As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.
— CS Lewis
Dying to self is an essential part of the Christian journey. I have come to believe it is the most important element of sanctification, but it is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn. Peace and joy? Sure, Jesus, I’ll take a double portion. Surrender, sacrifice, and death? Umm…Can I take a rain check?
There is a cost to the Christian life, and it’s not because God is harsh or cruel. Quite the opposite. There is a cost because he wants the best for us. He wants us to experience the fullness of his love. But if we are filled with worldly desires and selfish ambition, we have no room for his love to permeate our being. Consequently, the things that are not in alignment with his heart must die—our part is to be willing to let these things die. In my life, that has sure felt like a battle, a painful stripping away.
A couple weeks ago, I began to feel some anxiety about book sales. I’m not sure why. Rest for the Weary was released last year, and until recently I’ve felt content that God would get the book where it needed to go. My part was simply to write what he put on my heart, get it in print, and walk through the doors he’s opened for me. But for some reason, I felt myself clinging—wanting to take control of matters, pound on new doors. I’m not someone who loves marketing, and I’d prefer not to have to think about it at all, so it was unlike me to suddenly be thinking of better ways to “get my book out there.” Ugh!
It’s so easy to get caught up in this thinking. It’s all over social media. The world tells you it’s your hustle that will make things happen. But I have to say I’ve never been much for the “hustle” attitude. So what was my problem? After taking some time to reflect, I realized a couple things were going on in my heart.
First, I had misplaced my trust. Do I trust my own efforts or do I trust God? It seemed like my own efforts were fighting for equal standing.
Second, there was still a part of me that wanted my book to be noticed. In short, I wanted to be elevated, celebrated even. Such a desire denies the fact that we are already seen, loved, and yes, celebrated by God. Man’s acclaim amounts to nothing in the Kingdom, but we can waste much of our lives seeking something that doesn’t truly matter. And the more we follow the path of the world, the more distant we feel from God, compounding the problem.
God’s way is the way of love—the low road, the path of humility. It requires complete surrender of self. Paradoxically, this is the only path that allows us to discover who we truly are. Going low leads us into healthy identity. When that little voice inside rises up with its familiar refrain of What about me?, we know our identities are not yet fully grounded in God’s love.
As humans, we’re incredibly adept at clinging to things that are not God’s best for us—even things that are downright destructive. When we insist on doing things our way, through pride and control, we miss out on the blessing of seeing God work wonders. We miss out on the transformation he wants to do within us and around us.
I love the way 19th century South African pastor Andrew Murray puts it. “Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.”
As long as we live on this earth, this is a lesson we must learn again and again. Pride is sneaky. Just when you think you’ve conquered it, you become prideful about your victory. Truthfully, we have no ability to conquer our pride and selfish ambition. Only God can do that, which is why victory comes solely by surrender—continuous surrender to the only One who has ever walked in perfect surrender.
If we are to experience resurrection, we must allow him to nail even the best part of ourselves to the cross. In every way, Jesus showed us how to walk that difficult path. Again and again, I am reminded that my own efforts produce paltry, and sometimes downright bad, fruit. Only God’s way produces an abundance of good fruit.
Paul reminds us of the upside down nature of God’s Kingdom in 1 Corinthians 1:28.
He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
It is not the things we accomplish that matter to God, it is the condition of our hearts. Have we learned to love? If not, our hearts are not fully surrendered; we have not yet gone low enough to recognize our need for him.
Will you join me in surrender today?
Lord, I surrender to you all my earthly desires…
My desire to be right
My desire to be known
My desire to be heard
My desire to be vindicated
My desire to be needed
My desire to be respected
My desire to succeed
My desire for achievement
My desire for wealth
My desire for influence
My desire for power
My desire to control
My desire for perfection
Even my desire for love
Lord, I lay these desires before you. Take them and reorder them. Transform them in the light of your love. Take what is broken and make it whole. Take what is twisted and make it straight. Align my desires with your heart. Help me to desire you above all else.