Contributor: Linda Bailey
Serving God has always been a big part of Linda’s life, starting with leading on beach missions to now working in church ministry. Ordained in 2005, Linda has worked in Churches of Christ, at 89.9 TheLight, CBM and now at One Church as the Senior Associate Minister. Married to Cameron they’ve fostered three children and currently live with their foster grandchild and their biological son.
Philippians 2:5-8, Hebrews 4:15-16
When I was a toddler, instead of saying, “I’ll do it myself” I used to say, “I do it I-self!” Being the baby of the family, I was clearly keen to express my independence. While this is an important part of our childhood development, we often bring this “I” focus into our adulthood as well.
The message we receive from our current, western culture only reinforces the misguided understanding that we are the most important person in our lives. We hear encouragements like “You do you” and “Treat yo’self” and “You can be whoever you want to be.”
This message appeals to our selfish nature. We are told that living our best lives is when we put ourselves first. And yet, when we focus purely on ourselves it does not lead us to a greater, fuller life. And why is that? Because it’s not how we were created.
George MacDonald, who inspired the works of C.S. Lewis, said “The one principle of hell is – ‘I am my own’.” For us to live only for ourselves is the most removed we can be from being in relationship with God, let alone from fulfilling the call that God has on our lives. When we put ourselves first with our finances, our careers, our relationships, we initially feel like we have made the best decisions. However, God has been role-modelling to us throughout all of history that the ultimate way to live is to put others first.
Right from the beginning of Genesis, God created the world and humanity to be in relationship with Him and with each other. Humans rejected and broke that relationship when they felt they could be equal to God. From that point onwards, all throughout scripture, we see God building bridges between Himself and His people. Through his covenant to Abraham, God promised to always work towards restoring that relationship. He has kept that promise and, through the life of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, He is still working on building those bridges between Himself and us.
Jesus was the ultimate example of this. In Philippians 2.6-8 it reminds us of the extent Jesus went to to put others before himself. If Jesus abided by the message of our culture, He would never have stepped foot in our broken world. And yet, He truly displayed the character of God by putting us first.
In the lead up to Easter we are reminded of this incredible sacrifice that Jesus made for each one of us. And if we truly let that message sink into our souls, we cannot help but see that there is nothing on this earth that could ever offer us the love, acceptance, grace and mercy that God extends to each of us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That, while all the messages of our culture sound appealing on the surface, Jesus sacrificed everything so that our lives could have true meaning – being in an intimate relationship with God (Hebrews 4:15-16).
When our relationship with God is restored through His mercy and grace, we can’t help but respond by replicating Jesus’ actions. We too can “take the very nature of a servant” and work alongside God to help all of creation restore their relationship with their Creator. Any time we show God’s love, mercy and grace we are opening a window for people to see His face.
Tearfund partners with Christian organisations which have strong connections to the communities they work in. Motivated by God’s love, their staff seek to share that love with others in practical ways.
Mana, a leader with one of our partners in Nepal, shares how her own experience of God’s love leads her to work for restoration for women in her community:
“There are a lot of women in our community who are feeling loneliness, anxiety. They are thinking there is no hope in their life. Always they are living with tears in their eyes. God has sent me to their community to change their tears to happiness. How Jesus unconditionally loves me – that’s the way I love them. I hope they will receive unconditional love from God also, I am praying for them. God taught me that he is loving me, and that is the way I am to love them. Most women are struggling with many things, discriminated against by their neighbours. In our community they depend on their husbands. I like to empower them through my love and the love of our organisation. It is not easy to preach the gospel in our community. The government doesn't allow conversion. But I like to express God’s unconditional love through my acts.”
“What we are doing is a service to people,” says Marlon Phiri, who leads Reformed Open Community Schools (ROCS), part of the Reformed Church in Zambia.
“And we’re also serving God in the work that we do. As the Bible says, we can not say that we love God if we don’t love our neighbour, if we don’t love people that we live with, because our expression of love for God is in the way we treat others.”
“We want people also to experience the love of God in their lives,” says Marlon. “And experiencing the love of God might mean many things. For example, it is very difficult for us to go to people to preach ‘God loves you’, [while] we are seeing them in abject poverty. We’re supposed to bring much more solutions, helping them to get out of that kind of depravity. In the end, ‘God loves you’ will be more meaningful to them.”
For Elisha Paza Pitanoe, country director for Tearfund’s partner Ola Fou Solomons, Christ is his source of strength.
“My passion is to see people’s lives go better,” he says. “That’s what makes me committed to this work. Having the opportunity to be supported by our partners moves me to continue to commit myself to working with these people. Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Ola Fou engages young people to become agents of change in their own communities and organisations, equipping them to be future leaders.
“Ola Fou’s mission is to serve God and serve his people,” says Paza. “All the interventions in workshops, disaster preparedness, agriculture is God’s work. It is by his grace and mercy we’ve been able to come this far. We are really thankful to our partners.”
Use these questions to guide your personal reflection or your discussion as a group.
Heavenly Father, the message of our world is to put ourselves first. This only brings emptiness and loneliness. Your message of love and reconciliation is true life. It brings purpose and hope to anyone who is open to it.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for sacrificing yourself as the ultimate way of building a bridge for us back to God. Holy Spirit, continue to open our hearts and our minds to where God is at work. And through your power may we be prompted to live as Jesus did, so that all may see God’s glory and give Him honour.
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