I am a leopard with selfish spots. By that I don’t mean “a few little bits of selfishness in an otherwise unblemished character”; I mean that selfishness is my character, my default position in life. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true.
I find it’s well nigh impossible to live out Jesus’ exhortation to –
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
I have little bursts of love, and then return to default.
A couple of years ago, I took up a challenge with some friends to see if there was anything we could do to change our “spottiness”, to live life closer to the ideals of Jesus. We were inspired by reading Mike Frost’s book Exiles, although we “made the idea our own”. Here is our version.
We took the word BELLS and used the initial letters to prompt different actions:
So in random order-
Listening and learning involved a God-ward focus – reading the Bible, praying, writing journals, blogging.
Eating? Well, that’s obvious, except that twice a week we looked for opportunities to eat with people whom we might not otherwise have paid much attention to. “Eat” didn’t need to be cordon bleu, it might be a cup of coffee, but the intention was to focus on another person, spend time with them, make an effort to be a friend.
Sent is trickier to explain. There’s something about tapping into God’s purpose for your life, seeing the different component parts as constituents of a greater whole. So, for example, instead of seeing work simply as a means to earn a living, seeing it as an opportunity to connect with people, to improve the physical environment, to be “sent” as God’s representative to the workplace. (Paul talks about this idea of sentness when he says that we are “ambassadors of God” – 2 Corinthians 5)
Bless presented me with the biggest challenge. The word itself has something of the papal about it and if you Google “blessings” images you will see why I have a problem with the word. However, it is the first letter of the acrostic, so…
The agreement was that we would make at least two opportunities in the week to bless someone else, not the papal type of blessing, but something simple that would mean a lot to the person. It might be an encouraging phone call, a card, a small gift, a smile to a stranger, a random act of kindness with no thought of payback. Nothing too demanding, but an intentionality about the action.
Now, I will digress a little via the dishwasher at my place of work. No one at work likes to load or empty the dishwasher. If it on already, dirty cups accumulate in the sink, despite the signs which request that people wash their own; if it finished, the clean cups remain in situ waiting, waiting…. you get the picture. I decided that my “blessing” to the workplace would be to load/unload, wash up the extras/put away, even go round collecting the dirty cups, the ones with the engrained coffee dregs. If it meant I had to stay after my shift was finished, that was OK because I had decided to do it. If that meant I missed the bus, the walk would do me good.
Before you think how virtuous I am, I need to confess that it was often a struggle. I saw the dirty cups and added mine to the pile…and had to make myself turn back and wash the lot. I saw that the dishwasher was finished and took a clean cup out for myself… and made myself keep going until it everything was put away. But bit by bit it became easier to give my time and to deal with the resentment about my colleagues’ untidiness. Spots were fading.
Why do I tell you all this? I want to illustrate two things. First of all, I was intentional. I signed up for the BELLS challenge and stuck to it, albeit reluctantly at times. I wanted to change, and I did something about it. Secondly, it had an unexpected effect. Looking for opportunities to bless others helped move me from persistent selfishness. I found that I wanted to bring blessing to people’s lives, and more than the two times a week that I’d agreed. Doing something led to becoming something; reaching out to others in a simple, ordinary way made me a better person. I challenge you to try it!
I wonder if this is the sort of partnership that Paul envisaged when he was writing to the followers of Jesus in Philippi –
“Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
We need to work hard at following… and allow God to work in us. Can a leopard…?