Among the many paradoxical things that Jesus taught was his claim that people who try to save their lives lose them and those who give up their lives save them (Mark 8:35; John 12:25). He taught that the greatest person is the servant of all (Mark 9:35). And he taught that the true measure of a person is not what they accomplish for themselves, but the extent to which they really care about, and for, others (Matt. 22:37-40).
I think these things are true. (Like I’m anyone to judge Jesus’ teachings. But it does seem to me that . . .)
The best life—and the most successful person—is the one which serves others. Those who serve themselves—regardless how successful they may be at doing so—live shallow lives and pursue unworthy goals. Those who have the most worthy and fulfilling lives are those who seek to improve the welfare of others.
Not to say that this is easy. On the contrary! It is utterly unnatural. Well nigh impossible. We all, by nature, care deeply about ourselves. Even people who dislike themselves—who would even say that they hate themselves—are seriously pained precisely because they care about themselves; they are unhappy that they are not what they want to be. With a few exceptions—like close family members—we do not naturally care nearly as much about others as we care about ourselves.
And our culture and society make it all the more difficult. We know what people get attention for—what gets admired—what gets even envied; it is not, for the most part, being a servant of others. It is being served by others. That is deemed success! But this is a sham.
The person who serves others is the truly impressive person, and the person who is most fulfilled in the end. Sometimes our society does break through and see this. Witness its attitude toward Mother Theresa. But for the most part, society leaves true greatness unrecognized.
This makes true greatness all the more difficult. For better and worse, we use others’ impressions of us to measure ourselves. This can help us be less delusional. But it also misleads us into thinking that the most successful people are those who get the most attention and impress the most people. But this is utter BS—a snare and a delusion. Society regularly misconstrues success as failure and failure as success.
So it is extremely difficult to think rightly here—even when one sees the basic truth. I continually struggle to correct my natural way of thinking. It requires daily, intentional, and explicit repenting of my natural thought pattern, and the replacement of it with a right way pattern of thinking and caring. Christians have traditionally believed that this is actually impossible without God’s help.
It is certainly contrary to our nature, and it is counter-cultural. But making the flourishing of others our most fundamental goal is the only way we ourselves can flourish.