” . . . the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” – Psalm 84:11b
I don’t like self-denial. It may relate to how I use time, spend money, or express opinions, but most of the time I want to have what I want, when I want it.
So when I read Jesus’ words, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), I cringed inside. I wanted to follow Him, but daily self-denial just sounded hard.
Then I read John Piper’s teaching in his book Desiring God, and my view about self-denial began to change dramatically. According to Piper, the biblical concept of self-denial is letting go of the lesser good so we can grab onto the greater good. When I started to look at it that way, I realized Jesus’ demand for self-denial was for my benefit, not His! I understood that I deny myself, not to make Him happy with me, but to allow Him to do greater things with me. Greater than I can do if I follow my natural instincts.
It makes sense in other areas of life: I choose to workout, denying myself an hour on the couch, because I value health more than rest. I deny myself a frivolous expense because I am saving for something really special later. Spiritually, it makes sense, too. We deny ourselves what we want humanly so we can receive what God wants for us supernaturally – things that are better for us than whatever we give up. Maybe it’s not self-denial at all!
“To become like Christ is the only thing in the world worth caring for, the thing before which every ambition is folly, and all lower achievements vain.” – Henry Drummond
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10b
Have you ever thought about what you can do to make God happy? I asked Him that question once and here are the things that came to my mind as I sat in His presence:
• Enjoy My creation.
• Support the weak.
• Encourage someone’s faith.
• Have a grateful heart.
• Listen for My direction.
• Take care of your body.
• Nurture your soul.
Then I realized all these things have been shown to us in His Word. We find commands there, of course, and our obedience pleases Him. The Bible also reveals God’s heart and gives us glimpses into what brings Him joy. Some of those things are on my list above, but we find others as we read the prophets or the psalms, or see Jesus at work in the Gospels.
When we grow to know Him more intimately, we begin to see Him as a loving Father. It is then we discover He is not hard to please. What He wants most from us is relationship. Loving connection with us is such a deep desire for Him that He sent Jesus to make it possible for us to be adopted as children into His family.
Just as a caring father expresses enthusiasm when his child presents him with an undecipherable crayon drawing, our Father in heaven is delighted with our sincere, but less-than-perfect, efforts to please Him. If we just tell Him, honestly, we want to make Him happy, He will show us how. Our efforts will bring Him joy. And I guarantee God’s joy will make us happy, too!
“The truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings and His service one of unspeakable pleasure.” – A.W. Tozer
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.” – Isaiah 30:21
Are you a plodder?
We want to soar like eagles, not trudge along like mules. We want our ideas to go viral. We want to influence thousands. We want our posts to be liked and shared, our opinions welcomed. We want to see that we matter.
C. S. Lewis put it this way in talking about his grief after his wife’s death: “We want to prove to ourselves that we are lovers on a grand scale, tragic heroes; not just ordinary privates in the huge army of the bereaved, slogging along and making the best of a bad job.” We all hate to think we are ordinary. We have aspirations to greatness.
But, for most of us, instead of soaring, we plod. We try to do the next right thing and the next and the next. All small things, all building something that we hope will matter, even though we can’t even imagine what it will be. Instead we find ourselves on a path just putting one foot in front of the other.
Maybe that needs to be OK with us. Maybe that’s exactly where God wants us: Following the path He opens in front of us and trusting Him to make our journey significant. I think He calls it faithfulness.
So, if we find ourselves plodding along, let’s not give up. Let’s keep going, listening for His direction, and anticipating what He will do with our small steps today.
“I can plod. That is my only genius. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.” – William Carey (1761-1844), missionary to India