The difficult balance of self-love and self-sacrifice


I have been vicar of Holy Trinity West Bromwich, in an inner city urban priority area, for 4 weeks now. In my new post, I am keen to avoid burnout, which means some degree of self-preservation.

As I relaxed in a hot bath the other night, with underfloor heating in the bathroom in an otherwise cold Victorian vicarage, I read John Piper’s introduction to “The Roots of Endurance” and wonder if I have the balance between self-sacrifice and self-love quite right?

The Unbiblical Absolutes of Self- Protectionism

There is a mind-set in the prosperous West that we deserve pain-free, trouble-free existence. When life deals us the opposite, we have a right not only to blame somebody or some system and to feel sorry for ourselves, but also to devote most of our time to coping, so that we have no time or energy left over for serving others.

This mind-set gives a trajectory to life that is almost universal—namely, away from stress and toward comfort and safety and relief. Then within that very natural trajectory some people begin to think of ministry and find ways of serving God inside the boundaries set by the aims of self-protection. Then churches grow up in this mind-set, and it never occurs to anyone in such a community of believers that choosing discomfort, stress, and danger might be the right thing—even the normal, biblical thing—to do.

I have found myself in conversation with Christians for whom it is simply a given that you do not put yourself or your family at risk. The commitment to safety and comfort is an unquestioned absolute. The demands of being a Christian in the twenty-first century will probably prove to be a rude awakening for such folks. Since we have not embraced the Calvary road voluntarily, God may simply catapult us onto it as he did the home-loving saints in Acts 11:19: “Those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word.”

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