Article by: Kelly Young
This past spring, we had to do some intensive training with our dog, Oliver, a 3-year-old Great Dane mix that we rescued as a puppy. He has always been a wonderful and loving dog, but over the spring he went through his “terrible twos” and had a few instances where he was seriously misbehaving. We wanted a dog that could be trusted in any situation, and a home that was welcoming to others. We began to pray a lot, asking God for wisdom in the situation. We also researched the different reasons why dogs act out, and techniques to solve the problem.
We slowly began implementing these different techniques into everyday life and training Oliver. One of the main things that we learned was that he wasn’t getting enough exercise; so we started taking him for longer walks, more often throughout the day. Even though this took up a lot of our time and became somewhat of a chore, I knew that I was doing this because I loved Oliver, and it was what he needed. After a few weeks, during a particular walk, I noticed my pants were getting a little looser, and that I was feeling more energized throughout the day; I began to realize that even though I was “doing this for Oliver,” it was really beneficial to me and my well-being also. I smiled as I realized that this is how we are supposed to live our lives. When we become “other- focused,” we reap the benefits, even if we don’t realize it at first.
Following Christ’s Example
So often in our American culture, we become focused on ourselves: how to make ourselves better people, how to make more money for our family, how to lose more weight, how to be happier— the list goes on and on. I am not saying that these things aren’t important, but I have found that when I focus on helping and loving others, a lot of those things take care of themselves. In the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus is asked by the teachers of the law which is the greatest commandment, he replies:
Mark 12:29-31 (REV)
29) Jesus answered, “The first is, Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone,
30) and so you are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.
31) The second is this, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
In summary, besides loving God above all things, we should be loving others. As Christians, we are given the charge to be so much like Christ that people who see us get a glimpse of who he truly is (Eph. 5:1-2, 1 Cor. 4:17). I urge you to take a look at Jesus’ life and what he did while he was on earth. He wasn’t off goofing around with his disciples or hiding out in his home. He was praying and talking to God and asking for strength and wisdom; reading and learning scriptures; teaching and training his disciples; traveling and ministering and healing the hurt people of the world…and he was doing it all joyfully! Jesus loved people and wanted to help them in any way he could, even to the point of getting beaten and crucified and dying for us.
If God wants us to be loving others as ourselves, why do we find it so hard? I am guilty of this myself. It is so easy to just get into a routine of day-to-day chores and commitments, and pretty soon I find I am “too busy” for others. What a terrible excuse! When I am before the Lord on Judgement Day, I do not want to look at him and say, “Sorry, Lord, I was too busy.” I want to be like the people that Jesus talks about to his disciples:
Matthew 25:34-36, 40 (NIV)
34) Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
35) For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you have me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
36) I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me […] 40) I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
As we can read in this section of scripture, these are the types of things we should be doing. Loving others doesn’t have to take up every second of every day; even Jesus took time to be alone and pray. Loving others doesn’t have to take all of our time, all it takes is the willingness to do the loving thing and help others who cross our paths. It might be as simple as providing someone a meal or taking time to make a phone call to a friend in need, but it might be as much as providing someone a place to live for a period of time. All of these things take time and effort, but often we are rewarded for doing the right thing. We feel happier and feel better about ourselves by shining a little light onto others. We become more confident in who we are, and become bolder for Christ. Our prayer life improves because we have people and situations to pray for. And these are only some of the rewards we receive in THIS life. We know that we will receive more in the kingdom to come, just as Matthew 25 above says.
Being Other-Focused Benefits Everyone
It has become a goal in my life to be more “other-focused”. Instead of focusing on what I need, I try to focus on what my husband needs in order to be happy and healthy, and what my mom needs in order to grow in her relationship with the Lord, and what my nephews need in order to start a relationship with the Lord, and even what the strangers I meet on a bike ride may need. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it is something that I am definitely still working on, but I find that I am at my happiest when I am focusing on others. I start with little things, like bringing coffee to a friend, or stopping by just to chat, or making an appointment to donate blood. All of these things seem small in the grand scheme of the world, but they make a difference in people’s everyday lives. It reminds me of a music video that I came across, which starts with a construction worker helping out a young boy who falls off his skateboard, who then turns and helps an elderly woman carry her groceries, who then gives change to a young lady to pay for her parking meter, and so on and so on, until it comes back to the construction worker getting a glass of water from a waitress.
Just imagine for a second—if everyone did this to their full capacity, if everyone was busy focusing on others’ needs, we wouldn’t have to focus on ourselves, because others would be taking care of us. If I am focusing on my husband’s needs at home, and he is focusing on mine, then our home life should be pretty good. If I am focusing on my co-workers’ needs, and some of them are focusing on mine, then my work life should be fulfilled, etc. Paul tells us in Romans:
Romans 13:8-10 (NIV)
8) Let no debt remain outstanding, except for the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.
9) The commandments ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
10) Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
There is no greater thing that we can do in this life than to love God and to love others. I encourage you to go out and find someone today who you can do a small kindness for, and see how God will bless you in this life and in the life to come!