The Harrowing Problem of Self-Centeredness

Like many of my fellow Gen-Xers, I came of age in the “Me Generation,” during a time that young Baby Boomers lived by the mantra “You Gotta Look Out For Number One.” An era that author Tom Wolfe dubbed the “Me Decade,” saw the rise of a culture of narcissism.

Looking out for number one is the very definition of self-centeredness. To look out for number one means putting your own needs, concerns, or responsibilities before those of anyone else. To be clear, looking out for your own interests isn’t in itself always a bad thing. You are, after all, accountable and responsible for the life you live. No one else can live it for you. Looking out for number one from time to time doesn’t make you a bad person. The problem is when you see yourself as the center of the universe and believe that everything revolves around your every want and whim.

The harrowing problem of self-centeredness is that it attempts to remove God from the equation. Look at me! When we succeed, we brag about being self-made success stories. When we fail, we want everyone in the world to know how unfair life is and how unhappy we are that things didn’t go according to the plan. The world revolves and spins on the axis of YOU. Nothing could be further from the truth.

man wearing black crew neck shirt reading book
Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on

In his letter, James, the younger brother of Jesus, explains the foolishness of leaving God out of our life math. Planning without considering God’s will is foolhardy and short-sighted. After all, we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. When we don’t seek God’s counsel or direction, you and I are in danger of walking off the beaten path and away from the center of God’s will. Self-reliance, apart from God, doesn’t yield fruitful results even if we experience short-term gains. God is the giver and sustainer of all life. Without Him, we really can’t accomplish anything, let alone expect our best-made plans to be sustainable.

  1. Life is complicated.
  2.  Life is uncertain
  3.  Life is short.
  4.  We are fragile.
selective focus photo of person holding book
Photo by Luis Quintero on

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

James 4:13-17

As a workplace chaplain, I minister to people every day whose life didn’t go according to plan. For some, it’s their choice of career or the unhappiness they experience in their marriage, or other relationships, that make them angry, discouraged, or fearful. Perhaps, their parents or their children are the roots of their disdain with the outcome of their life. One thing is certain—-we all have problems in this life. Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Things happen that we can’t explain, comprehend, or understand.

close up photo of woman with her hands tied with rope
Photo by Engin Akyurt on

Recently, a friend of mine shared that his grandson had committed suicide. This young man, who had his whole future ahead of him, decided life just wasn’t worth living. He didn’t leave a note explaining why. To the best of my knowledge, there weren’t really any signs to indicate that this young man teetered near the edge toward the grasps of death. That’s often the case. We don’t see the signs.

Sometimes, even when we do our best, we fall short.

Life is complicated.

Nine years ago, my late friend Gordon, asked me to speak down at the Union Gospel Mission in Downtown Dallas. He needed someone to take over his ministry to the homeless from him because at 90+ years old Gordon felt like he needed to slow down and therefore wanted to set up a contingency plan. He lived to be nearly a hundred years old before God called him home. In his final years, Gordon continued to impact lives for Christ through prayer, bible studies, and ministering to others.

Another person I know has a brother who appeared to be perfectly healthy a few months ago. Then, at a recent doctor’s visit for an annual checkup, they found a spot on his lung. About a week ago, I got a call telling me that the brother had been admitted into hospice and the doctors didn’t expect him to live much longer. The other night, he passed.

We aren’t promised tomorrow.

Life is uncertain.

In the same token, my friend Mark who was excited about embarking on a new journey as a family and marriage counselor died from a pulmonary embolism as the result of a terrible fall he took walking down a flight of stairs. At age 53, Mark went home to be with the Lord. Mark left a remarkable legacy that can be seen in the people he influenced on behalf of the Kingdom of God. 

Life is short.

The letter of James matters to me because it reminds me of a brilliant young girl named Skyla. In her Bible, next to the title “James,” Skyla had written, “Memorize.” She had determined that she would commit the entire book of James to heart. One Sunday morning, coming back from an out-of-town visit, Skyla, her mom, and her little brother were hit by another driver. Skyla died at the scene.

We are fragile.

The last time I entered a rehab program, I learned that my life had become unmanageable and that I needed a power greater than myself to help me if I wanted to have any hope of getting clean and sober. At the time, even though God had brought me there, I didn’t know how to look to Him for help. I didn’t really trust Him because I don’t know that I genuinely had accepted Him. I certainly hadn’t made Him the Lord of my life. Yet, now I needed God to save me. A mentor in the rehab program pointed out that a doorknob had it more together than I did. The doorknob functioned the way the designer had intended. The same couldn’t be said for me. I needed to rely on a power greater than myself to rescue me from ruin. What started with a doorknob, has grown into something I could never imagine in my wildest dreams.

man wearing blue dress
Photo by Luis Quintero on

When we live life making plans that exclude God from the equation, we are destined to fall short of what the Lord intended for us. I need the Lord every single day. When I get up in the morning, I need Him to help me focus my thoughts, words, and actions for the day that lies ahead. During the day, I need Him to give me strength, endurance and to equip me with the tools to help me help others. At night, I need Him so that I can express thankfulness and gratitude for the life He gave me today.



To experience life the way God intended, you and I must receive God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. This gift from God is available to all who ask. Will you personally receive the gift of eternal life so that you can experience the total forgiveness from your sins that come through believing in the atoning death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

For nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37)


The Devotional Guy™



ABOUT: The Devotional Guy™ is a writing ministry of Chaplain Rainer Bantau, a Swiss-born, German kid who grew up in East Texas and today ministers throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

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Theology of Work

1 Comment

  1. Lily Pierce says:

    Awesome post, Rainer. I agree that self-centeredness is a big problem–part of our individualistic, ultra-consumerist society. I love the James passage you point to and the illustrations you pair with your points. We need to pursue God and look to His guidance at all times because life is unpredictable.

    Liked by 1 person

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