• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Another look at self-forgetfulness

I thought I would try out my last post on some friends who were visiting.  The husband is actually a mentor to me in many ways.  As I read through the post, he listened intently without stopping me to add his take on what I had written.  When I was done reading, I remarked how few are the names that come to mind when we look for an example of a humble person.  In an offhand way, I added, “And the number of people who would come to my mind would probably only be one or two.”  Without skipping a beat, my friend responded, finally, by saying, “It just shouldn’t be that way.” 

I was taken aback.  What did he mean, it shouldn’t be that way?  That’s the way it is.  Humility is so hard and elusive.  My friend graciously went on to say that self forgetfulness [not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less] must arise from an ever deepening understanding of the Gospel and our need for Jesus.  That understanding and experience of the Gospel will lead us to cry out daily, even hourly [remember the hymn: I Need Thee Every Hour?], for the Spirit and His ongoing work of applying the Gospel to our lives in very tangible ways … such as learning to think more of God and others than ourselves; learning to “serve” God and others before ourselves.

In his mind, the fact that we weren’t seeing many “humble” people was a reflection of our shallow grasp of the implications of the Gospel, and our satisfaction with self.  That’s when it hit.  Self-forgetfulness is more than just a nice concept to talk about in theoretical terms.  Simply talking about self-forgetfulness can end up putting the focus back on self.   Self-forgetfulness must anchor itself in very practical ways for us to see the Spirit begin to “displace” our fascination with ourselves with something bigger, something more important, and something that calls forth our heart and our service. 

Self-forgetfulness could anchor itself in our community in the offer to come alongside a teammate in another location, and participate in his/her project for a specified time period.  Self-forgetfulness could anchor itself in the decision to physically move to a new location and offer one’s gifts to the team there.  Self-forgetfulness could anchor itself in conversation about missions where we described multiple opportunities rather than just one local work.  Self-forgetfulness could anchor itself in the simple commitment to pray for another worker or another team over this coming year.

What other ways might you see to anchor self-forgetfulness?

13 Responses

  1. I was a little surprised at the comment, “And the number of people who would come to my mind would probably only be one or two.”

    I could come up with quite a list of people I would regard as humble; but the question then must be, What are my criteria for evaluating humility?

    As I thought abou that, my mind went to Philippians 2, “He humbled himself and became obedient… unto death” (which also impliesd faithfulness).

    So one important criterion is obedience, or perhaps more importantly, faithful submission.

    Paul also says of Jesus “he emptied himself”” and “he took the form of a slave”, which are very challenging criteria.

    However, this is evidently not beyond us, because we are enjoined to have the attitude Christ had when he did these things!

    Later in the letter, Paul seems to be paralleling Jesus when he talks in chap. 3 about his own “emptying” of his Jew/Pharisee identity, and his own submission to suffering and his anticipation of resurrection and exaltation.

    Yet Paul is quick to make clear that he has not perfected the process (or not become perfect) in this matter. Nor have we; but I do believe that as I look around at a number of friends and colleagues I can say I know (and have been blessed by) knowing a number of people who have displayed this Christlikeness.

    Were any perfect? No, but their attitude; the posture of their lives; their “long obedience” is in the right direction.

    If we don’t see so many humble people, maybe the problem is in our isight, in our perception. Do we view people positively in terms of evidencing God’s grace in their lives in their obedience and faithfulness; or do we view them negatively in terms of their imperfection?

    Do we evaluate them by their Christlikeness or against their being too like us?

    • An excellent question, John. “Do we evaluate others by their Christlikedness or against their being too like us?” Our own fascination with ourselves can severely warp the way we view others, and we may easily miss those who are growing in Christlikeness and may be models of encouragement for us.

  2. After reading the blog about self-forgettfulness, it came to my mind that we aren’t good observers. These people are around us, but are quietly doing there “self-forgetting” and nothing is said. We are the poor observers. We don’t know what others are doing really unless we are in their skin. Could other-centeredness be a good word to use?

    alleene kracht

    • Exactly Alleene, self-forgetfulness causes us to become more “other-centered” because we will think of others and God more than ourselves; becoming more other-centered will cause us to become more “self-forgetful” because our focus will have shifted away from the fascination we have with ourselves to others and God.

  3. Sorry about a few typos in my submission. Near the end there is “isight” which is meant to be “eye sight”

    • Oh, John, you disappoint me ;+] I was sure that you used “isight” intentionally, and I liked it. Thinking, “pretty slick – that John Wilson- not only linking to the i-phone/ i-book/i-pad phenomenon but also tying in me, myself, and I as in “i-sight” = me-centered.

  4. In reflecting on the truth of the statement “…the fact that we weren’t seeing many “humble” people was a reflection of our shallow grasp of the implications of the Gospel, and our satisfaction with self” is reminiscent of the first two paragraphs in Calvin’s Institutes. His point is that we do not have a proper view of ourselves without knowing God intimately.

