My last blog post was on the subject of dying to self, briefly outlining what it means and what it looks like. It this article I want to share my own experiences with the same subject. It amazes me that so many subjects I pick to write on for the blog apply to me. Yes, I am often speaking to myself. If you are surprised, don’t be. Of all the qualifications for pastors, one of them is not perfection.
I am a follower of Jesus. Like you, I want to serve my Savior. And like you, I am faced with choices, desires, options, and possibilities. And, like you, I have desires, dreams, and hopes. And like you, I strive daily to die to self by putting those natural wants away to seek God’s will. And like you, I am working out my faith day by day. And like you, it is not always easy.
Not easy at all. We do have the blueprint. We follow a Savior who died to self: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42) We serve a truly amazing God. Who would not want to die to yourself and take up your cross and follow him? I certainly do.
And I want to die to self every day. The goal is always the same. What I want to do each morning is to put to death my own self-justifying ways. I seem to have several personas, all of which resist dying and that find all sorts of subterranean paths of escaping the death of self. This is because we belief our self is needed in some capacity to give us life, identity, security, and love. And when that self’s life is threatened, we fight to keep it alive. I am sure you have encountered that, and so have I.
But here’s what I keep learning and why I love my God, He loves us too much to leave us in the dark. As Jesus said, “See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness” (Luke 11:35). We must die to certain ways of seeing ourselves that keep us in the dark. It’s why Jesus said we must die daily, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24).
Here are some signs that something needs to die in my life: My wife and kids used to wonder if I still lived there because of all the hours I was working. I was more defensive than sad. The Northstar staff suggested to me that you’re “too high-control” or you need to trust us more. Occasionally I would be resistant, thinking to myself that “I’m lead pastor and the teacher, not the learner.” Even less frequently I would feel unrecognized, under appreciated or left out. I tried to assess blame when things didn’t go well. I know what you are thinking. That doesn’t sound like you Marty. My answer is you are right. It is not me today. But it took time and any number of tries to where I was comfortable denying my self.
Denying yourself means you value others above yourself. Romans 12:10 tells us that:“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” But this issue can and does go deeper. It begs the question, could I be secure in God’s love without public recognition? Could I let God be in charge of my reputation? Was God’s approval enough for me? After the early attempts and efforts in dying to self, I eventually found myself relying on God more in small things. I found the relationship with God that I wanted. Since then, it’s become easier. Now it’s freeing not to clutter up my schedule and worry about things that I don’t need to concern myself with. These small self-denials have a cumulative effect of moving away from self. But even with the advances I have made, I am still a work in progress.
I realize that in my life needs to be less of me and more of Christ. I get that. I realize that I need to take up my cross daily. This is something that I have taken many times to the Lord and asked Him about. Less of me Lord, more of You. Lord get rid of the me in me. You don’t do the changing God does. I am beginning to finally know what that takes. It takes full out surrender.