Denial

“Then Jesus said to them all:  If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’” Luke 9:23

Self-denial. This is what Christ demands. And more importantly, it is what He deserves.  Jesus isn’t asking His followers to hate themselves; he is asking them to adore Him. Just as the old hymn says:

“Jesus paid it all.

All to Him I owe.

Sin had left a crimson stain.

He washed it white as snow.”

The choice to deny self is born out of adoration and gratitude, not obligation. It is the response of a heart that is ever-conscience of Christ’s sacrifice, and always thankful for His grace.

To deny yourself means to disregard your own interests for the sake of Christ and His glory. Following Jesus is not easy. There are times when He leads us to places that we do not want to go. He leads to places that are unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and even undesirable. I mean this both literally and figuratively. Loving our enemies is not comfortable. Forgiveness is not always easy. Putting others needs ahead of our own desires is tough. All of these are examples of how Jesus asks us to deny ourselves.

But, when we hold these acts of self-denial up to the cross…they don’t seem so hard, do they? When we choose to consider Christ’s sacrifice, we realize that He has the right to ask for whatever He desires from our lives. After all, we wouldn’t even have life physically or spiritually, if it weren’t for Him.

And as if what He has already given us isn’t enough, He continues to lavish His grace upon us. Whatever He asks us to give up He will replace with His abundant life. What we find is that the more we sacrifice, the more He gives. In God’s kingdom, death to self is the only way to truly live.

Jesus, You have shown me what self-denial really is. Thank You for dying so that I may live.  Please help me to deny myself and follow You today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

 

Risk

“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.”  Jonah 2:8

In this one short verse lays unending implications. It reminds me of the lyrics to a worship song:

“It’s Your love that we adore, it’s like a sea without a shore. 

Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid; just set your sail. 

And risk the ocean, there’s only grace. There’s only grace.”

Following Christ wholeheartedly will always involve risk…the risk of the unknown; or of what He will demand. Sometimes it involves the risk of personal safety…or of comfort and predictability. It is not an easy thing to do as the writer of this worship song says, “Set your sail and risk the ocean.” But, as the song also says, in the ocean of following Christ, “there’s only grace.”

Ironically, Jonah set his sail, quite literally, and took a different kind of risk. Instead of risking in order to follow God, he risked to run from God. Yet still, in the ocean of his disobedience he found God’s grace. Jonah knew firsthand what it meant to cling to the temporary and forfeit the eternal. He clung to the idol of comfort. He gripped the idol of control. He went to great lengths to avoid God’s plan. And when the winds blew and the waves crashed around his plan of escape, he knew what it meant to forfeit God’s grace.

But even there, Jonah found God faithful…faithful to discipline and to rescue and to redirect. Yes, following Christ is risky, but perhaps, as Jonah discovered, not following Him is even riskier. Life is stormy either way. Wouldn’t you rather be on the side of the One whose voice the wind obeys…the One who can call off the waves if He so chooses?

Are you forfeiting the grace that could be yours today? Are you clinging to the temporary things of this world at the expense of the eternal riches of Christ? If so, take the risk and let go…there is only grace.

Father, I admit that sometimes I am scared to obey You. Sometimes what You ask is so hard. Please help me to believe that following You will never lead to disappointment. You are worth so much more than anything You could ever ask me to give up. I want to risk it all for You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

 

Perspective

“From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said: ‘In my distress I called to the LORD, and He answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and You listened to my cry.”  Jonah 2:1-2

Jonah chapter two chronicles Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving to the LORD. He is praising the LORD for rescuing him in his distress. Jonah uses phrases such as: “I called to the LORD and He answered me; I called for help and You listened to my cry; You brought my life up from the pit O LORD my God; salvation comes from the LORD.” It is apparent that Jonah is overwhelmed with gratitude for the LORD’S mercy despite his disobedience.

Do you know what stands out to me the most about this passage? It is not so much what Jonah is saying as much as from where he is saying it. The passage begins with, “From inside the fish Jonah prayed…” These words of thanksgiving and praise are being lifted up from deep inside a giant fish’s hot, stinky belly. From Jonah’s perspective, this fish’s gut was the LORD’S salvation. Did Jonah know at that point that God planned to command the fish to place him on dry land after three days? From the Scripture we have no indication that he had such knowledge.

