Christians make terrible rules

Growing up, my family was in church every time the doors were open. Sunday morning, Sunday school, followed by church. Go home for a pot roast and an afternoon of rest. Return to church for evening

service, or as we got older, youth group. Wednesday night AWANA. We liked church.

Pouring Water Somewhere along the line, I was taught the “JOY rule”.

J – Jesus first

O – Others second

Y – Yourself last

Pastors and Sunday School teachers love acrostics.

Always a fan of all things “joy”, I took this on as my motto. I scribbled it on my notebooks, wrote it on my book covers, and did whatever I could to train myself to put Jesus first, Others second, and myself last.

Today, after nearly thirty years in the Church, a college degree, and five years of studying the word “boundaries”, I’ve got to say that… this rule is just terrible.

Before you Sunday school teachers get defensive, hear me out.

I understand where the idea comes from. I lived it for years so I’ve got a decent handle on the perspective. To love Jesus well, is to follow him and place him before anything else. Before country, before family, before personal wants. Jesus is to be worshipped before all other. So place him first.

“Love your neighbor as yourself, this is the greatest commandment”. Okay, so we need to love others. We need to “turn the other cheek”, forgive “seventy times seven”, and “go into all the world and make disciples”. (Please don’t make me link references to all of those. No one owns rights to printing the Bible, right?) To be a good Christian is to give of ourselves to others.

So that leaves us.

According to the JOY rule, we’ve put Jesus first, friends and enemies second, and then we have to fall somewhere so we’ll place last. “The last will be first and the first will be last” or “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” or the famous verse that throws in both selfishness AND humility “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Phil 2:3).

I want to point out that there is nothing wrong with these thoughts in and of themselves. They are words and ideas to live by. I mean, they’re in the Bible of all places, it’s not like some theologian just made them up. Worship Jesus with all you have. Give to others. Be humble.

The danger, and what I want to speak against, is the creating of a false sense of humility and a passive-aggressive lifestyle.

If you don’t take care of yourself first, you cannot take care of someone else.


If you don’t take care of yourself first, you cannot take care of someone else.

I could give you examples of this all day long, but the one I’m going with is a water pitcher. As long as the pitcher is full of water, it can pour out and fill glasses. As soon as that pitcher become empty, it is useless, until it has been re-filled. If you are trying to fill glasses at a banquet table with an empty water pitcher, all anyone will get is really thirsty.

I’m convinced that Jesus, son of the Most High, never poured from an empty pitcher. Nor was he a doormat, constantly letting everyone go first so that he could be walked on and abused. Jesus somehow managed to love relentlessly and radically, while still being assertive and taking care of himself.

Jesus never said to love others and not yourself. He said to love others as yourself. Love yourself first. Fill your pitcher overflowing with water. When you are full, then you are not only free but completely able to let that real joy overflow to everyone you meet. You have no need to be selfish with what you have to give, because you have so much of it. Your pitcher of water will NEVER go empty.

If you say that you’re a Christian, a follower of Jesus, try practicing placing yourself first. This doesn’t mean placing Jesus second. This means purposefully spending time growing in life with Jesus, letting Jesus do what he came and wants to do – fill you up with living water.

Once you are filled to the brim, let that living water overflow to everyone you meet. Beware: if you pour out of the pitcher, you must keep refilling it or you will once again, will be empty and have nothing to give.

If you don’t take care of yourself first, you cannot take care of someone else.

Now go, fill yourself with love and good things, and then go from there and love your neighbor.

Boundaries, Christianity , , , , , , , ,


  1. What a brilliant, honest post – full of truth that is so often missing from the Church's mindset. There seems to be a strange often unspoken assumption that if we are Christians we don't need rest, time with God, time to recharge or time to become the people God made us to be. That we can just carry on endlessly by being refuelled on the move.

    Thank you for sharing this reminder that we are to love our neighbours AS we love ourselves (care for our neighbours as we care for ourselves) and NOT MORE than we love ourselves.

  2. Hannah

    I agree with about half of this…

    I agree that you can put others in front of yourself and just give to others at the expense of caring for yourself. Clearly not a healthy thing to do.

    I disagree with putting yourself first. Jesus said to die to myself. I believe that. I have to live that. It's the foundation of my faith. Jesus lived that. I'm pretty sure he wasn't that excited about dying on a cross for my sins. In fact, he begged the Father to find another way with blood, sweat, and tears. I don't struggle with my self esteem in fact probably tend to struggle more with my pride and doing things on my own rather than seeking Christ's strength. It doesn't take me any effort to put myself first. At the expense of people, at the expense of not listening to what God is telling me to do. As hard as it is, every time I kill my selfish desires to listen to God, things work out, peace fills my soul, I learn, I grow, I love others more. Winning. Hard but worth it. If I put myself first, I would already be at the top of the music industry probably in a swank office in NYC or LA. It wouldn't take any effort to make this happen. The easiest thing in the world is for me to make myself my biggest idol. Instead I'm here dying to me to pour myself out to my Christian music community in Nashville. I'm glad God gives me the grace to obey despite it going against everything I want. I love every minute of it though it is hard!!

    • kylajoyful

      Great thoughts, Hannah. I don't think I meant to say that we should put ourselves before our love for Jesus, but rather work together. Someone suggested to me to think of it as more of a triangle, instead of linear.

  3. Rich75

    I think you make a very important point, Kyla.

