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

 

 

The Most Important Thing

” Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” – Mark 12:30

Anyone who’s been in significant relationships knows that loving can take effort. Think marriage, business partnerships, friendships, raising children. Long-term. Sometimes hard, but worth it.

The most extraordinary relationship we have as humans is with God. Loving Him takes attentive effort mostly because He asks for nothing less than total, life-altering love. Specifically, He tells us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. How can we do that? Let’s look.

“With all your heart” means our love for God will be emotional. We’re to develop positive feelings toward Him and an intense desire for Him. We can’t manufacture those feelings, but we can help them grow in our soul and mind. Here’s how:

The soul is the place where we make decisions. We can choose to love God. After time, loving Him will become part of our very being, but we have to will it first.

Loving God with our minds involves intentionality: We can think about Him, read His Word, learn about Him, and try to understand His view of the world. The more we know about God, the more we will love Him. Love is a spontaneous response to knowing who He is.

And He wants us to do this with all our might – to make loving God the central thing in our lives, doing so  with energy, persistence, and determination.

Summing up, how do we love God as He desires?

  • Will it.
  • Think it.
  • Feel it.
  • Do it with all our might.

According to Jesus, this is the most important thing. Nothing else comes close!

“The first act of love is always the giving of attention.” – Dallas Willard

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

He still shows up.

“Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.” – Revelation 3:20 (The Message)

God seems to love being part of our ordinary lives. Here’s how we know: After Jesus died and was raised from the tomb, He kept showing up. And it seems these visits were most often in the places where everyday life was happening: on the road, at a meal, or at work.

Remember the story when Jesus walked with two sad disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24)? He listened to their story of the death of the one they thought was going to be their Messiah.  As they walked, He explained to them all the prophecies fulfilled in His life, but they still didn’t realize who He was.

When they stopped for supper, Jesus acted as if He was going to keep traveling, but His two companions asked Him to stay with them. And He did. As a result of that meal, their hearts were warmed, and their minds were opened to understand that God Himself was at their table. He didn’t let them see who He really was until they invited Him to dinner.

Jesus still shows up, but He is a gentleman. He doesn’t push into our lives. He waits for us to acknowledge His presence, to talk to Him, to include Him even in our routine activities. He is with us – at work, on the road, at meals, at play, and at rest. Let’s not ignore Him. Ordinary turns to extraordinary when Jesus is there!

“We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God. He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts” – A. W. Tozer

The Jesus Question

 

"May prayer be made for him continually." - from Psalm 72:15

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness.” – John 12:46

Most people have an opinion or belief about Jesus. Some see Him as a compassionate man who once walked around Galilee and Jerusalem doing good things for people and teaching them to live better lives. Others claim a personal relationship with Him – believing He’s with them, praying to Him, asking Him to guide their lives. For some, opinions are based on hearsay or feelings; for others, they are based on research and reading. There is no doubt that the views of Jesus vary widely.

Here are some things people have said about Him:

  • Some in the biblical crowd: “He is a good man.”
  • Others in same crowd: “He deceives the people.”
  • Roman centurion: “Surely this was the Son of God.”
  • C. S. Lewis: “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.”
  • John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
  • Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
  • Thomas: “My Lord and my God.”
  • Bertrand Russell: “. . . clearly he was not so wise as some other people have been, and he was certainly not superlatively wise.”
  • People of Nain: “A great prophet has appeared among us.”
  • Temple guards: “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”

If Jesus walked into the room right now, what would you say to Him? About Him? Who is Jesus to you? It’s the most important question you will ever answer.

“The miracle of the gospel is Christ, risen and glorified, who this very moment tracks us, pursues us, abides in us, and offers Himself to us as companion for the journey.” – Brennan Manning

Let Me Lead

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“He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” – Psalm 23:3b

Jesus went around Galilee finding many to whom he said, “Follow Me.” And they did, some following closer than others. Peter was one who was in the closest circle of all, right up near to Jesus, hearing every word, witnessing every miracle, and even being empowered to do the same himself.

Then the human inevitable happened. When Jesus was telling the disciples He was going to Jerusalem and would be killed there, Peter rushed over and said, essentially, “No way. We will never let that happen to you.” The one who was supposed to be following decided to lead. Whoops! When Jesus said “Follow Me” the implication was, “Let Me lead” and He rebuked Peter’s well-intentioned but misguided attempt at a takeover.

Do we let Him lead? Even when we don’t agree with the path He has chosen for us? Even when it seems like He is making a mistake or doesn’t understand? Following Jesus is good, but each of us will come to crossroads when we have to decide if we will let Him lead.

He wants to show us how to spend our time, how to respond to people, how to help, what to read, how to spend. He gives it as both a command and an invitation: “Follow Me.”

We are not following some trail guide randomly finding His way through the landscape of life. We are following the One who is the way. If we believe that, we must let Him lead. Anything less would be foolishness.

“If we cling to the trinkets of this world and reject the radical invitation of Jesus, we will miss out on the infinite treasure of knowing and experiencing Him.” – David Platt

 

Being Stretched?

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“Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17

Sometimes life is hard. We find ourselves caught up in situations we can’t control. At that point, we have a choice either to trust God or break into a thousand pieces. I have learned that when God puts us in that kind of a bind, He has a purpose. He is stretching us to make us usable beyond our wildest dreams. When I protested recently, He said something like this,

I know it’s hard to trust Me with everything, especially with those you love. If you can’t trust Me, trust My purpose. Everything that comes into your life is meant to help you, not to hurt you.

Look at how I stretched the disciples beyond their comfort zones:

  • Sending them out two by two, asking them to heal, cast out demons, announce the kingdom. They were fishermen and common men. These were villages and people they knew. It was a stretch!
  • Storms on the Sea of Galilee – pretty scary.
  • Confrontations with the Pharisees. My disciples honored these rulers and cringed when I countered them.
  • John the Baptist’s death. That just didn’t fit into their thinking.
  • Speaking in parables. They wanted everyone to understand what they had found. Couldn’t figure out why I didn’t speak in plain language.
  • My treatment of my earthly family. So counter-cultural. They cringed then, too.

I stretched them beyond recognition, but look who they became. Trust My purpose. It has a goal and it is good.

It is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.” – C. S. Lewis