This morning’s devotion comes from the Reverend Doctor Dave Johnson.

…And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able”… (Mark 10:35-45, ESV)

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A couple of years ago I read a book by John Maxwell called Failing Forward, which is about moving forward when things in our lives do not go as we planned, which eventually happens to all of us. My favorite chapter in this book is called “Get Over Yourself—Everyone Else Has,” which describes the dangers of being self-absorbed and self-centered—the dangers of what we call narcissism.

Extreme narcissism is known as “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” Listen to how the Mayo Clinic describes this and see if it rings any bells:

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. They believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism… Narcissistic personality disorder crosses the border of healthy confidence and self-esteem into thinking so highly of yourself that you put yourself on a pedestal.

Narcissism does a lot of damage. It shatters personal lives, torpedoes relationships and marriages, estranges parents and children, and wreaks havoc in church. Narcissism can take down companies, split great rock ‘n’ roll bands, and keep talented sports teams from winning. The narcissism of others has caused damage in my life, and my own narcissism has caused damage in others’ lives. I suspect it’s the same with you.

James and John, after hearing again that Jesus will die, say, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Their response to Jesus’ prediction of his impending death and resurrection is a request for power, dripping with narcissism. Jesus responds by letting James and John know that they are clueless: “You do not know what you are asking.” Then he asks them a question: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” In their hubris James and John reply, “We are able.”

Jesus then calls all the disciples together and cuts to the chase when it comes to narcissism: “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be a servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” In other words, the antidote to narcissism is death.

Dr. Karl Menninger, a famous psychiatrist, was once asked, “What would you advise a person to do if he felt a nervous breakdown coming on?” Menninger replied, “Find someone in need, and do something to help that person… generous people are rarely mentally ill people” (Failing Forward 102-103). The antidote to narcissism is death to self, yet can’t we even become prideful about how much we help others? While helping others and being generous can take the edge off, it does not address the root of our narcissism, original sin.

Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t stop there. After telling his disciples, “whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all,” Jesus points to the cross: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”