deny the truth that It is Christ’s work in man, not man’s work which transforms the human heart and mind and produces “Julie” like teenagers.

We are a world inundated and directed by advertising, big screens and social media, the means in which we communicate to others is incredibly powerful. We need to be aware when this is happening, when we see an “advertisement” for Christianity rather than an arrow pointing to Christ Alone. This is only a recent phenomenon. Throughout history true Christians never had to display perfection to the world to make God look good and their religion attractive. We have records upon records of imperfect lives and sinful people that God used to display his love and kindness. Hudson Taylor, for example,  was a missionary who gave up his whole life to serve the Chinese people. He changed the world but is virtually unknown by even many Christians today around the world. His life was not filled with delight, but pain and sorrow. He was a broken man who saw many of his loved ones die on the mission field, he was poor and rejected by the missionary world because he didn’t live by their rules. Would we ever put him on a billboard? Probably not. Jesus said take up your cross and follow me. And according to the word of God, this is a status that will make you hated and persecuted, unattractive and rejected. 

The Church without saying it lives as if the first commandment is to love your neighbor, and ( acceptable to the world). Jesus says the first and greatest commandments is to love God, ( rejected by the world.) and neither the first or the second can be generated by parents. There is no formula.  DO i still pray absolutely, because i know GOd hears and I believe that prayer changes and effects the heart of God who then works HIS will on behalf of others. 

I feel sorry for church children today, who are constantly being compared and expected to live like others rather than living like Christ. We ought not be others centered, but Christ centered. I’m sorry I have done this to my own children. It hasn’t made them love God, but resent me, nad have a hard heart towards this God.  Jesus said take MY YOKE and BURDEN. We are not given grace and power to live like others, we are however, equipped in every way to live godly lives. and how would we define Godliness? We haven’t been called to conform ourselves into the image of other people, but to surrender to a holy God.

Being others centered may produce in us a tendency to compare ourselves to others, being self centered will create pride but being Christ centered brings us into the places, thoughts and behaviors God desires us to be.

I realize Berndt’s goal was not to give us a girl to compare our children to but to show the effectiveness of prayer and the beauty of putting others first and I agree with her. and i recognize in my heart a  subtle temptation to BE more like that mother, to get my kids to be more like that girl, to somehow nag them into a missions trip.

Sadly, a man that Berndt praised as the “most inspirational and encouraging speaker on parenting teens” was in the news for a summer camp sexual abuse cover up. She didn’t know that at the time she wrote the book, I’m guessing, but what do we do with that? We must stop looking to people and look to God as our example, Christ alone is perfect. How many people walked away from their faith when the catholic priest scandal was exposed. Those people did not ground their faith in the perfection of God, in his word or his character, they looked to the priests as gods, they were others centered. Children and teens and all people need a better standard, a standard of righteousness not a glossy photo of the ideal Christian.

I have no doubt the girl in this devotional, Julia, was a wonderful child and made her parents proud. The more important thing was Christs work of transformation in her heart. Not the fact that she helped others. What changed her was not the mission trip or even her mothers prayers, but Christ

We are not called to be others centered; we are instructed to be Christ centered.

The mind set on the flesh is death (Romans 8:6)

even the flesh of someone else who is doing a fantastic job at “living.” We have not been called to live like Julia, or even the apostle Paul, but like Jesus Christ the son of God. We have been instructed to be imitators of God, Perfect like our heavenly father. 

My discomfort is in comparison within Christian circles. Consider the market, standing in line you glance over at the plethora of magazine covers only to suddenly find your own self confidence diminish with the figures of flawless skin, shiny hair, and white teeth. We spend oodles of money in this country on make-up and beauty supplies trying to make ourselves like those we see on magazine covers and youtube. Have we truly overcome this in mainstream Christianity or have we just transferred skin and beauty to deeds and acts of charity? We are still reading the cover stories of others and trying to keep up our Christian-image , one that is filled with shoulds. Obedience to the father is the more worthy cause, but often not the most attractive.

As Christians we paint lots of portraits of what our faith and life ought to look like if we are “doing it properly”, but Jesus said to those who healed and preached in his name, I don’t know you; you are lawless; you did lots of good things but you didn’t obey me. If we want to truly know God we need to do what he says, not what we think is good, and certainly not what the world defines as good. I don’t think God cares if we look like a Christian, I think he cares that we are Christ centered.

Paul Tripp says what it means to be Christ centered is Christ is the source of all things, the motive of all things, the goal and the hope of all things.



What are your thoughts? 

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