In case you haven’t noticed, there has been a war raging between Christians over the Syrian refugee crisis. On one side, we have people concerned about national security issues. On the other side are those who are saying, “What about compassion?” Somewhere in the area between are those of us who are asking, “What does God want to do in the midst of this?” (I suspect He is placing a mission field on our doorstep, and, like it or not, we had better not miss the opportunity.)
As I followed the arguments, I noticed the anti-refugee side quoting Bible verses about the virtue of prudence. That was a springboard for the Lord to speak to me about the much broader issue of self-preservation in the Christian life. I do believe that prudence should be a thread throughout walking out a Spirit-led lifestyle, but I wonder if sometimes we use the prudence concept (not just concerning the refugees) as a thin veneer to cover an underlying lack of trust in God.
Let’s examine some unwholesome ways self-preservation can manifest:
1.) Fear for safety. It’s not a safe world, and it’s easy to fall into this, if we don’t stay in the Spirit. Proverbs 21:31 tells us, “The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD,” while Proverbs 29:25 asserts, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever puts his trust in the LORD shall be safe.”
2.) Fear of being taken advantage of. Nobody likes the feeling of being used by others. However, Jesus told us how to handle it when people take advantage: “Give to him who asks of you, and from him who would borrow of you, do not turn away” (Matthew 5:42).
We have to use discernment in walking this concept out. Our motivation should be, “What is the most loving response toward the person who is drawing upon me? Is it better for him if I simply give, or can I serve him more effectively in another way?” But the motivation for how we respond should not be, “I am not going to let anybody walk all over me!” That’s where self-preservation takes on an ugly tone.
3.) Fear of losing material possessions. There is a Kingdom principle that the more we sow, the more we reap (2 Corinthians 9:6-10; Luke 6:38). Some of us harbor a secret fear that God will not really take care of us and give us good things. We think we have to hug our material possessions to our bosoms and hang on for dear life.
Meanwhile, God says, “Do not love the world, nor the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). We tend to be way too preoccupied with the pleasures of this life and how to accumulate even more. At the same time, being the loving Father He is, God promises, “He who has pity upon the poor lends to the LORD, and that which he has given He will pay back to him” (Proverbs 19:17).
Self-preservation gone amok becomes a “Me” idolatry, which brings the advancement of God’s kingdom to a standstill. Let’s look at the cost of a self-preservation mindset:
1.) It causes us to be unwilling to share the gospel. We fear rejection and abuse if we offend others by speaking about Jesus. The truth is, the gospel is offensive to the natural-minded person. Jesus told us ahead of time it would be (Matthew 5:11, 12; John 15:18-20), but we tend to easily forget this.
2.) It fosters an understanding of missions as something to carry on far away — not here. We can feed money into others going to “the field,” and maybe take a short jaunt overseas ourselves, but it is temporary, and we get to come home again to a nice, safe place. I like my safety as well as the next person — but we may not have the luxury much longer.
3.) The spirit of withholding sets in. We protect ourselves by holding back our time, possessions, and affections. The withholding attitude affects how we relate to those we should care about the most — our families and our local church family. Because we’ve gotten hurt in the past, we withdraw from serving others and putting them first. Yet, the Lord tells us, “… In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3, 4, NKJV).
4.) It stops up the wells of the gifts of the Spirit. This is particularly true of the revelatory gifts. Self-preservation causes us not to release prophetic truth for fear of repercussions. We end up squelching the word of the Lord which is burning in our hearts. Consequently, others are not aided in growing closer to the Lord.
5.) It hardens our hearts against the suffering of others. Self-preservation leads us into a continual mentality of minimizing or obliterating risk. We look the other way so that our comfort zone remains intact. Real compassion goes beyond “I feel bad for you” into doing something to alleviate distress, but we can’t do that without accepting some level of risk. I John 3:17 puts it this way: “But whoever has this world’s good, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart of compassion from him, how does the love of God dwell in him?”
Each of us is prone to an idolatry of protecting self at all costs. The antidote is to recognize self-preservation for what it is — an enemy of the dying to self which Jesus told us we must do. He said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
Does dying to self mean we might have to physically die? Well, maybe. The early Church did plenty of dying. So does a good percentage of the modern-day Church around the world. But there are lots of lesser levels of dying to self which are already a big stretch for most of us. Even if we don’t have to give up our physical lives, if we’re going to serve the Lord the way we are meant to, the self-preservation mentality will have to go. It’s a challenge for each of us, but the Holy Spirit will help us to get there, if we ask Him.