I've been called a lot of things since bringing home a critically ill child from China ~ Crazy - Brave - Amazing - A Saint - A Hero. I'd like to take each and every well-meant compliment and store them up for a rainy day when I'm feeling far from brave, amazing, saintly, or heroic! I like drinking in nice compliments like that, but I am far too aware of who I am deep inside the recesses of my heart to think that, apart from the grace of God, and the Spirit of Christ IN me, anything worthwhile could possibly come from ME! There is a raging battle in my heart on a daily basis between the me who longs for comfort, ease, and fame and the me who longs to bring glory to the God who is most deserving of it!
I've gotten my feet wet on death to self in months and years past... but a new awakening has rocked me to the core and made me take a deeper look inside... It would be easy for me to pat myself on the back and celebrate the victories against "self" I've managed to pull off in the past few years. Maybe it's someone else's turn to fight! Haven't I done my share already? I have a few feathers in my hat and feel pretty content with that. Besides... the American dream is calling my name again. You know- "self" sufficiency, work hard and profit "self", put in your time so that you can retire to comfort and ease on a tropical island alone with your hubby. But the American dream I was raised on has little to do with the life Jesus calls me to! In fact, the worldly "freedoms" this country offers me to pursue life and happiness in my own strength, does more to lead to bondage than any earthly leader could impose upon its' prisoners. A life of freedom to pursue "self", is a life of misery indeed! I don't think that patriotism to the country I love is in any way wrong, but it has suddenly occurred to me that the religious freedoms our forefathers fought for have little to do with my walk with Christ or the life He has called me to live in dying to self!
Don't get me wrong...I don't want to deny self for the sake of misery! Who would? But I know that pure JOY awaits the soul that denies it's flesh of temporary pleasures, so that it might enjoy eternal ones forevermore. And suddenly the meaning behind the words of Jesus make perfect sense... "Whoever loses his life for my sake, shall find it!" I've found life- "real" life- in the most unexpected places and discovered that the very things I've fought against are the things that bring the greatest possible joy!
For many years I've read about heroes from the past that I longed to immulate. People like Hudson Taylor, George Mueller, Amy Carmichael, and Jim Elliot. They had obviously learned the absolute JOY of death to "self" and they brought immeasurable glory to the name of Christ. But they seem far away and long removed from the world I live in today. I'm a stay at home mom- a homemaker- the wife of a minister... How am I to do great things for the Kingdom of God? Those things were reserved for a select few....
But lately I've met some modern day heroes, and I've begun to wonder what makes them so different from me? John Monger- a Bhutanese believer- exiled and tortured for his faith. Now a precious friend. Does he possess something I don't that enables him to glorify Jesus through a simple life much like my own? Then there are the heroes in the adoption community that I have begun to meet via blogs, Facebook, phone calls, and surprise meetings. I always thought that these godly women must possess some spiritual quality that obviously alludes me. Something special that enables them to do the beautiful, redemptive things they have done to glorify the Lord.
And yet God quietly reminds me that they do not possess anything that I do not possess in Jesus. Death to "self" doesn't somehow come easier to a chosen few. They must fight the same battle of flesh and desire for comfort that I do!!! Death to self is no easier for them then it is for me or for you!!! I didn't ask them, but I'm betting if I did, they'd tell me- They get weary.... they feel spent... done... overwhelmed... selfish... they long for comfort and ease just like I do! There is no exception to the rule within the human race. The Bible says it in so many ways I couldn't possibly list them all here... Yes, even the likes of Moses, Elijah, Peter, John, and Paul admitted to the same weakness of flesh that plagues me... I marvel when I see the things God did through these mighty men. They way God called Moses His friend. And the way He worked so miraculously in response to the prayers of Elijah. And how He literally changed the world through common, ordinary men like the disciples and a once persecutor of Christians. I start to feel small and insignificant. I forget that the God of those men is the same God I serve today. I guess that's why I simply love the verse of scripture in James 5 that encourages us to pray by saying.... "Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years." James, the brother of Jesus, felt that his listeners needed to be reminded that the God of the universe had not changed, nor had man's ability to connect with Him if they earnestly sought Him. If they needed that reminder just years after walking with Christ in the flesh, how much more do I need it today?
