A lawyer successfully handled a difficult trial for a wealthy friend. Following the happy outcome of the case, the friend and client called on the lawyer’s office. He expressed his appreciation of the skill shown in court and handed the lawyer a handsome Moroccan leather wallet worth about $ 400. The lawyer looked at the wallet in astonishment and handed it back with a sharp reminder that a wallet could not possibly compensate him for his services. "My fee for that work," acidly snapped the attorney, "is two thousand dollars." The client opened the wallet, removed two of the four thousand dollars it contained and handed it back to the lawyer with a smile. Here’s a law you won’t hear taught in business school: “Greed robs you of Grace.” It takes time to build a friendship, but a single greedy outburst can tear hearts apart.
An anonymous poet wrote: “Angry words, o let them never from the tongue, unbridled slip! May the heart’s best impulse ever check them, ‘ere they soil the lip.” Years ago my wife and I were listening to a debate in the English Parliament. The leader of the opposition party railed in anger against something being postulated by the then lady prime minister. “There goes Mrs. Thatcher leading a one man band” he yelled. “That may be true” she replied “but that’s one more man than the Labor Party has!” Be very careful if you choose to use angry words as a weapon. Anger impairs reason while giving the false impression that you are in charge of the situation. The truth is selfish anger, that’s uncontrolled, soils your lips, robs you of the respect of those about you and leaves you open to attack by cooler minds. It takes time to cultivate self-controlled replies.
Most of us know it’s prideful and socially unacceptable to weave into every conversation a litany of our own achievements. Arriving here in New Jersey I met an astonishing man. This elderly gentleman could dominate any, and as it turned out, every conversation with recollections of marvelous things that other people had said about him. What he didn’t understand is that in the course of all our lives people say nice things about us. We all receive compliments and are built up by such kind words. In his case however, he’d not forgotten a single one of these and was always ready to give a detailed account of how each had occurred. You need time to grow secure enough so that conversations don’t have to be about the good advice you’ve given people, the excellent bargains you’ve purchased or even the great influence you’ve had on situations.
A New Testament author made this astounding claim: “It’s no longer I that live, but rather Christ who lives in me” The same man also wrote: “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” The net effect of this awareness of an indwelling Jesus was that earth’s glories faded by comparison. Selfishness was countered by inner peace.
In his autobiography, Holding Serve, Michael Chang, US tennis star, tells of how he angered the French crowds. Though only 17, he was the first American to win the men’s championship in the French open at Roland Gaross in 34 years. Tennis fans showed their disdain each time he included in his victory remarks a word of praise to Jesus. Michael describes himself as a born-again Christian and he had no intention of soaking up all the glory for such a prestigious win. Selfishness is best countered by a humble inner awareness of where daily strength originates.
There are few things that demonstrate our selfishness levels as clearly as what we do with confidential information about other people’s weaknesses. Here’s that unknown poet again: “ Life is rich when in our keeping loyalties are safe and sure; let no false or angry speaking spoil the gifts that should endure.” The best cure for selfishness is to daily give yourself away. The best place to give that self is into the hands of Jesus.
Andrew Paton of Clinton Church of the Nazarene, born in Africa, has pastored in Hunterdon County since 1997. Before that he ministered in Durban and Bedfordview, South Africa and prior to that was an officer in The Salvation Army. He has been in full time Christian leadership since 1975. He and his wife Carol have two married sons and five grandchildren.
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