    The only comment I have is that I phrasing it "Evangelicals make terrible rules." is probably more accurate.

    Christians – if you look at the whole of Church history – have some pretty fantastic rules, disciplines and lifestyle choices that we would do well to emulate.

    But, again, your point is well taken. There is such a thing as a healthy selfishness, when viewed in light of your argument!

    • kylajoyful

      I'm glad you added that, Rich, it's a really good point. I do have some rules that I follow that are quite Christian, and I'm glad I follow them. In fact, one of them is "take care of myself first". I'll be careful about making such general statements. Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. Great reminder Kyla. Thanks. I think so many people kill themselves trying to serve others (family, friends, neighbors, community, city, state, world). It makes me think about we are the temple now. We must take care of it. It also reminds me of Pastor John's Summer of Rest sermons at Grace Community Church. (I don't know if you were there back then.) Sometimes we have to say no to good things in order to say yes to great things. If I'm giving all of myself out to others, how will I have energy to give myself to my family, etc.

    • kylajoyful

      Holly, I like that you mention the temple. It's so easy to forget that our body, which includes our minds, is the temple of the Holy Spirit and that this is one way to care for it. I didn't hear those sermons, but it's pretty great that you remember them from years ago.

  5. Here is what I'm hearing you say: "Put yourself first by putting Jesus first." The only way that you will truly "fill your pitcher" is to spend time with God and in the Word. So ultimately you are putting Jesus first. To say that you should put yourself first sounds like you are saying to put yourself above all else, including God. Pamper yourself, go after your dreams, do all the self-centered things that will make you feel good. I know you're not saying that, but that's how I'm reading it. If you put yourself first by feeding your soul spiritually, you are really putting God first. Those people that are dry and empty and have nothing to give to anyone else are in that position because they are not feeding themselves with God. They are giving out of their own strength, not God's. I have found that when I am ministering to others is when I am most spiritually strong. It's during those times that I'm not thinking of myself and I'm "forced" to read the bible and pray regularly. When I'm not ministering to others I am thinking of myself and moping about what *I* want and what I don't have.

    This sounds like a continuing conversation. 🙂

  6. A beautiful, and thought-provoking post. There are no answers for sure. But, I like what you have to say here. Perhaps, the answer is that we need to focus on God that He may fill us up and keep our cup overflowing. I think we when focus too much on others (and even ourselves), our cup runs dry too quickly. I know I definitely suffer from this!

    I think taking care of yourself is terribly important. And you're right – we can't serve others if we're already so battered and beaten down.

    I guess we all need to pray for overflowing cups and strength of spirit! (Or, maybe that's just me!) Thanks for making me think, Kyla. You're one wise girl.

  7. I heart this post. It reminds me, when on a plane, they say to put on YOUR oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. You're not going to be able to help anyone else breath if you're not breathing yourself first. And with that, I'm taking a deep breath…. 🙂

    • kylajoyful

      I kept wanting to use this picture, but someone else did so recently in another blog so I avoided it. Thanks for contributing!

  8. Hi Kyla,

    I've been reading and enjoying your posts for a few weeks since your awesome comment on D. Miller's blog. I thought it was cool how you reached out to that guy instead of blasting him. Kudos.

    I love the title and agree: Christians do make terrible rules. Jesus doesn't, but I do in my attempt to understand God. Which, I'm finding in my own life, is silly.

    The J.O.Y to me (I've heard it all my life) is an excuse to not deal with your issues. During my religious apex a few years ago, I tried to do for Jesus and do for other people, while I was a walking diaster internally. I didn't deal with my own issues because hey, I come last. And I evenually crashed and burned and no one was being cared for and the last thing I had was joy.

    If I'm not spending time with Jesus, or staying healthy, or dealing with my emotional issues, what am I really giving Jesus and other people. Just lip-service, half-hearted empty devotion, religion, pride, etc. All under the disguise of how humble I am because I'm J.O.Ying.

    The J.O.Y is easy, it lets me hide. But putting myself first, taking care of myself in all areas, that is way difficult, uncomfortable and well, goes against my religious inclination to put on my "churchface" and pretend. When I lived the J.O.Y, it was more like I was living H.I.D.E (How I Deceived Everyone).

    • kylajoyful

      Jermaine – Yes! I think we ride the same wave. Thanks for sharing, and I'm glad you took the time to find my blog. I enjoy your blog as well, and look forward to hearing more of what you have to say. Thanks again for contributing to this conversation. Peace.

  9. Andy Whisenant

    I definitely agree with you Kyla. I was always taught the same thing too. While I know that people can be well meaning, not taking care of yourself keeps you from taking care of other people. People have had to remind me about what you talk about…you simply cannot pour from an empty cup. Great post!

    • kylajoyful

      Andy, thanks for reading. I hope you're actively finding ways to keep yourself whole so that you can give to others. This will definitely help with that trip you're planning! Readers: hop on over to Andy's blog and you'll find ways to support him on his upcoming mission!

  10. Lola

    Kyla, I am a late bloomer with your blog, but this was a good one. How can you WANT to put someone first if you are thirsting for that same thing you are trying to give someone else? The saying "If momma ain't happy ain't nobody happy" is true. In order to give, we have to be in a giving state of mind. I think God intended and wants us to be happy, and that to me means if we are happy first, we have the will to make someone else happy to. I love this!! I should have started reading this sooner. This is very enlightening for me

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