Reflections on becoming selfless in a culture that celebrates the ‘selfie’
A time of forced rest in hospital, which resulted in intense and intimate fellowship with God, has changed Graham Ries’ life.
Waking up in hospital without knowing how he got there was a shock for Ries, who is known in the Port Elizabeth Christian community as the progenitor of the annual Matthew Lunch and as a voice on PE FM 87.6 radio.
Although the heart condition that resulted in his admittance to hospital is yet to be fully cured, Ries says God has healed him from lust, which has challenged him for most of his life.
Furthermore, his relationship with our Holy Father has developed to a different level — one that is in the process of being freed from the obstruction of self.
Found by ex-wife
Ries collapsed in his bathroom recently and was found by his ex-wife, Sally, who emails him daily and grew concerned after he did not respond to her emails or answer her phone calls.
According to Ries, who at the age of about eight was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat that kept him out of sport and military service, the medical prognosis in hospital was that he had extremely high blood pressure and his heart was not pumping blood at the pace it should, which could result in a blood clot.
“Lying in hospital I was not sure of whether I would survive.
“However, the experience resulted in me spending much intimate time with the Lord reading His Word and He spoke to me through Isaiah 48 and Psalm 109.
“I believe the Lord has forced me to slow down and spend time at His feet. He revealed to me that he had put me through a period of suffering and pain, which was drawing to a close.
“He also revealed that I had been looking for love in all the wrong places resulting in a spirit of lust that settled in me.”
Life an ‘open book’
Ries, who says his life is an ‘open book’ so people can learn from it and not make the same mistakes he did, claims he suffered as a result of rejection and a lack of parental affection, which resulted in a dam of anger, bitterness and desires of the flesh.
“Lying in the hospital bed I dreamed of dressing a woman with an experimental steel fabric that was so soft it felt like satin, yet was really a toughened and fortified trap with a lure of lust set by Satan, which revealed to me the subtlety and cunning of the snares that Satan lays.
“Unless you are discerning and your faith is strong you will be destroyed entirely and won’t even see the trap, or if you do you will almost enjoy being lured into it. .
“However, after coming out of hospital it feels as if the Lord delivered me from the physical search for love by finding it in Him who is Spirit and Love.
“I feel revitalised and renewed as though a heavy darkness has been lifted from me,” says Ries.
The second realisation that Ries came to during his hospitalisation and in the Presence of the Lord was how much of what he had been doing, ostensibly for the Lord, was for his self-benefit.
“The hospitalisation, which gave me a time of fellowship with the Lord, made me realise how far Jesus will go to pull you back from spirit destruction by self-centredness,” says Ries.
He says he came to the realisation in hospital that overcoming self, which is only possible through Jesus Christ, is essential if we are to develop deeper relationships with both our Holy Father and neighbours.
This is confirmed in Matthew 22:37 when Jesus was asked which is the great commandment in the law and answers, “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.
Self-centredness is synonymous with an attitude of taking instead of giving and leads to seeking material pleasure physically and honour spiritually, which results in losing touch with the Divine within ourselves and ability to recognise the Divine in others.
Worse still, being self centred leads to self becoming an idol to the exclusion not only of our fellow man, but of God.
“My life needs to be about Jesus Christ not about me. To live for God and do His will for His glory, self must die and Christ live through me as in Galatians 2:20 ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’,” says Ries.
He says it has taken an experience like this for him to realise how important the people around him are and how much their love means to his life.
“If Sally hadn’t cared for my wellbeing enough to investigate I might well be dead,” he says.
Minister’s revelation through near death experience
Ries’s hospital bed revelation on his self centeredness is mirrored by the experience of Howard Pittman, a Baptist minister who documented his amazing near-death experience in a book entitled Placebo.
Pittman tells of how he came before God in a near-death experience in a “strength or boldness in my belief that I had served my God faithfully for many years”.
He reminded God what a great life of love, worship, and sacrifice he had lived for Him and of all the works he had done.
However, God pointed out that Pittman’s faith was dead, that his works were not acceptable, and that he had laboured in vain.
“He told me that it was an abomination for me to live such a life and then dare call it a life of worship,” says Pittman.
God told Pittman that what he did was for himself.
“Even as I preached and testified about the saving grace of Jesus Christ, I was doing that only for myself in order that my conscience might be soothed.
“In essence, my first love and first works were for myself,” explains Pittman who adds that he had, in effect become his own false god.
He goes on to write that: “I had thought that the Most High God was the only God of my life, but I was not fulfilling that part of scripture which tells us that if we allow anything to come between us and the Lord, (whatever it may be) it becomes our God.
“I realized that each day of my life was devoted only to myself! My whole life I was preoccupied with my needs first and then with what the Lord wanted. The money to help the church, the poor, or anything else was secondary because I was my own ‘god’. Naturally, the devil was contented with allowing me to remain in that condition because as long as I was in that condition, I was of no use to the Lord and His kingdom.”
Pittman emphasises the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus.
“If the world could only know of the worth of the individual. My discovery that day was if you had been the only one, Jesus would have died for you. You have heard it said that Jesus died to save the world, and He certainly did. However, beyond that unimaginable sacrifice, of which we are absolutely unworthy, Jesus died to save YOU!!
“Salvation is a personal relationship with Jesus, and YOU, the individual, are the most precious thing on this Earth to Him.”
Our actions as Christian should result from our relationship with Jesus and the doing of His Father’s Will, for God’s glory not self-glory, but living a selfless life in a world in which the culture of the selfie is not only acceptable, but glorified, is not easy as the danger of self has been thoroughly mystified.
In her book Selfless: Becoming Christ-Centered in a Self-Centered World Monica Freeman says we are all so fractured in our lives, our families, and our churches, because of self.
“It (self) was catapulted into the world at the Fall of Man and is alive and flourishing in this generation. Self, selfishness, and self-centeredness will stifle our lives and the fulfilment we all are seeking.”
Freeman says we are allowing this sin to stifle our purpose and the joy of fulfilling His plan in our life and our culture.
Becoming selfless in a world of self-awareness, self-dependence, and the selfie culture is no easy walk, but it does lead to freedom in Christ and a deeper relationship with our Holy Father that is based on humility and the sacrifice of self and doing our own will in order to grow in the spirit and do God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.
As God’s Word says in Matthew 16:24-25, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it’.”