    Calvin begins the second paragraph in this way -I regret that I do not have an English copy-, “D’autre part, c’est chose notiore que l’homme ne parvient jamais à la pure connaissance de soi-meme, jusqu’à ce qu’il ait contemplé la face de Dieuet que, du regard de celle-ci, ildescende à regarder à soi. car, selon que l’orgueil est enraciné en nous, il nous, il nous semble torjours quenous sommes justes et entiers, sages et saints, jusqu’à ce que nous soyons convaincus par arguments manifestes de notre injustice, souillure, folie et immondicité. Or nous n’en sommes pas convaincus si nous jetons l’oeil sur nos personnes seulement , et que nous ne pensions aussi bien à Dieu, lequel est le seule règle à laquelle il nous faut ordonner et compasser ce jugement.”

    The better we know and experience God authentically the healthier and more accurately will be the way in which we view ourselves. An over preoccupation of ourselves is idolatry. An authentic continuous worship of God is the means of overcome this sinful idolatry.

    • The English translation of the section from Calvin’s Institutes you wonderfully quoted in French is: “Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize hiimself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy — this pride is innate in all of us — unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own righteousness, foulness, folly and impurity. Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not alos to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured.”

      The “authentic continuous worship of God” that you mentioned is an “anchor” for displacing self from the center of our lives and allowing God to be our first love.

  5. My grandfather used to sing this song all the time and we’d laugh:
    “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
    when you’re perfect in every way.
    I can’t wait to look in the mirror
    cause I get better looking each day.
    Who cares, I never get lonesome
    cause I treasure my own company…”
    Ironically he was one of the most humble men I know!
    My ‘hero’ though, is John the Baptist who is one of the least in the kingdom of God.

  6. Thanks John for reminding us of a long obedience in the right direction. Self absorption is really a long disobedience in the wrong direction.

    Following the 2004 Balaton conference and our Ephesians studies, I wrote the following list of things for which I need to regularly repent.


    The list could go on much longer because self-preoccupation has so many manifestations. But the Holy Spirit convicted me of these five expressions of the self life and I included them in my Personal Development Plan for consistent repentance in order to facilitate my long obedience in the right direction.

    Cultivating self-forgetfulness through focusing on the needs of others is good, but may lead me back to self-fulfillment unless my serving of others remains Spirit generated.

    In my spiritual pilgrimage daily repentance at the foot of the cross is a good anecdote to self-absorption. Calvin puts contemplation of God first but often I begin with repentance and turning away from my self-centeredness. This allows me to better focus on the glory of God, the cross and to delighting in the righteousness of Christ.

    • Thanks for the honest sharing of your heart. It’s an example to us. Calvin’s first chapter of the Institutes is worth the read as Calvin shows how both the knowledge of ourselves and of God are inter-related. His first section is: “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God”, and his second section is: “Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.” Both directions need to be worked. We cannot get a “clear knowledge” of our self-centeredness without looking upon God’s face at some point.

  7. Phil 2: 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

    Why is this verse enough to convince us?

    Well, according to what Ed shared in French and you graciously translated in English:
    “Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not alos to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured.”

    God is the only standard that we are to compare ourselves whether we are “righteous” or not; “humble” or not.
    In the first place, we are to look at others as if we are looking at Christ . . .
    “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25:40

    If I compare others to my own humility, then I would think I am more humble than the other guy. But by then, I was not.

    Lastly, when I judge a painting, i judged the painter. It is good to be reminded that the Painter is still hard at work . . . in me. . . that is why I can not see clearly now.

    “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

  8. Since Jay and I took Sonship in Hungary I realized that a lot of my other focused was actually feeding my idolatry of people pleasing which fed my self preoccupation. I was so convicted that I begged God to give me a feeding of humble pie anytime I stole the Glory that rightly belonged to him. I asked him to give me such a longing to do all for the glory of God that this pleasure would produce a contempt in me anytime I stole his glory. Believe me I’m getting sick of eating humble pie which has fueled my desire to examine what I say before I say it.

    James 1:19 “let every person be quick to HEAR, slow to SLOW to SPEAK…” Being an off the scale sanguine that is very hard to put into practise. Our words often manifest what is in the heart. So the daily heart examination before God asking Him, “How would that look or how could I say that so the emphasis of everyone would be to look at You Lord and not on me?”

    Part of my repentence, or penitence as a good Catholic would say, is to discipline myself by assigning myself tasks to do for others that only God has the joy of knowing about. Enjoying it and worshipping God while I do it makes it a pure pleasure rather than out of duty.

    1 Cor 10:31-33 says “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do ( like quilting), do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage , but that of many, that they may be saved.”

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