The Rise of Selfish Faith
I recently attended a church service where every single song was about me. Sure, God was in the song too, but it was more about how He loved and benefitted me. I was the main character, Batman. God was Robin, passing me shark repellent when I needed it most. It felt awesome to sing about myself, my victories (Thanks, Robin!), my life, but it felt a little self-centered. It felt like a dangerous step toward a selfish faith.
I don’t remember singing so many songs about myself at my grandparents’ church as a kid. I remember singing about God’s character – words like holy, worthy, and righteous come to mind. Today I sing about how much God loves me, which does thank and praise God, but in a more self-focused way.
I’ve noticed the same shift in sermons. My grandparents’ pastor preached about God’s character and the Great Commission. Today I hear more sermons about how God wants me to live an incredible life and will help me to do it. I’m learning the best ways to fit God into my existing agenda.
The Benefits and Dangers of Practicing Selfish Faith
We can find multiple benefits to integrating more self-focused worship and sermons, but we must also beware the dangers:
- First, selfish worship allows us to thank and praise God on a personal level. Yes, God is holy and worthy and righteous. But He’s also done countless things in my life that are very relevant to me on a personal level. I want and need to thank Him for those things! Seriously, who doesn’t love David Crowder’s How He Loves?! The trick is to avoid making it completely about us. We have to be careful not to think of Him solely as an enrichment to our lives as we sing those words. We should also be focusing our minds and hearts on God and His character. It’s the difference between me saying, “My husband is the best because he does household projects for me,” and, “My husband is such a good man. He’s smart, patient, hard-working, etc.”
- Second, selfish sermons can make God’s Word come alive in a more personal way, and might even help to reach more people. What’s more exciting? (1) Hearing about an amazing person somewhere else in the world, or (2) hearing about one that lives next door and is planning to come over with hugs and brownies? Hugs and brownies, of course! Everyone can get excited about that! And yes, God wants to bring us hugs and brownies and an incredible life. But we have to keep in mind that God doesn’t exist to bring us brownies. And in fact, we should be working hard every day for God, not the other way around.
- Third, we ARE in a relationship with God, so it’s natural to sing about and discuss how He benefits us. That’s normal in any relationship. But again, the challenge is to practice balance. If my husband rants and raves about me as a wife for everything I do for him, but never lifts a finger in our relationship, then our relationship will be unhealthy and lack balance.
- But finally, and most importantly, selfish faith can make us forget the hugeness and reality of God. This is the greatest danger. We make God very small if we only consider Him in the context of our own lives. If we consider Him as an enrichment to our already existing life, then He’s not much different than exercise or a self-help book. Yes, God saved us from death and benefits us daily, but that’s a very, very small part of what He does and who He is. He is eternal, all-powerful, holy, worthy, righteous, and more. We must be careful not to take Him so lightly or try to fit Him into a box to store neatly on our shelf. The truth is that God was never meant to enrich my life. He was meant to rule it.
Selfish Faith can Affect Our view of and Reaction to God
When I was younger, God was insanely huge. Worship songs mirrored the songs of heaven that I read about in the Bible. Sermons discussed God’s character and the Great Commission and the appeal to abandon ourselves and our own interests in favor of God’s great calling on us. I felt passion, and a constant need to pray more, read more of the Bible, and tell more people the Good News.
Today I am constantly in danger of allowing my own life to become the center of my world, and of penciling God into my schedule along with my morning workout. I fear at times that by practicing a more self-centered, selfish faith, I’m missing the point of it all.
Practical Actions to Avoid the Dangers of Selfish Faith
So what are some practical steps that we can take to avoid the dangers of a self-centered faith?
- Be mindful of your thoughts during worship. If you feel you’re starting to focus more on yourself than God, take a minute to shift your focus back to Him.
- Regularly ask yourself what you’re doing for God. Yes, it is by grace and not works that we’re saved. But most of us would agree that a marriage is unhealthy if one spouse always gives and the other always takes. Are you spending time reading the Bible and in prayer? Are you serving others?
- After you’ve made prayer requests for yourself and others, take some time to pray in line with God’s purposes. Ask yourself what Jesus would pray for. For His followers to become bold in their faith across the world? For others to come to know Him? Try to take yourself out of the equation for a few minutes.
- Take time to listen. So many times, we read a snippet of the Bible, pray about it, pray for our needs, and get on with our day. Do you have a friend that calls, talks all about herself, and then has to go before you’ve said a word? Don’t be that friend. Ask God to speak to you, and then spend a few moments in silence, just listening.
Wrap It Up
Selfish faith can benefit us in some ways. Selfish worship allows us to praise God on a personal level. Self-centered sermons can make God’s Word come alive in a more intimate way. We are in a relationship with God, so it’s natural to sing about and discuss how he benefits us. But selfish faith can also cause us to forget the hugeness and reality of God.
So sing the songs at your church, glean everything that you can from sermons. But remember at the end of the day not to center your faith on yourself, your abilities, your needs, or your interests. God was never meant to enrich your life. He was meant to rule it.
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