So what did Jonah know? What led him to such gratitude despite his bleak circumstances? He knew he directly disobeyed God. God commanded him to go to Nineveh, and he chose to rebel and run from God, boarding a ship headed as far from Nineveh as possible. He knew that God sent a huge storm that threatened to sink the ship of his escape. And when the men on the ship threw him overboard, the raging sea grew calm. He knew that he was drowning…and perhaps that he deserved such a fate due to his rebellion towards God. And he knew that just in time, a fish swallowed him whole, rescuing him from certain death.

So many times we choose to focus on where we are instead of on who God is and how He has proven Himself faithful. Perspective is everything. Will we focus on the belly of the fish, or on the God who has brought us safely through the storm? Will we lament our situation, or gratefully praise our God of second chances?

Father, Thank You for second chances. Even when I fail, You stand ready to forgive me and set me back on Your path. Please help me to focus on Your goodness, even when I don’t understand Your ways. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

 

 

The Lord’s delight

“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’”  Isaiah 46:10

God is sovereign – in control of all things – this is true. If there was any doubt in the minds of His people of this truth, God clears that up in Isaiah 46:10. To paraphrase, God says, “I am God. You are not. I know everything. You do not. I will do what I please.” If we aren’t careful, we could misunderstand what God is saying.

When God says, “I will do all that I please,” He is not minimizing man. He is not saying that He is the master puppeteer and we are just moving as He pulls our strings. While God’s purpose does prevail, He has chosen to involve us in His plans. This is messy work for God. We have not made it easy with our running and resisting and know-it-all attitudes. But still, He relentlessly pursues and corrects and loves, setting us back on His path and involving us in His plans.

The word please in Isaiah 46:10 means: “That in which one takes delight or pleasure.” In this verse, God is saying that He will do what brings Him pleasure. What pleases God, then? From Scripture, we know that God delights in humility. We know obedience pleases Him. So does worship, truth and faith. God takes pleasure in all of these.

If God does what pleases Him, does that mean God delights in our suffering and hardship? No! But He does delight in what suffering produces in us. Anything that God allows into our lives is for His pleasure, and therefore for our ultimate good. In every situation, we must choose to see with eternal perspective. In 2 Corinthians 4:18 Paul wrote that we must “fix our eyes, not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

No matter what you are facing today, choose to look to the unseen. How can this situation build my faith? How does it cause me to worship? What opportunity has it given me to obey? This perspective delights the Father…and what could be better than that?

Father, I know that You are in control of my life. You are aware of all of my circumstances, even when I don’t understand. Please help me to trust You more. Help me to see the unseen and not just the here and now. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Can I help?

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

The LORD’s purpose prevails. Always. No matter what. Despite our plans, mistakes, or even sin, God’s purpose will stand. This is both comforting and disconcerting, isn’t it? It is comforting because no matter how much we may mess up, or misunderstand, or fail, God’s will for our lives will be accomplished – one way or another. It is disconcerting because this truth forces the realization that God is indeed in complete control. He is big, and we are small.

God does not need us. Acts 17:25 says that God “is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.”  This is one of the great mysteries of God. He does not need our service, yet He chooses to accomplish His plans through our service. Ephesians 2:10 says that God has saved us for “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

When put together, these truths paint a beautiful picture of what it means to have a personal relationship with the sovereign God of the universe. God’s purpose will prevail.  He does not need anyone or anything to bring about His plans. Yet, in grace and wisdom He has chosen to humble Himself and include His children in His work. Do you wonder why?

Have you ever allowed your young child to “help” you with a household chore? Clearly, you could do it better yourself. You do not need your child’s help. In fact, it would be easier and more efficient just to do it yourself. So why involve your child in your work?  It is because you love your child. You enjoy spending time with your children; and you delight in their willingness to help you. It is about the relationship, not the task.

So it is with God. He delights in hearts that long to serve Him. It brings Him joy to see His children “help” Him. He does not need our help, but He does want our hearts.

LORD, It is humbling to admit that You do not need me. And it is overwhelming to believe that You want me. Please use me today, Lord, to accomplish Your plans. I surrender my plans and ideas to You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.