Denying Ourselves

The Key

Several months ago, we began a new series entitled The Key, which explores how we give ourselves or surrender ourselves to the Lord on a moment-by-moment basis. Understanding this principle is an essential foundation block for a blessed walk with the Lord. Maturity in Christ is simply recognizing our self-life and knowing how to give it over to the Lord.

We mentioned that there were four attitudes and four practical steps that are, again, essential in dealing with our sin and being reconciled to the Lord. We explored the first of the four attitudes last month, which is being willing to present our bodies as living sacrifices each and every day.

We said how very important it is for us to daily give God permission to expose anything in us that is "not of faith." In other words, we must allow the Holy Spirit to search us, to try us, to know our hearts and to see if there is any wicked way in us (Psalm 139:23-24).

We also talked about the importance of knowing, no matter what is going on in our lives, that God loves us and that He is working out His purposes in our lives in the way He alone knows best. He is teaching us to walk by faith, not by sight. Knowing that God loves us unconditionally is the foundation of our walk with Him and without being confident of this fact, we really can go no further. Knowing He loves us is the only basis upon which we can unconditionally present ourselves to Him as living sacrifices.

Denying Ourselves

The second crucially important attitude we must have in order to be used by the Lord is that we need to be willing to continually deny (set aside, relinquish or surrender) ourselves. In other words, we must be willing on a moment-to-moment basis to hand over to the Lord any thought, emotion or desire that is not of faith or that is contrary to what He would want. Even if our negative thoughts and feelings are justified by the world's standards, if we choose to hold on to them, they will quench His Spirit in us.

As Matthew 16:24 exhorts, "If any man will come after Me [Jesus], let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."

This means we must be willing to set aside all of our own self-centered ways, our own rights, our own frustrations, offenses, even our own expectations, comparisons and presumptions.

This step is something that we do internally and is often much harder to do than denying ourselves outwardly. Denying outward things would be like giving up our careers, our positions, any material assets we have like our houses, our cars, our possessions, etc.

Internally dying to self, on the other hand, is extremely difficult because it affects who we really are - it's our personhood and, of course, our emotions are always so involved. It hurts to set ourselves aside, especially when we feel we are justified (certainly by the world's standards) in thinking and feeling the way we do.

An Example: "I Was Beside Myself"

Look at an email that I received from a pastor in California:

For three days I was extremely angry and upset after reading your article "Practically, How Do We Renew Our Minds?" in the last issue of Personal UPDATE (our monthly newsletter). When I read that we had to be willing to deny ourselves by setting aside our own justified feelings, rights, frustrations and offenses, I was beside myself.

Since 1981, I have been in full-time ministry as a pastor. It was the pastors of two very large churches in Southern California who hurt me so deeply. In each case I was forced to give up my job, my house, my reputation, and lost nearly every material asset I possessed. Believe me, I have denied myself! It has cost me plenty to follow Jesus, only to read that I must now give up these feelings of anger, bitterness, and hatred! Does God demand not only our material possessions, but also our inner possessions as well?

That has been my battle for the last two years. Of course my anger was not directed at you, but towards God. How could the God I had served so faithfully treat me thus. I had given Him all of my energy, all of my service, and my job and possessions as well, only to learn that it wasn't enough. I couldn't even possess my own feelings of bitterness and anger. Of course I knew this. I have been a believer since childhood and involved in church work all of my life, as was my father before me. But knowing something and being able to do it can be two very different things.

Then, I re-read your article and understood for the first time that I could not give up these feelings, but that I only had "to be willing" to give them up and God would do the rest. So I prayed that God would do the work because I couldn't. I was, for the first time, willing to lay aside my feelings and give them to Him. Do you know that in some ways it was harder to give up my inner feelings than to give up my job?

Since then, however, I have felt a peace and a joy in my life that has been hidden from me for the better part of five years...

Each time you struggle with denying yourself, as this precious gentleman did, I would suggest reading Philippians 3:8-15, where Paul says, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung...."

Be Willing

Another Scripture that's really powerful in regard to denying ourselves is Luke 14:26, which reminds us that we cannot really be God's disciples unless we are willing to (not wanting to or feeling like it, but simply willing to) lay everything down (father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters). "Yea," He says, "even your very own lives." Again, we don't have to "feel" like doing this; we simply must "be willing" to do this!

Several years ago, while having lunch with some dear Christian friends, we began to talk about how very important it is for us to be willing to deny ourselves and follow God. My friend, Suzy, said to me, "Nancy, I don't agree with you. I think some people don't have the ability or the capability to lay everything down and do it God's way." She then gave various reasons why she was convinced that they couldn't do this: "dysfunctional families, co-dependency, poor marriages, physical abuse, emotional problems, and other environmental circumstances."

I thought for a moment and then replied, "Suzy, if these people are Christians, then God is in them, right?"

She said, "Of course."

"Well," I responded, "then He is the One who will make them capable and give them the ability to deny themselves. I think all Christians are capable of laying themselves aside because God is in them, but not all Christians are willing to do so! And that, to me, is the bottom line."

The people Suzy was talking about simply weren't willing to lay themselves aside. Their excuses ranged from "dysfunctional families" to "my husband is not trying."

These things were not the real problem, however, because God has all the Love, Wisdom and Power they need for each of their difficult situations. The real problem was that they simply weren't willing to set themselves aside so God could do these things through them.

The fact that all Christians are capable of surrendering themselves down, but not all Christians are willing to do so, helps us to understand Matthew 24:12 a little more clearly: [in the end times] "the Agape of many will grow cold." Again, all Christians have God's Love in their hearts, but not all Christians are willing to set themselves aside to let it flow.

When we become willing to lay everything down, God promises us in Luke 18:30 (as well as many other Scriptures) that He will return a hundredfold, in this life as well as in the world to come, all that we have chosen to give to Him.

That certainly seems to be what God has done in my own life. The more I am willing to lay down at His feet, the more He seems to return a hundredfold! If you read my book, Why Should I be the First to Change?, you'll see how God has restored a hundredfold my marriage, my family and my children. It hasn't always been in the way I thought He would do it, but it's always been in the way He knew was best.

One young woman said to me recently, "Nancy, I'm not willing, what will make me willing?"

I proceeded to ask her if she was happy with her relationship with God, with her marriage and with others. Was she content? Did she have peace and joy in her life? She stood up and screamed at me, "No way!"

"Then," I said, "that's what's going to make you willing!" It's those tight corners that God so lovingly puts us in where nothing else seems to work that finally make us willing to go "His way."

To be continued next month: "Get Up and Do in Action What God Says."

This article has been excerpted, in part, from Chuck and Nan's book, The Key.]