“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45a).
Two of the most sobering questions one can ask is, Am I growing better? Or am I slowly growing worse?
It's hard to see ourselves as we really are.
The worse a person is, the more willing they are to correct the faults of others; the better a person is, the more willing they are to correct their own.
If you wanted to see a man’s work, you might look at the house he built or the door he painted; but a man’s real work is the character he has become through all the decisions he’s made, big and small.
So how do we become good men and good women? How do we create good character? We create good character when we put the needs of others before our own.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 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.’” (Matt 25:35-36)
Put another way, “I was suffering, and you eased my pain. I was unhappy, and you put a smile on my face.”
But this creates a problem. Many of us do not put the needs of others before our own because we are not fulfilled. We feel empty.* How can we give to others if we feel like we have nothing to give? The answer to this problem comes from knowing how much you are loved by God, and then daring to trust him by beginning to put his words into practice. When you know how valued you are, you will find it much easier to put others before yourself.
The more we know we are loved by God, the more we are able to put Jesus words into practice (see 1 John 4:19). His love enables us to start building our house (our character) on the rock (see Matt 7:24-27). And the more we put his words into practice, the more we will appreciate others and look forward to being with them. (Character dispels despair and creates hope. See Romans 5:3-5. Yes, bad relationships won’t become good overnight, but if we put other people’s happiness and well being before our own, we will have much richer and fuller lives; lives filled with hope.)
I gained many of these insights from George MacDonald. One of his children's stories can be read here.
* It's easy for empty people to pretend they are fulfilled when they are not. This is a real danger for many who call themselves Christians. They have deceived themselves into believing they are Christ's followers (even though they do not trust and obey him), and then wonder why they feel empty. And because they know Christians are supposed to be patient, kind, generous, grateful and joyful, they pretend they are better, and happier than they actually are. Jesus warned his disciples to guard against hypocrisy (see here). We must never pretend we are better than we actually are.