May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. (Psalm 40:16-17)
Imbedded in these words from one of our most beloved psalms are three statements that, when joined together, describe the formula for developing what I’m calling a “Zero-Based Ego.” The three phrases are:
“Great is the Lord.”
“I am poor and needy.”
“The Lord takes thought for me.”
Great is the Lord. This is an expression of praise. It’s where a healthy ego should begin. Of course, that’s not where a person usually starts. I am more likely coming from a search for my own identity: Who am I? Why do I matter? What is the meaning of my life? It can be very frustrating and depressing to try to affirm my importance in a universe that doesn’t seem to acknowledge my existence. But if I begin with worship, with a recognition of who God is, I have taken the first step toward a balanced view of who I am.
I am poor and needy. This is not a put-down of myself, just a recognition of reality. When I begin with my focus on God, I’m able to admit the obvious truth of my own insignificance. In fact, praising God for his greatness makes the gulf between us appear even more dramatic. My personal value seems sub-microscopic in comparison to the God who is Creator of the universe, which is beyond the reach of the most powerful telescope. There is, actually, something liberating about being able to accept how poor and needy I really am.
The Lord takes thought for me. Surprise! The great God I worship reaches across the infinite time/space between us to notice poor and needy me, to care about me, to LOVE me. How can this be? It is this truth, and this alone, that gives my life meaning. My ego, my personhood, is defined by the fact that the Lord takes thought for me. Otherwise, my life would have no purpose. And this is true of every person, from the most famous world leader to a baby in a third-world country who dies a few hours old.
I’m thankful for God’s gracious gift of a Zero-Based Ego. It can’t be destroyed by the worst calamity that may befall me, even by death itself. As our praise song says, “The world didn’t give it, the world can’t take it away.”