I don’t like self-denial!

” . . . 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

 

 

There’s a better way.

“. . . by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Hebrews 10:14

How are you doing on your quest for perfection? Have you overcome that bad habit? Are your praying enough? Are your relationships in order? Are you eating only healthy foods? Do you do enough to help those in need?

Stop! There’s a better way.

Over many years, I’ve learned that, in spite of almost-heroic efforts, I’m not able to perfect myself. That will come as no surprise to those of you who know me! Along the way, though, God reminds me He’s the one who brought me into His family in the first place. He’s the one slowly changing my character to reflect His. Transformation is His work, not mine. My job is to relate to Him: talking, listening, learning, cooperating, submitting. That’s what He expects of you, too. When we do that, His message back to us is something like this:

When I called you, I knew who you would become. I also knew the mistakes you would make along the way – sinfulness, rebellion, bad habits, weaknesses. I never expected you to be perfect, so stop believing you can be. And never forget that My love for you does not depend on you. I love you just because you are Mine – even on your worst days.

God looks on His children with merciful eyes. We are weaker than we want to be. We will fail. When we do, He responds to our cry for forgiveness, cleans us up, and sets us back on the path. He will make us holy, but it’s going to take awhile yet!

“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen

He’s not hard to please!

“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

 

 

 

 

A Safe Place

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” – Matthew 6:6a

I read recently about hospitals that send home a “baby box” with each new mother. The sturdy cardboard box is just big enough to hold a newborn up to six months, is finished in baby-friendly designs, has a firm mattress on the bottom, and two built- in handles for easy transport from room to room. It is baby’s safe place. Safe from drafts, conversations, siblings, and pets. Baby boxes have been proven in Finland and Canada to significantly reduce infant mortality.

We never outgrow our need for a safe place: A room or a quiet corner can become a place of peace with no distractions. A place where we have only Jesus to look toward, talk to, and listen for.

We need some designated space where we can

  • feel His closeness,
  • be our true selves,
  • express our deepest needs,
  • reveal our most unacceptable thoughts, and
  • never fear attack.

Our safe place is a wall against the outside world – a physical space where we are nurtured, nourished, calmed, and strengthened. It is there we rest and grow. Then, when we are ready, we venture out into the bigger world – prepared to face what God has for us that day. But first we need time in our safe place with Him.

Where’s yours?

“There is a quiet place
far from the rapid pace
where God can soothe my troubled mind.
Sheltered by tree and flower
there in my quiet hour with him
my cares are left behind.
Whether a garden small,
or on a mountain tall
new strength and courage there I find,
and then from that quiet place
I go prepared to face a new day
with love for all mankind.“*

 

*https://www.hymnlyrics.org/requests/there_is_a_quiet_place.php

I can plod.

“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

 

The “Un’s”

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you; who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.” – Psalm 84:5

What are the “un’s? in your life? Have you ever thought about it? I took it as a personal challenge to spend time with God thinking about three categories of “un’s”: Unfinished Business, Unanswered Prayers, and Unfulfilled Promises.

In God’s presence I asked if there was any Unfinished Business in my life. A relationship to mend? An apology to make? A project to finish? A goal to set? I thought of my commitment to simplify my life, to abide in Him, to be grateful always, to accept imperfection. Recognize any of these? For me they are, as yet, unfinished. In process, but unfinished.

Then, I thought about what I saw as Unanswered Prayers – those for which I was still waiting for answers. Most of them relate to people I love and pray for – health, finances, relationships, marriages, spiritual condition – you know the list. Still praying.

Then there are Unfulfilled Promises. God has promised to heal wounds. He’s working on it, but not finished yet. He promises to train, discipline, and grow us up to be like Jesus. Working on it, not finished yet.

Might you want ask these same questions of God?

  • What is the unfinished business in my life right now?
  • What are the unanswered prayers I need to keep praying and trusting God for?
  • What promises has He made that are not fulfilled – yet?

You will be both encouraged and challenged as you wait for God’s response. And I’m pretty sure you’ll gain insights that surprise you!

“Let’s not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.” – Henri Nouwen

 

The Way We Look at Things

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” – Matthew 6:22-23

When things start to look fuzzy, I realize my glasses need cleaning or updating with some fine-tuned lenses. I want clear vision, both physically and spiritually. I think of it this way:

If we look at the world through the lense of money (How much will it cost? Or how much will we make?), we will never see the world as God sees it. He loves the world without regard to cost.

If we look at other people through the lense of self-righteousness or superiority, we will not be able to discern right and wrong. We will have already made up our minds.

If we look at those around us through a lense of anger, we will never be able to show love or gentleness. We will be harsh and rigid in our judgments.

If we look at our environment through a lense of negativity, we will not be able to see good in others or accept them as Jesus does. We will be critical and untrusting.

Maybe we need to evaluate our perspective. We may find we need a new way of looking at things: God’s way of compassion.

God can give us a compassionate view. He can reveal prejudices and attitudes. He can give insight and understanding. Once we allow Him to correct our vision, our relationships will change and opportunities for new ones will open we cannot yet imagine. First we have to be willing to see things His way. He will do the rest.

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer