Dying to Self
“If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Lk.9:23+) These are hard verses. I don’t like to hear about death, or cross, or self-denial.
What does it mean to lose my life? Do I give up my self-worth? Do I sell all my stuff? Quit my job? How do I do this, and how do I know if I’m losing what I need to in order to find the life He talks about? These are difficult questions, and I’m still wrestling with some of them after having been a Christian for over 55 years. But a few thoughts have emerged over that time that I think are on the right track.
1. I’m thinking that we can’t really be asking, “How much can I keep before I’ve kept too much?” This seems to me to be another way of looking out for #1. Jesus is talking about our heart condition, and this does not quite get us started in the right direction.
2. We can long to become the kind of person who can surrender freely and find joy in that surrender, without actually having fully made that shift yet. It’s a place to begin. But we probably cannot become that person through willpower alone. We need to ask God for the kind of heart that can move closer to this life, and then begin working with Him for the renovation we still need in order to truly desire what He is offering.
3. ‘Losing’ our life is not supposed to be an attempt to earn something, like, “Maybe if I liquidate my savings account and send the money to Haiti, I will qualify as one who has lost enough in order to save my life.” Jesus is not asking us to earn life, He is trying to explain to us what a life worth living looks like. Saving our life is not a reward for losing it. They are two sides of the same thing. To use superlatives here, if I can exchange a heart of self-indulgence for a heart that is generous (however that is accomplished) I’ve found a better life by definition. No earning involved.
4. I think this may be more of a process than an event. It’s actually part of following. Day by day we can ask Him what we might be holding on to that is distracting us from real life, and wrestle with Him to change our desires so we can become more like Him. As we lay down our woundings, resentments, hatreds, selfishness, and all the other things that we seem to commit to, we find life more and more as God intended for us.
May God encourage us to want the journey toward re-finding life, even if we are not there yet.