Each morning I write the word “JOY” in all caps across the top of my daily planner. It’s not a reminder to be happy—I’m already a very happy person. It’s a reminder not to be selfish.

You’d think after more than 50 years of walking with Jesus, I’d be over myself. I’m not. I’m still my own selfish pig.

A few months ago, on my morning prayer walk, I was apologizing (again) for my selfish behavior and asking the Lord for help (again). The old acronym, JOY, popped into my mind: Jesus, Others, You. I laughed out loud because it’s clichéd and corny—but it’s true. The way to joy is to put Jesus first, then others and finally you. Scripture bears this out.

Jesus said, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25, NKJV). It is one of Jesus’ most oft-repeated sayings and is found also in Matt. 10:39, Mark 8:35, Luke 17:33 and John 12:25. Be selfish and try to keep your life, and you’ll lose it. Give your life away for Jesus, and you’ll find it. The life you’re looking for is found when you lose it, when you unselfishly give yourself away. Radical generosity—giving your life away for Jesus and others—is the way to joy! Jesus, others, you.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:31–33, NIV, emphases added). Paul encourages us to live for the glory of God and the good of others. Jesus, others, you. 

I’m a talker. One of my selfish weaknesses is talking about myself too much. Sometimes when I appear to be listening, I’m really only thinking about what I want to say when you shut up! Adam McHugh, in his excellent book The Listening Life, uses the image of an arrow to picture our focus in conversation. When I’m truly listening to you, the arrow is pointing to you. But, if instead of listening, I’m thinking about what I want to say, or talking about myself, then the arrow points to me. My goal is to keep the arrow pointing at others. I learn more when I listen than when I talk. Jesus, others, you.

So I’m using this acronym, JOY, to remind myself every day to live for Jesus first and then for others. Has it cured my selfishness? Nope. But I’m more aware of how I want to think, live and listen, and that awareness has translated into improvement—not a cure, but steady improvement. When I’m with others, I’m thinking more about them and less about me. I’m asking more questions and talking less about myself.

And—this won’t surprise you—I’m happiest when I get beyond myself and focus on Jesus and others. It turns out that clichéd and corny acronym is still true. The way to joy is Jesus, others, then you. It’s a JOYful life!

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord to show you where your selfishness expresses itself, and ask Him to help you get beyond yourself.
  • Where can you give your life away this week for Jesus and others?

Share your thoughts. See comments below, and add your own.