” . . . 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
“Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.” – Psalm 112:4
Sometimes we labor in prayer, pleading with God for answers to pressing issues, waiting anxiously to see what He will do.
At other times, we simply mention something to Him, and He seems to respond – maybe just because we brought it up. For unexplainable reasons, God has chosen to use our prayers to change things in our world. And on some amazing occasions, He uses our prayers to bring blessings to others.
When God told Abraham he and Sarah would have a son, Abraham laughed because he was 99 years old and Sarah was 90! Not seeing how God could pull this one off, Abraham suggested his son Ishmael be the chosen one instead. But God made it clear that the new baby would be born and this son would be the one to carry on the covenant between God and Abraham.
God doesn’t stop there. He says, “. . . as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him. . .” (Genesis 17:20a). We know God had a plan for Ishmael, too, but I love that He seemed to respond specifically to Abraham’s concern. It’s almost as if God said, “I will bless him because you asked.”
Doesn’t that motivate you to ask? It does me. If we’re concerned about some person or situation, God wants to hear about it. Sometimes He gives us peace while we wait and sometimes He intervenes just because we thought it was important enough to talk to Him about. He allows us and our prayers to be the conduit of His blessing to others. What a privilege. What a responsibility! Let’s pray more.
“When we experience the love of God, we feel possibilities for newness on every side.” – Lewis Smedes
- Has God ever answered one of your prayers in a way that changed your circumstances or your heart?
- Has the Holy Spirit ever highlighted a passage of Scripture so you saw it in an entirely new way and that insight was just what you needed that day?
- Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a mess and then realized God had been preparing you for this situation well in advance of its coming?
“Thank God. . . Tell the whole world who he is and what he’s done! . .” – from 1 Chronicles 16:8-9 (MSG)
If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions or others that may be similar, here’s the last question: Have you told anyone?
I am becoming convinced that our personal experience of God’s blessing is not just for us. It is meant to benefit others as well, but if we don’t tell them, they won’t know. Many times I feel cautious about sharing what God is teaching me or how He is leading or blessing me because I am afraid it will look like spiritual bragging and I don’t want to be seen as proud or overly pious.
Then I realized that keeping quiet about what He does for me is keeping Him from being glorified. And it may be keeping others from being blessed. So, let’s share with each other what God is doing in our lives. Your story may be just what someone else needs to hear today.
It is both exciting and humbling to be in relationship with the living God. It’s even better when we enjoy Him together!
“Humility means reveling in his grace, not our goodness.” – John Piper