sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 06/09/2013
video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand
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A Thrival Guide for Outward Focused People: How to live outward focused lives without burning out or being burned (unnecessarily).
A 2 part companion to the outward focused lives series.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant...
from Philippians 2:1-11
Paul (formerly Saul) of Tarsus
It's powerfully appealing to say yes to humility, compassion, a purpose beyond "It's all about me" etc. – because the truth is, this is the image of God in us; it’s how we’re wired at the most profound levels.
How do you "value others above yourselves, looking to the interests of the others” and maintain a clear sense of yourself, not become a doormat, remain faithful to your purposes when others make unreasonable demands, keep from being overwhelmed by others' needs, etc?
We don’t just want to survive; we want to thrive. Which, it so happens, is Jesus’ desire for us as well. “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.”
So on to the Thrival Guide.
Today we’ll talk about some dos and don’ts. Let’s start with the don’ts.
Don’t De-Value or Under-Value your self in order to value others above yourself.
Valuing others above yourself does not mean de-valuing or undervaluing one’s self. Valuing others above yourselves well, requires an awareness of your own value. The more highly you value yourself, the greater the value you are called to give to others.
If the outward focused approach to life is, in fact, the attitude of God himself – who surely knows his own value – think how highly he must therefore value us. The value he places on you and me is staggering. According to the witness of Jesus’ first followers, God values us so much that he was willing to personally endure extraordinary pain – physical, emotional, social, you name it – so that we could be rescued from a world of hurt.
The only healthy outward focused life starts from that foundation. Remember when we talked about the three basic postures towards others from Adam Grant’s book, Give & Take? Givers, Takers, and Matchers. One can only be a giver if one realizes that one has something of value to give.
Paul’s encouragement is to have the attitude of Christ – who did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. In other words, Jesus was aware of his own equality with God, but decided not to use it for his own advantage. Do you see what that means? He had an extraordinarily high view of his own value. And from that place, he valued us even more highly. This is the attitude we are to adopt if we want to thrive.
One who has equality with God values me more highly than even himself. I’ll accept that. But I won’t use it to my own advantage. No, I’ll lower myself and take the position of a servant.
This isn’t always easy. It wasn’t for Jesus’ disciples. But it’s a necessary starting point. There’s this story about this in the book of John, chapter 13:
[Jesus] got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
We might be able to identify with Peter’s reluctance. We don’t always feel deserving of that kind of value. But Jesus’ response is pretty firm, isn’t it? Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.
Unless we begin by receiving the value God assigns to us, we can’t begin to be involved in the transformational work he’s doing in the world.
Don’t ignore or dismiss your own interests in order to look to the interests of others.
When Paul says that we should not look to our own interests, but rather to the interests of the others, he does not mean ignoring or dismissing our own interests. Remember, the Greek word translated “looking to” is skopeo, meaning: notice carefully, watch out for, keep thinking about, ponder, fix attention toward.
It is unhealthy to skopeo one’s self, that is surely true. And skopeo-ing the interests of others leads to much life, both for the self, and for the others. However, one must still be mindful of one’s own interests while skopeo-ing the interests of others.
It’s similar to what we do when driving a car or playing a sport or doing our work. Let’s take driving for example. Your driving instructor probably told you to keep your eyes on the road and the traffic around you while driving, right? To skopeo the road, we might say. Because if you’re skopeo-ing your car while driving, you’re going to crash. But that doesn’t mean you ignore your car while you’re driving. You check your speed from time to time. Your fuel level. If it starts to sound funny, you pay attention. Maybe you pull over to check it out if something seems to be amiss. You make sure it’s well maintained on a regular basis. Because if something goes wrong with your car, and it can’t drive well, keeping your eyes on the road and the traffic around you is sort of a waste of time, isn’t it? If your body fails you, all the keeping your eye on the goal won’t help you much. If you don’t get enough rest, all the focus on your work objectives won’t pay off. And so on and so forth.
No, the wise person realizes that in most normal circumstances, others are in fact best served by the healthy care and nurturing of one’s self. If what others need is you, and you don't care for your self, your ability to help is short-lived.
Consider Jesus in Matthew 14 & 15:
When Jesus heard what had happened…
grieving cousin, withdraws...meets needs, feeds 5000,
immediately withdraws again
After he had dismissed them, he went up to a mountainside to pray…
meets needs again, withdraws yet again, heals, withdraws to the mountain, a crowd gathers again, again compassion and feeding (4000),
After Jesus had sent the crowd away…
then he gets in a boat yet again.
If Jesus doesn’t ignore his own needs, where do we get off thinking it’s an option for us?
Do be otherish (which is very different than selfless)
You may remember in the book Give & Take, research that showed that over time, Givers (not Matchers or Takers) tended to finish at the top of the success ladder, for a variety of reasons. But you may also remember that some givers finished at the bottom. Many givers were champs. But some were chumps. In other words, some who were outward focused really thrived. But some didn’t. Some became door mats. Some were taken advantage of. Some burned out. Some got burned.
What made the difference?
Adam Grant says that the difference comes down to learning to be otherish, not selfless. Chumps make the well-intentioned mistake of trying to be selfless, when they should instead be otherish.
No one wants to be selfish, right? Right. But what should we be instead? Selfless? No. Otherish.
Which may sound a little like a game of semantics, but the truth is we tend to have a really conflicted relationship with the word “self,” don’t we?
We have words like self-centered, self-justified, self-congratulatory, self-conscious, self-seeking, self-appointed, self-absorbed, self-serving, etc. All seem to suggest that the “self” is prideful, egotistical, maybe even immoral.
