Going Beyond Ourselves

Going Beyond Ourselves

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Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.  What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?  A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.  The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.  The wind blows to the south and goes round to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.  All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.  All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. Ecclesiastes 1: 2-8

The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon, one of the wisest men in the history of the world. His book begins with a lament that there doesn’t seem to be enough meaning in life: “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”(Ecclesiastes 1:3)  His reflective plea is that life has to be more than just about us.  It has to be more than just about making money and buying possessions that one day will not belong to us, because we will be dead.  Even leaving a legacy for our children in the end will be vanity because eventually they will pass on as well.  Solomon’s conclusion is that the “eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing” (3:8) unless there is a purpose greater than us for which we are striving.  We are supposed to be laboring ultimately for the glory of God and the betterment (through help and service) to our fellow human beings.  Without giving glory to God and without a sense of love and service towards others, life really is nothing more than an exercise in narcissism, gaining what we can and enjoying while we can.  Life has to be about more than this.

In the same way, church life has to be about more than a balanced budget, a nice physical plant and a calendar filled with programs.  Because just like in life, at the end of the day, these things ultimately benefit only the established community, almost like a community narcissism.  One area of community life that needs to be transformed for the Church to be what Christ intended for it to be is for the Church to look beyond itself.  The Church cannot be content only to make enough effort to keep itself going.  It has to do more than that. 

Earlier in this study, we noted a statistic that 70% of people hate their jobs. (From the book “Didn’t See it Coming” by Carey Nieuwhof, p. 180, based on a report by Carmine Gallo, “70% of Your Employees Hate Their Jobs,” Forbes, November 11, 2011) This is because if a job isn’t for something more than just the money, it isn’t fulfilling.  People don’t have satisfaction in what they are doing and even money in the end can’t bring complete satisfaction.

At the end of the day, if the Church doesn’t actually serve people beyond its four walls, it is going to get the same lack of approval that people have in their jobs.  Because people don’t need another organization to which to belong, they don’t need any more obligations.  We are inherently “wired” to serve, to help and to love.  Narcissism is a learned behavior.  We were created in God’s image and likeness, so like God, we are naturally giving and loving. 

Ideally, at least ten percent of a church budget should be given to the greater community, in the form of charity as well as ministries for the local community in which the Church finds itself.  Ideally, everyone in the parish would offer a ten perfect donation of their income to charity.  If everyone gave ten percent of their money to the church, and the church gave ten percent of its budget to regular charity, this kind of outreach would be very attractive, and contagious.  It would turn around disapproval ratings and make them approval ratings.  It would give focus and purpose to the church.  It would shape community life if the community positioned itself to give such a large donation each year.  Ultimately this will both please God and grow the Church.  Looking outside of our walls is the way we bring disciples to Christ.  Because service is attractive, and more service will attract more people.  Let’s look carefully at our individual giving habits.  Are we good stewards of the things God has blessed us with?  And let’s look at community giving habits.  Is our contribution to those around us something with which God will be pleased, or disappointed? Because after all, the Church is about Him, and not about us.

O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.

O give thanks to the God of gods, for His steadfast love endures forever.

O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His steadfast love endures forever. . .

It is He who remembered us in our low estate, for His steadfast love endures forever.

And rescued us from our foes, for His steadfast love endures forever.

He who gives food to all flesh, for His steadfast love endures forever.

O give thanks to the God of heaven, for His steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 136:1-3; 23-26

Transforming our church means going beyond ourselves!

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0