My sister and I stand around in the kitchen, eating chips and salsa, while talking theology. It’s what we do. The other day we stumbled into a conversation about our Enneagram numbers and what they mean to our everyday lives. We spent some minutes tracing our current flesh struggles back to lies that started plaguing us as kids. We tried to figure out why we keep falling into the same old ruts.
Here’s the crazy (duh) thing that we realized. The lies we’re each tempted to believe are totally different from each other. And we’re sisters. We grew up with the same parents, in the same house. We ate the same chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes from my mama’s cooking. Yet we both grew into adulthood believing different lies. Why? Because we’re made different. I know. Profound.
Our Maker crafted us differently. We have different bends and different gifts. We’ve had different experiences with different perspectives. And different things make us lose our ever-lovin’ sanity. We have different “selves.” So while our kids ran around the house like they done lost their minds, we pondered something huge in the middle of the kitchen, “The denial of self will look different for each of us.” Stick with me. This is big.
The denial of self will look
different for each of us.
For me (today), to deny MYself means I have to fight the sin/idol of craving man’s approval. And that’s hard for me, y’all. Here’s the thing about craving man’s approval. That particular idol makes me very compliant. Seeking man’s approval naturally makes me appear really kind and selfless when deep down I may be wrestling with fear and doubt and insecurity. Wrestling because I so want someone to like me or approve of me.
With that as my natural, flesh, self-bent, I’ve been willing over the years to do nearly anything for the sake of (false) peace. So for me, denying MYself means I press hard into the Lord and follow His lead. It means I read His Word, spend time in prayer, listen to His Spirit’s promptings, and then go or do what He says to go or do. And then I leave the results to Him…even if/when people may not stamp all my doings with their approval.
I’m forty-two years old and still figuring this life thing out. Bear with me.
It’s different for my sister. For her, denying HERself means opening her hands with the things and time and relationships that God has given her. (Her words, not mine.) That’s hard for her. She likes to feel like she’s the one in control. Releasing things to the Lord — things like her schedule and her stuff — makes her feel a little out of control and like a panic attack might creep in. And ain’t nobody like a panic attack.
Deny YOURself and Follow Me
Remember that time when Jesus said to the rich young ruler (who had obeyed all the rules to near perfection), “‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Matthew 19:21-22)
You know what Jesus did? In that one instruction, He unveiled the man’s “self.” His direction to the man revealed the thing that the man actually worshiped — his possessions. And believe me. If we truly seek Jesus’ direction through the Word and prayer and wise counsel, He will give it. And more often than not, His leading will go directly against our self-life with a kind and loving vengeance.
And (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
True Love Sets Free
That’s what Jesus does…in love. He presses on the thing that steals from us. The thing that keeps us in the ruts of life. He presses us to the very end of our selves, and then says, “NOW, follow me.” And y’all, sometimes (most times), that pressing hurts! Because we like our idols. We like our self-life. We’re comfortable in the ruts. But true love sets people free. (Ah yes. That’s what I talk about in my newest book, Rooted — the immeasurable, mysterious, powerful love of God.)
So often we in this world define love as something sentimental and feel-good. So often I’ve defined love that way. But God has been stretching my view of love in recent days. Because though love includes “feel-good” at times, true love — the way the Lord loves us — presses another to their place of greatest good. And often, that pressing leads to great sacrifice. A sacrifice of self. Remember how much Jesus sacrificed?
Christ died the death we deserve and rose and ascended to give us real freedom. Walking in that freedom means denying self. YOURself. MYself. And that process of denying self will look a little different for all of us, because we’re all different. But the fruit of self-denial is the same: true freedom in Christ.
One reason we keep falling into the same rut: we’re too busy looking around at other people’s selves. We’re too busy feeding our own self-life. We need the Lord to reveal our own self, that we may be empowered by Him to deny ourselves, individually and uniquely.
Lord God, set us free.
Fill me, Lord…
What does it look like for you to deny YOURself?