Pentecost: A Healthy reminder that it’s not about me

Pentecost: A Healthy reminder that it’s not about me

The key to being a true Servant Leader, in the mold of Jesus, is to recognize that in the great drama of life and leadership, ultimately “it’s not about me.”[1]

“it’s not about me.”

That’s a tall order because with self-awareness comes the instinct to self-preservation. We can’t help but ask the question: Who is going to take care of me? And it’s nearly impossible to avoid the response: I’ll do it myself.

That’s a huge fiction, of course.

Interdependence to the core

At the very least we are interdependent beings.  Without others, we simply can’t develop into whole human beings. The self is a social phenomenon. We are one-anothered into existence, into development, into maturity and eventually into eternity.

Our welfare – even our self-awareness – is dependent on others, no matter how well we might delude ourselves into thinking we are “self-made” men or women.

Nevertheless, there is certainly a dimension of self-determination in the process of moving from our abject dependence in infancy to a growing sense of independence in adolescence and beyond.

  • We have free will, however much of it is conditioned by our environments.
  • We have the experience of making individual decisions that affect our development and welfare.
  • We persist or we quit; we hope or we dread; we achieve our goals or we fall short.

Indeed, even as we strive for a fuller appreciation of the interdependent nature of all reality, including self, we hear and respond to calls -- from within and without – to shape ourselves in certain directions.

Misleading but motivating

Perhaps the epitome of this self-reliant dynamic is the oft- quoted mantra of two-letter words: “If it is to be, it is up to me.” 

That’s misleading, of course. All by myself, in isolation, there is very little I can do to shape any of life’s outcomes, even my own personal ones. That’s because I don’t exist in isolation. Even when I feel all alone, it’s because of my awareness of others around me.

Nonetheless, I do have to take individual responsibility. Whether I act or fail to act, my behavior has consequences that affect me – and nearly always others as well.

So to a certain extent a great many of life’s outcomes are, at least in part, “up to me.”

Self-discipline ... and its limits

If we exercise more, we will probably be healthier. If we study more, we will probably learn more and do better in school and life. If we foster and practice sound habits of the mind, body and spirit, we will probably live better, healthier, longer and more fulfilling, beneficial – even holy -- lives.

So what we do does make a difference – in our lives and in the lives of others.

But that is not the full story. There is something else to consider -- and not just at the end of the story.

There is the matter of God’s grace.

Without it, we can accomplish nothing. Without it, our last breath was, in fact, our last breath.

Everything, beginning with life itself, is a gift from God – given to us not for our own glory or aggrandizement, but for the common good.

A healthy reminder

Pentecost, which was observed this past Sunday, June 4 (in both Western and Eastern Christianity this year), is a healthy reminder that; “If it is to be, it is up to God’s grace and my response.”

Of course, if we want to accomplish something, we need to apply ourselves to our goal. And yet, the who and what we have to apply to our goal are gifts from God, His graces.

If we could go back in time to the days immediately after Jesus’ ascension into heaven and meet his apostles and other disciples, we would surely find people with good hearts, committed to following the teaching and example of Jesus.

And yet, we would also find them unable to serve him – to respond to Jesus’ Great Commission – as they wish they could. They pray (Acts 1:14). They prayerfully choose a replacement for Judas (Acts 1:14-26). In that sense, they remain faithful to their leader.  But they also remain in the “upper room” (Acts 1:13). They don’t venture out to proclaim the Gospel to anyone – much less, as Jesus’ commanded them, go out and “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19).

It is only after Jesus’ Holy Spirit descends on them (Acts 2:1-4) that they are able to profess the faith they embrace. It is only after the Spirit visits them that they are able to respond to Jesus’ Great Commission.

So it is with us too. It is only by virtue of the Holy Spirit that we are able to live, love and lead like Jesus.

Everything we do, everything we achieve, is God’s gift to us. And in response to this realization, we should be grateful.

Everything we do, everything we achieve, is God’s gift to us.

Only then, in a spirit of gratitude, can we be purposeful and effective Servants ... God willing, as always.

May the Spirit of Pentecost remain in you and inspire you always.


[1] Warren, Richard. (2002). The purpose-driven life: what on earth am I here for? Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan



Owen Phelps

Dr. Owen Phelps is Director of the Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute and author of the book, The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus: Introducing S3 Leadership — Servant, Steward, and Shepherd. He has presented Lead Like Jesus Encounters in Canada, Uganda and India, as well as all across the U.S.


He formerly served on the faculty of the College of Business & Management at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, and was a consultant on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Communications Committee for about a decade. He has served as a consultant to church organizations from Vermont to Texas. 


Dr. Phelps was an award-winning writer, columnist, editor and publisher with a multi-state publishing company before he began work in ministry. He has written several articles and contributed chapters to two books devoted to issues of faith-based organizational performance.


He and his wife Jane, a CPA, have been married for 49 years. They live in Durand, Illinois, and Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin, and they have five grown children and 17 growing grandchildren.