I guess that means that the teachings of Christ for the lives of His followers are still relevant today too! But in my selfish state and American mindset, I think I've begun to relegate His commands to a select few! Jesus called us to a life of suffering and hardship... to a life led by HIM, not mySELF! I've been spending a lot of time rethinking my secret hopes that things like suffering and hardship were for someone else.... anyone else, as long as it didn't include ME!
Most of us have suffering and hardship forced upon us at different times in our lives. Maybe it's an unexpected diagnosis or a child born less than "perfect", a family member in dire straights, or a natural disaster has stolen all our possessions without warning. We can choose the way we respond to those circumstances... Will we choose joy or will we do the opposite and live life in misery? I want to respond with JOY. I think that when I do, it reveals the depths of my heart and where I place my hope. Sadly, though, my natural inclination is to hunker down and wait for brighter days (with some whining and complaining, of course) that might usher in seasons of happiness.
But Jesus took it a step further when He told His disciples that if they wanted to follow Him, they had to "take up their cross daily" and follow Him. Could he possibly mean that we are to CHOOSE to carry pain... choose to suffer to follow Him? To "take up my cross" would mean absolute death to myself! And worst of all, He didn't limit this command to a select few occasions in my life from which I could return to self gratification and comfortable living, but to a DAILY dying! Before you beat yourself up like I have myself, remember this...To be a disciple is to be a "learner". Learners are not professionals yet. But they are on their way to their goal of being like their leader.... Jesus took up His cross willingly; by choice! At any moment, He could have thrown it down and decided the pain wasn't worth it. But He willingly endured it for our sake.
How often do I willingly choose a road of suffering for the sake of another? For that matter, how often do I willingly choose the difficult over the easy so that someone might find life or have life more abundantly? God has been invading the recesses of my heart lately and pointing out areas that need attention. I've discovered some difficult truths about myself that are quite unflattering. I like comfort! And while I've proven a few times in my life that I am willing to lay down that comfort to follow Jesus, I find myself constantly looking for a way back to it again. "How much time will this take?", "What will this cost me?", "What will this cost my kids?" (cause you know- their comfort and happiness is pretty important to me too!) "How will this benefit me?", "How many more years will this cost until I can return to my comfort, my pleasure, my time....." Call it ugly, because it is! But even with the greatest accomplishments for the Lord in days past, I asked each and every ugly question listed here, each and every time!
I may be a slow learner, but I'm finding that life seems really short! Too short to waste away on ME! Why should I wait until a "terminal" sticker is placed on my medical record to start really living for Christ? I was "terminal" at the moment of my birth and so were you! I personally believe that Jesus is coming back soon, and the thought of that gives me a sense of urgency that I wish I had every single day. Whether or not He returns in my lifetime, though, THIS is the only time I have to redeem for Him! Each day a precious gift to be given back for His glory. I have a choice to make. Will I continue to live for "self", or will I say "so long" to self and discover what it means to live for something so much bigger? I'm ready to take hold of the grace that will enable me to do everything as onto Christ and start living like the Godly hero I so long to be! What will that look like for me? What would it look like for you? I honestly don't know... But Jesus calls me to take up my cross and follow Him. Only He knows where we're headed! My job is to humbly follow and imitate Him as I go.
There's a saying that I've loved since it first grabbed my attention a few years ago... "Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming --Wow! What a ride!!"
I agree with the sentiment, but it needs some spiritual tweaking. Here's my new spin on it... "Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, thoroughly used up, totally worn out for the cause of Christ, poured out, completely emptied of "self" for His glory, and declaring -- It was all for you, Jesus!" Now... THAT'S more like it!!!!
That's your cue, Self! Time to get packin'! So long Self....
I just HAVE to share something with you here, as I watch the shadow of myself fade into the distance... I am so excited about the ways God can use a person who is walking away from a life of self-love to pursue His love... Just look what He can do!!!