NO to self, YES to God
Have you ever seen a toddler throw a fit? If you are a momma, I know the answer to that is a resounding YES, but I am pretty sure everyone has. If they can’t have exactly what they want, they want everyone to know they aren’t happy about it.
Toddlers know little of self-denial or thinking of the needs of others. They wake up in life ready to serve themselves. They play, eat, go, and say what they want. It takes much training and discipline from their parents for these strong self-focused desires to be swayed.
Truth is, we aren’t that far off from the kicking and screaming of those little tykes. We just usually find more socially “acceptable” ways to express it. We do it by grumbling, being discontent, ranting on social media, bad-mouthing the people around us, being too busy for people, focusing on ourselves instead of listening to others, and longing for something “more” in our life. What does it even look like to deny self? I know the very best example.
Jesus gave up all rights
Jesus is the creator of everything – The Ultimate King. All rights and freedoms belong to Him. Yet, in His great love for us, He gave it all up for us. He chose to leave heaven and come to earth as a little baby. He allowed himself to become a human (and experience all the hardship that goes with that). He listened, taught, served, defended, and healed the people others found unworthy or unclean. He washed the grimy feet of the disciples. He never sinned, yet He suffered an agonizing death on the cross so that our sins would be forgiven and we could be close to God.
“In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others… He [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:3 & 8)
Jesus is the epitome of a humble man. Scripture calls us to follow Him. It calls us to consider others more important than ourselves in our everyday lives.
Practicals for all stages of life
You might ask, “So what does it look like for me to deny self?”
Student/employee – Work hard on every project even when you find it trivial or others are not pulling their weight or you get no recognition for your efforts. Consider that everything you do is an opportunity to show the gospel to the people around you.
Wife – Look to please your husband. Respect and encourage him. Give him your time and energy with joy.
Mom – Be quick to remind yourself that your children are not a burden but a gift. Listen to their little chatter. Play their silly games. Read them the same book for the 10th time. (God uses it all!) Be soft in your responses and discipline your own heart and actions before you discipline them.
Friend – Give freely of your time and energy. Choose to be present even when it isn’t convenient to you. Reach out to those that are hurting. Allow your schedule to be altered for the people you love. Pursue genuine relationships with people of different races and backgrounds than yourself.
Christian in 2020 – Ask God what He wants you to do in your life (career, where you live, how you spend your time, etc). Be an example of what it looks like to live out the Truth of the Bible in the way you speak and act for the sake of all those around. Work to encourage others when on social media, pursue unity, and be careful to steer clear of divisive talk. Choose to put others above yourself by wearing a mask, even if it is inconvenient to you. It really is worth the small sacrifice to show love to the people around us. When the world brings hate and division, it is our job to show the opposite. We should be the first to forgive, first to show love, and the first to lay down our own desires and rights because this is what Jesus did for us.
Jesus said to them, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:35-39)
The best news
But, you might ask, what about my desires? The best news is that a life of obedience to God is a life of joy. I know it goes against everything in our culture, but saying no to our own desires and yes to the words in Scripture brings a much longer lasting joy than always getting what we want in the moment. The toddler that gets the Skittles he cried for is happy until they are gone. Then he wants more. The happiness is brief. Joy comes from someone much bigger and not at all fickle. God’s love for His people will never grow stale.
Practicing self-denial does not mean we are to never think of ourselves. It simply means we are to think of ourselves less often. It means our emotions and desires have to be tested by the Truth of God. We need to filter our thoughts, words, and actions through Scripture. It actually means less stress and anxiety because we aren’t so worried about the things that don’t matter all that much. It means we can be content.
It’s true that we may not get the immediate gratification we want through self-denial. However, it allows us to exchange the momentary happiness the tasty Skittles offer us for something way better and far more lasting – healthy relationships with the people around us, a joyful and fulfilled life, and closeness with a God that will never let us go.