The Great Pope, Self

This quote was part of my devotional reading this morning.  The author is Hannah Whitall Smith, a Quaker.

“The greatest burden we have to carry in life is self.  The most difficult thing we have to manage is self.  Our own daily living, our frames and feelings, our especial weaknesses and temptations, and our peculiar temperaments–our inward affairs of every kind–these are the things that perplex and worry us more than anything else, and that bring us oftenest into bondage and darkness.  In laying off your burdens, therefore, the first one you must get rid of is yourself.  You must hand yourself and all your inward experiences, your temptations, your temperament, your frames and feelings, all over into the care and keeping of your God, and leave them there.  He made you and therefore He understands you, and knows how to manage you, and you must trust Him to do it.”

This reminded me of one of Martin Luther’s quotes:

“I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self.”

I agree with both of these great Christians, that the most besetting sin I deal with is selfishness.  It’s hard to sacrifice my own comfort, desires and preferences for somebody else.  Yet our calling as Christians is to put others first.  I can only hope to do this in small steps, day by day because selfishness is my default position.  Often I fail, but I keep plodding away.  I try to help when asked.  I try to give more generously.  I try to not expect more from others than they are willing to give. I try to have patience (this s a hard one).  I try to trust God in this process of sanctification.  In a class I took years ago about spiritual direction, we were told to know our own sinful tendencies and ‘lean away from them.”  How about you?  Do you struggle with the great pope, self?  How do you lean away from it?

For more Hannah Whitall quotes see these posts:

What Damages our Spiritual Life? (according to Hannah Whitall Smith)

How to Recognize a Christian

For more Martin Luther quotes see these posts:

Martin Luther on Serving Others

Martin Luther on Sin




Take Up Your Cross #2

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.”  Galatians 6:1-5

Maybe you read my last post, and it made you feel guilty.  Well, we should all feel guilty because we often are.  However, just as there is a place for denying ourselves to help another person, there are times we need to ask for help as well.

If we try to reach an impossible standard of self-sacrifice, we’re in danger of deceiving ourselves into thinking we’re the perfect martyr.  We may become prideful and secretly resentful. This is sin. We need to continually “test our action” to be sure that we have the best interests of the other at heart, and that we’re not burning out by trying to do it all.  We should not compare ourselves to others, but search our motives, time and abilities so that we become the best disciple that we can be.

Sometimes this requires compromise or thinking outside of the box.  Consider some of the examples I gave yesterday:

  • Can your committee consider everyone’s ideas, then make a decision as a team?  This allows other ideas to be considered but doesn’t require allowing one person to “rule the roost.”
  • If your spouse’s new job takes them away from weekday responsibilities, can they help you with chores that can be done on weekends, or that need to be done less frequently?
  • If you children move far away, you might consider moving yourself when you retire.
  • Can that church task be undertaken at a different time that allows you to continue your usual schedule? Is there someone else you can suggest who might be a better fit for the position?  Could you offer to help some of the time, but not every week?
  • Sorry, there’s no excuse for being courteous to those who serve you.  That just requires a bit of patience and self-control (fruit of the spirit we should all be developing)

Sometimes saying no or asking for help allows another Christian to say yes and grow in maturity and faith.  Sometimes saying no is just plain selfish.  You can’t do it all;  but you must do what you can.  Pray for discernment.  Take up your cross.  The one God has planned for you.

If you missed the first post, or want to read more on the topic, see these posts:

Take Up Your Cross

Serving God with Your Gifts

Martin Luther on Serving Others

Putting Others First

Who Do You Serve?

Let’s be honest, ladies, we all serve somebody.  So who do you serve?  I suspect the answer for most of us is “myself.”  That’s not only our sinful inclination, it’s what our world tells us to do.  “Look out for number one.”  “Follow your bliss.”  “Do what feels right for you.”  Our culture bombards us with messages like this every day.  Let’s label it with its’ true name –SELFISHNESS.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle with this sin every day.  Here are a few examples:

My husband forgets to pick up the something I needed on his way home from work.  My default response?  How could he!  I do so many things for him, and he can’t remember this one thing for ME?

My daughter calls and asks me to go to the Dollar Store and pick up something for her class (she is a preschool teacher). She lost track of time and didn’t get to it last night.  REALLY?  What makes this MY responsibility?  I have my own plans for the morning.

Somebody from church calls.  We’re selling  cobblers at the local Peach Festival and need somebody to work at the stand.  OH NO!  I’m an introvert and I’M JUST NOT COMFORTABLE around a crowd of strangers.  Don’t ask me to do that.

My friend is totally uninterested in the new project in which I’m so involved.  She’s MY friend,why isn’t she being more supportive of ME?

Anyway, you get the idea.  My first response is to think of myself, what I want, and what seems most comfortable and convenient for me.  Here’s what Jesus says about that:

“He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Luke 10:27

That means our priorities should go like this:

  1. God
  2. Others
  3. Me

This doesn’t mean we can never say no.  Sometimes we must say no;  sometimes it is better for the other person if we say no;  sometimes we need to say no because something is definitely out of our skill set. It also doesn’t mean we don’t hold folks accountable or express our feelings — but we need to do this in a gentle, respectful way, not in anger.  It does mean that as God’s servants, we can’t allow a selfish mindset to control our actions.  Following our own impulses (i.e. serving ourselves) will lead to conflict and broken relationships.  Serving God and doing His will leads to peace with God and others. So who do you want to serve?




Putting Others First


Years ago, in Economics 101, I was taught that self interest is the primary motivator of economic activity. Although we may have a number of reasons for working, going to school or deciding how to spend our money, at the core every decision we make is personal well being, or gain. You might say self interest is our default position.  Adam Smith put it this way in his book, The Wealth of Nations”:


“It is not from the benevolence (kindness) of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”


In other words, the seemingly helpful things we do for others are not really selfless. Deep down we do the things we do out of a desire to make life better for ourselves. You could say that self interest is just a nicer way of describing selfishness or sinful behavior.  It comes naturally because it’s built into our DNA – at least, that’s what Lutherans believe. We are sinful creatures from the moment of conception. It is indeed, our default position. That doesn’t mean we are just to accept it. Christianity calls us to consciously reverse our natural inclinations. We are called to live sacrificially, which means putting others first.  Compare Adam Smith’s quote to what St. Paul has to say:


“Do nothing out of selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal self interests, but also the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4


For a look at what this means in daily living, read the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37.  Here’s what Martin Luther King Jr. said about this parable:


“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me? But … the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”


Can I change my default position? Can I put others first, even when it requires a sacrifice of my own needs and wants? Not on my own! “Wretched man (or woman) that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”(Romans 7:24) Only Jesus Christ!

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

1 Peter 2:21

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!