Death To Self
About five years ago, I was moving an eighty-pound umbrella stand and unfortunately dropped it on the end of my left middle finger. In that moment it was amazing to hear the things that came out of my mouth…It reminded me there is still a great deal of transformation that needs to take place deep in the recesses of my soul. But the hardest aspect of the injury was that for six to eight weeks I would be unable to play guitar. I had concert dates set that would have to be cancelled or postponed. But the reality was I would miss out on the joy of playing guitar. At that moment not playing, saying no to the guitar, was the only choice available to me.
Sometimes in life there are no other choices available in our following Jesus. Then following is easy. Obedience is not as difficult when it is the only way available. But life does not always just present to us one choice. We often tend to have multiple choices in our decisions whether they are large or small. That being the case, to choose to say no to our own way, our perceived best interests or what is comfortable for us is often difficult. It is what Christian theology describes as an aspect of death to self.
Death to self is a willingness to renegotiate our personal “non-negotiables”. Death to self begins as a practice regarding, not the large things, but the little things that seem either incidental or just fundamental to life. Practicing death to self finds expression every time I am faced with the statement “I want”.
Death to self means the willingness to die to the “I want” of life, like I want a snack, another cup of coffee, a certain menu, another toy, or just my way. It is not just an attitude but a way to practice my choices and decisions.
I find that from this perspective I do not do “death to self” very well at all. In fact I can feel the inner resistance to saying no to what I want, especially in the small things I regard as essential. It was at the very place of essential items that Satan tempted Jesus. “ If you are the Son of God, turn these stones to bread.” Jesus replied, “ Man does not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Satan will always tempt me to say yes to what I presently want, my appetite, my hunger. But Jesus proceeds in the way of saying no to His physical desire that He might feast on what God provides in His Word. I need help to recognize the temptation of Satan that revolves around what I want and what I think is essential. Lord, please have mercy on me, for I fail at this regularly.
Again, I need help to have the strength to say no in the small decisions, as well as the large ones. Self-denial is so difficult for me. I choose to give in to my first impulse or, I tend to do the right thing to gain the credits from God to do what I want later. “I’ll do it your way this time, Jesus, so I can do what I want the next time.” Or, I’ve been pretty good, working hard, and I deserve a break, a snack, a prize.” This way of thinking doesn’t treat God as the Lord of mercy , love, goodness and grace. It instead is a manifestation of my foolishness. These are ways I live by a ledger of good works, trying to earn enough, to achieve enough credits to do what I want and still remain in God’s good graces. It is an affront to grace and it is definitely not indicative of a life surrendered to Jesus as king! Lord, have mercy on me the sinner.
I don’t know if I can ever fully change and follow Jesus in this way. I am so attached to my own wants and desires nurtured in this world. But Jesus reminds me that what is humanly impossible is not impossible to God. I’m often afraid of His way for I fear the discomfort and pain. I fear the rejection and humiliation. I fear how hard it is to enter the kingdom of heaven. I struggle with the idea of letting go of the known experience to cross a threshold into the unknown experience, based on just a word of promise.
In this matter, my faith in God is not strong or so well-founded on reality and truth, but more on my momentary feelings of disconnection from His presence and love. I am most vulnerable to temptation at those times. So each day I pray that He will capture my heart again.
He calls me to continue to plow this ground so full of rocks and hard earth until I begin to discover the fertile topsoil of faith that will support the seed of His word. “Help me, Lord, to persevere with patience and disciplined effort at clearing the space for You to come. Help me to say no to the impulse to take an easier way than the way You walk. Help me in this journey of death to self, so I might find life in You. Help me to see some glimpse of the goodness of Your way. And as I am given hints of beauty, goodness and truth from You, help me to recognize those hints of grace with gratefulness this day. In Jesus name, Amen.”
Here is a song to further encourage your reflection.