Reading into discipleship: It’s not all about you

  • Laura Denny
  • 31 January 2018

Nothing gets under our skin more quickly than people who think the world revolves around themselves. When they have to be the centre of attention or get bent out of shape at a minor inconvenience, we want to snap back, "Guess what? It's not about you!"

While it may be easy to identify and bristle at this tendency in other people, we are often too proud and reluctant or too blissfully unaware to see it in ourselves. But if we're honest—there it is. We too think we know what’s best and want to be in charge, to direct our own lives. Even as Christians, when we read in the Bible of God's plan of salvation for his people through Christ's death on the cross, it's our natural tendency to put ourselves at the centre. We want a customized plan for our lives from God, and may subtly (or openly!) assume that God's plan for the world has us at its centre. This error in our thinking comes naturally because we’re selfish creatures—but it’s also an error to be on guard for as we learn from and teach others.

In his book The Thing Is, Tony Payne sets out to steer us right, laying out how God's ultimate agenda is not about us. We are not at the centre. This may be an unpopular idea to communicate, but it is a truth that will lead us to true joy and lasting fulfillment, and readers are led to see how and why it is indeed good news through the story of the Bible.

We were created in the beginning for a purpose: God's glory. And, despite our rebellion against his rule, he chose to offer us redemption through Christ so we that may once again serve his purposes. As Christians we have a new, reclaimed identity in Christ through his death and resurrection—but this new life in Christ demands that we undergo a spiritual "Copernican revolution" and completely "rewrite the agenda" for our lives. We can see now that our lives are no longer about our goals, but God's. Our agendas are now to be Christ-focused.

Because we still have a human nature and are immersed in a culture of self-centredness, not only is there a need for us to learn this well (and be regularly reminded), but we need to learn to communicate this gospel truth clearly and lovingly. The Thing Is can be a tool to get started.

While the book is certainly worth reading alone, it would be an excellent book to read along with a brother or sister in Christ. It challenges our way of thinking, so reading it with someone who can help you work through what the implications might look like in a substantial, practical way in both your lives would be beneficial.

When I’m faced with decisions this rewritten agenda is both guiding and freeing. When I discipline my child, a self-centred agenda disciplines out of convenience or pride. It’s also results oriented. A rewritten, Christ-centred agenda disciplines out of gospel love, looking for justice, mercy, forgiveness. Its goal is not just modifying behaviour, but also to bring my child one step closer to Christ’s kingdom or one step further along in their growth in Christ. If I am deciding if I should stay in my job or find a new one, I can consider the options using God-given wisdom, knowing that I’m not captive to deciphering the mystery of what God wants me to do. His agenda for us is clear. And whether I am a bus driver, an architect or a stay-at-home mum, I can fulfil his purpose for me. And that is to continue to be transformed into the image of Christ, and to help others do the same.

For a new Christian, The Thing Is can help them understand their new purpose and identity. For a more mature Christian who still has an egocentric understanding of the gospel, it can provide corrective clarity. For a Christian struggling to understand how revolutionary their identity in Christ should be to their priorities and agenda, it can provide clear direction. For those who may be on the outside looking in, wondering why our agendas as Christians are so different from theirs, this book could be a great introduction to the gospel and would point them to the only true source of purpose and fulfilment. I would also recommend this book to a friend or family member going through a significant transition in life; I know my 21-year-old self would have valued its insights.

Starting a conversation with "It's not all about you!" probably isn't the most obvious way to share good news. But when it comes to the gospel, and our purpose and mission as Christ's followers, this is truly great news. Life is no longer about us but about living in the light of the gospel, transferring people into this kingdom of light, and continuing to be shaped into the image of Christ.