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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

how to die

Our God gave me what I think is a beautiful, freeing, and challenging insight recently. I have a feeling it's not anything new to some of you, but it is powerful to me and I'm excited to see God help me to live it out.

I found myself extremely frustrated Monday night. Mostly with myself. I was feeling especially fed up with myself. My self-righteousness, my wrong judgments of people, my pride, my annoyance with people, my lack of faith, my lack of boldness in sharing the Gospel, and the all the inconsistencies I see in everyone around me. Just to name a few. In short, I was pretty mad that everyone is so imperfect and I knew I was hopeless to do anything about it.

I was remembering sins God showed me in myself a few months ago that I couldn't see any improvement in. I realized I'm judging my own wife who I love when she prays because I feel spiritually inferior to her, so my mind scrambles to come up with excuses to believe that she's insincere or something. It's disgusting, and I was more aware of it than usual. Maybe the disgustingness actually was more in me than usual, maybe not. So, I realized I needed to spend some alone and let God rearrange my thoughts.

I took a walk in the night and God started to clear some things up. I've come to expect Him to do that when I give Him a chance. He wants us to know Him! I started to think about what Jesus said in Matthew 16:24-25

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.

For a long time I've known that I need to deny myself and take up my cross, but I've never really been able to grasp what that means in daily living. The thought of it scared me and I knew it should be something really hard, and deep down I was pretty sure I was not even close to living this.

Then I started to think about some something the apostle Paul shared about his own experience:

20 My old self has been crucified with Christ.[a] It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Another verse I knew was for all believers but I've never been very confident (as Paul seems to be) that my old self had been crucified. Crucified things shouldn't keep overtaking my mind, should they?

And another peek Paul gave us into his life I was identifying very strongly with:

14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[d] I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power[e] within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

That's from Romans 7. Then I had what I think was a God-planted thought. What letting myself be crucified and denying myself means that I deny myself the "right" that I usually assume I have to think and follow through in my head with all of the thoughts that come to my mind. I feel very powerless to stop them, and it seems like Paul experiences the same thing. But I don't think I have to claim those thoughts and follow through with them. By the grace and power of God, I can instead surrender the thought and allow the Spirit of God to plant His thought in me for the situation. But... I need to know and be in fellowship with the Spirit to be able to recognize Him and really trust Him enough to allow His thoughts to take over. I feel like I'm not describing this is nearly as much clarity as it is in my head.

I think about Jesus. He mentioned so many times that He only does what the Father tells Him to do. I'm having trouble finding the verses I'm looking for, but here's some that make the point. This is in John 8:

28So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him."

I know I recently read another place where Jesus says he has many things to say to the Pharisees, but He's only going to say what the Father tells Him to say. So it seems as though Jesus had many thoughts come to His mind as a human, that he could have let take their course, but rather than taking that as his right, he trusted that the His Father is perfectly good and it's best to allow Him to rule.

So all of this means to me that at least a part of that being crucified with Christ is giving up on my right to follow through with the evil, selfish thoughts that I am bombarded with. I have been bought with a high price to set me free from that. It makes me want to cultivate my relationship with the the Spirit that God has given to dwell in us, to be our Helper. I need that help. This kind of dying to my self is starting to sound as hard as I've always thought it should be.

If you read this whole thing, thanks. Let me know how it sits with you and what your experience has been.