Two things caused me to really stop and think yesterday.
One was George Michael’s comment at last night’s closing ceremony of the London Olympics, where he told people ‘remember, right now, you are at the centre of the universe.’ I suspect his point was philosophical rather than geographical.
The other was a story in Richard Branson’s latest book that I was reading in the morning whilst at the Michael Wood service station on the M5, just north of Bristol. We were on the way north, waiting to rendezvous with the youth team from The Belfrey to hand over Luke so he could join them for Soul Survivor Week C, about to begin further south in Somerset. Richard Branson’s mother taught him not to openly criticise other people. He said that as a child ‘if she heard me speaking ill of someone, she would make me stand in front of a mirror for five minutes and stare at myself. Her reasoning? All my critical talk was a poor reflection on my own character.’
As a follower of Jesus, I agree with George Michael – that by nature we human beings place ourselves at the centre of our world – but I really don’t think that’s good or helpful. And I think Richard Branson’s mother taught her son wisely. Let me explain.
We need to take care when we feel like criticising others – and examine our heart and motives. Personal criticism is not on and doing so in public should normally be avoided. But does that mean we should never criticise? No. Not at all. There’s a place for constructive criticism. I’m grateful to the people who over the years have pointed out things in my life that need changing. And I still need people to do that today! But I know I receive their comments so much more positively if they’re done privately and come out of a loving or friendly relationship where I know they want the best for me.
It’s good to think well of people. To want the best for them. To be loving. And forgiving. True love keeps no record of wrongs and is accommodating. That’s how we want others to be with us. And that’s how we should treat them.
Branson’s mum is right that criticising others publicly may well betray deep insecurities in ourselves – and a pride that is unhelpful. That’s why St Paul helpfully tells us: ‘Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment’ (Romans 12:3).
As we look inside ourselves we recognise that there is much selfishness in our hearts. That’s why we need the love of Christ not only to forgive us and cleanse us but also to work deep within to transform us. And that should result in a right humility.
You see, not thinking too highly of myself is not about thinking I’m rubbish or worthless. In fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s realising that despite my selfish nature I’m amazingly loved by God – so much so that Christ sacrificed himself for me. Without him I’m in a mess. Without him I have no solution to the egocentric me, where I place myself at the centre of my universe. But Christ helpfully exposes that selfish frailty that I share with all human beings and shows me that unless I place him at the centre of my universe, my life will ultimately be about me – not God or others. And I’ll still be part of the problem of the world, rather than the solution.
That’s why Christ needs to be at the centre, not you or me. So join me today in asking Jesus Christ to take centre stage. In your relationships. In your home. In your work. In your life.