But then we’ve got self-assertive, self-possessed, self-assured, self-made, self-control, self-starter, self-supported, etc. These suggest the “self” is good, praiseworthy, noble even.
So while we don't want want to be selfish, sometimes we think that means we need to be selfless. Which can be a little confusing, right? Does selfless mean we are "less" the good self or less the bad "self"? Or both? We'd be better off realizing that the opposite of selfish isn't selfless, but otherish.
Semantics aside, being otherish is something very concrete and practical. It comes down to three basic skills or strategies.
The first is Sincerity Screening.
There are 4 possible kinds of people we encounter. Some people are agreeable givers: nice people who sincerely desire the best for others. And there are disagreeable takers: unpleasant people who are really only looking out for themselves. But there are also disagreeable givers: grumpy people with hearts of gold. And there are agreeable takers: charming, nice seeming people aiming to get much more than they give. What we might call fakers.
Outward focused people have some natural advantages in doing sincerity screening, and over time they get better and better at it. For outward focused people to thrive, they need to be able to spot fakers in order to avoid being burned.
We see this in John 6, when Jesus feeds the 5000. A huge crowd has come to hear him teach and heal their sick. They are on a mountainside, far from town, and getting hungry. Jesus has compassion on them, multiplies some fishes and loaves, and feeds them. He sees that they are sincere in their hunger, in other words – both their hunger for him, and their natural hunger. But later in the day, they begin to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Then, in verse 15, we see something very interesting…
Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
He hears their words – which sound very agreeable, indeed, don’t they? Full of praise. And true, at that. But he knows that they want to make him king by force, for their own purposes, out of their own selfish desires. They are fakers. And he’s having none of it, so he withdraws by himself.
Which leads us to the second strategy or skill of being otherish.
Generous Tit for Tat.
This basically means outward focused people thrive when they adapt their relational approach from situation to situation. They are givers to other givers, and to matchers. But when they encounter takers, they act like matchers most of the time, and givers once in a while, to give the taker a chance to rise above themselves and become givers themselves.
In other words, they tend to try to help others who are being helpful themselves, but they are fine with saying no to someone who is trying to take advantage of them. And occasionally, they act generously even towards proven takers, just to create some breathing room and see if their generosity might inspire a new leaf being turned over. (Because remember, research shows that giving is proven to be contagious.)
Jesus, it seems, used this approach too. Generally, he went out of his way to find the hurting, the hungry, the helpless, the outcast and serve them. And he made the powers that be, the oppressors, prove themselves to him before he would give his time and attention to them. Sometimes, though, he would surprise everyone and change things up.
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
A final skill in being otherish, vs. selfless, is
Assertiveness as an Advocate on behalf of others.
Outward focused people sometimes have difficulty being assertive simply because they are sensitive to the needs and perspectives of others, and don’t want to make someone else feel uncomfortable. They want to make others happy.
Because of this, research shows that givers, on average, earn 14% less annually than takers or matchers, mostly because of making less requests for salary increases. It’s very selfless of them, isn’t it?
But as soon as an outward focused person shifts to an otherish perspective, things change. What do I mean? I mean, they begin to see themselves as advocating for the interests of their family, or even as being an agent or coach for someone else (who just happened to be themselves.)
This was Jesus’ approach. No one was more assertive. He made huge asks of others – “Pick up your cross.” “Go and sin no more.” “Leave the dead to bury their own. You, come and follow me.” He stood his ground against the most extraordinary opposition. Even against his mother, his siblings, his closest friends, when necessary. Why? Not for his own gain. But because he was here on behalf of the lost. On behalf of the oppressed. On behalf of his Father in the heavens.
You add all these dos and don’ts up: valuing yourself, taking you own true interests seriously, and being otherish – practicing sincerity screening, generous tit for tat, and assertiveness as an advocate for others – and you have a recipe for turning chumps into champs. You have a picture of Jesus, the firstborn of a new creation.
Jesus is the embodiment of love itself. He is the model of considering the needs of others before his own. And yet he has a very clear sense of himself. He doesn’t get pushed around, at all, not once, never ever. He’s not a sucker. He’s never played for a fool. He doesn’t wear himself out. He isn’t helpless. He always chooses. Even in his arrest, trial, and death, one gets the sense that he is in full control of himself, and that these circumstances are in some way only possible because he has chosen – out of a clear sense of who he is and what his purpose is – to give himself over to them.
So there you have it, Part One of a Thrival Guide for Outward Focused People.
Now, there’s an important piece of the puzzle we haven’t talked about yet – the bit that has to do with boundaries and self-differentiation. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that next week. But this should give us enough to work on for a few days.
1. Take your self in for an oil change (and 14 point inspection)
Ask yourself: Have you been getting enough sleep? Time alone with God? Connections with people who bring you life? Engagement with activities that bring you life? Taking a sabbath rest every week? Eating well? Exercising?
Ask someone close enough to know: seen any check engine lights or low fuel indicators on me recently?
2. Make a list of losers.
Determine who loses out if you lose out. If you get taken advantage of by a faker, or because you aren't assertive, who does it affect? In Jesus case it was every single one of us; maybe that's why he was so assertive! Who is it for you? Your kids? Your friends? The people on your team? In your company? Your customers? Your church? The people God has called you to serve in mission? Write down their names on a list and put that list in your wallet or purse and review it from time to time to remind yourself to be otherish. Your best interests are their best interests too.