Many of us have been on an airplane as it prepares for takeoff. We have heard the stewardess make her speech about what to do in case of an emergency. At least we were supposed to be listening when she made her speech. At some point in the speech something like this is said, “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your own oxygen mask first and then assist the other person…” Before you can help someone else, attention needs to be paid to your own condition. This is important. It is very tempting to become so absorbed in pointing out the faults of others or trying to help others that we become confused and begin to think this is the same thing as dealing with the issues we have. It can feel so good helping others get their act together that we never really deal seriously with our own failings. The problem with this approach is not just what is left undone in our lives but the kind of assistance we give others. The advice and guidance of a person who is seriously engaged in following Christ as He makes known their own areas of needed improvement are very different from the guidance of a person who is not tackling their own stuff. Just as a person who is trying to help another without first securing his or her own oxygen mask soon runs out of air and life, so too is the person who tries to help without a relationship with God that deals seriously with what is going on in our own lives. Jesus said it this way, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye … first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:3-5) Seeing clearly is a much needed and much treasured virtue in any time, especially the days in which we live. Seeing clearly is never a matter of personal perspective, individual autonomy or self-sufficiency. We need to be studying the Bible with others in such a way that a context is built for spiritual formation that honestly confronts our own sins as preparation for engaging in the larger world around us. This is how we raise the bar on our discipleship.
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