what denying oneself is not

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and processing with certain people about some of my deeper heart issues that have been arising from my counseling sessions and from some of the current life situations I find myself in. Tonight, I feel that some clarity is finally starting to emerge from the vast swarm of thoughts and emotions and issues that I’ve been trying to sort out. And I think, no, I know, that God is doing something deep and profound in healing my heart in ways that I have needed for a long, long time. I think a great deal has to do with unlearning certain things about the denial of self that I used to label as “Christian,” “godly,” or “Biblical.” That is what this post will be about. What denying oneself is not. Hopefully, as I continue to process this under the authority of God’s Word, I can get a better sense in time of what true Biblical denial of self is.

Denying oneself is not being ignorant of one’s inner desires, passions, or preferences in the name of being God-centered or other-centered.  For example, consider the basic and common question of, “Where do you want to go for dinner?”  It is not somehow more godly to say, “Umm…I don’t know…wherever you want is fine” in comparison to “I would love to eat Afghan food right now.” Sometimes I think that we confuse dying to ourselves with losing ourselves and our God-given uniqueness completely. To apply this to a more important scenario beyond choosing a place to eat, I would say this also applies to how one feels about things such as large, loud conferences and ‘cold-contact’ evangelism. It took me so long, and so much deprogramming, to realize that not every godly and mature Christian ought to love and be passionate about those things. I am an introvert. I do enjoy conferences a great deal and have gained invaluable treasures for growth through conferences. But they make me very tired, and there is always a point during the conference where I deeply crave solitude. I don’t want to be in a loud crowd, 24-7. I don’t want to be jumping from session to workshop to small group to workshop to session. At some point, the introvert in me becomes completely saturated and I need to be away from conference activities and people so that I can actually take in on a deep heart level what God wants me to take in from the conference. I am an introvert. I am terrible with chit-chat, small talk, in-your-face conversations, i.e. cold-contact evangelism. I thrive on trusting, established friendships where I can share about my faith and my relationship with God in a way that is much more me. Generally speaking, outside of times when God, (not another person, mind you) has clearly asked me to step beyond my comfort zones in faith, I am doing everyone a disservice by trying to be something other than who God has made me.

Denying oneself is not a self-righteous disregard for healthy boundaries in oneself and in others. Between Mary and Martha, Mary set boundaries for herself by saying no to the chores, the busyness of hosting, the running herself ragged, so that she could say yes to sitting at her beloved Savior’s feet and receiving all that He had to impart to her. Jesus said that between the two sisters, Mary had chosen the better thing. Jesus Himself had boundaries. He moved on from town to town even though there were plenty more crowds clamoring for His attention, His touch, His miracles. He loved them without doubt; after all, He would eventually go to the cross for them. But He also set boundaries with them and said no to many requests from a deeper place of wisdom than most people could understand, much less accept.

Denying oneself is not a lack of self-care. There is something very wrong when we find ourselves saying, “I don’t have time to exercise because I’m involved with this non-profit organization and that church committee and this mothers’ group and that support group.” Denial of self does not necessarily mean that we completely disregard our own selves as persons just because we are so fixated on caring for other people. The apostle Paul asked for a little wine to soothe his stomach while he was in prison. He didn’t say, “Oh, heck, I’m already wasting away in prison. Give that wine to someone else.” I think at some point, I became a bit invisible to myself and I forgot that I too was actually a person who needed care and attention. As a result, I would ignore or invalidate internal red flags trying to warn me when my own spirit was being sorely neglected. Tonight, as I was going on a much-needed long run, I suddenly had a moment when I sensed the Lord just telling me how much I mattered to Him. That all this counseling and the active steps I’ve been taking towards better self-care has not been so much about me becoming overly self-indulgent, but it’s been about Him wanting me to finally understand that HE. LOVES. ME.  He knows me. I matter to Him too, just as much as everyone else that I’m seeking to serve. And He delights in me.

And so I believe this transforms how we then approach what it does mean to deny oneself for the sake of glorifying Christ and loving and serving others. That will require more musing and more time in the Word. And quite possibly a few more tears of both conviction as well as freedom. I am hopeful.

6 thoughts on “what denying oneself is not

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on denying self which resonate deeply within me. Claiming gifts and affirming preferences are ways we learn who we are and accept ourselves just as we are. Knowing and accepting who we really are gives glory to God who created us and takes delight in us. It seems to me that we must fully know and walk in our unique gifts before we can give ourselves away. And then giving one’s self away is pure joy and not dimenishment. A fully awakened life becomes all aflame.

  2. processing…”under the authority of God’s Word.” thank you for wording it that way. i do a lot of processing, but im not always trying to do it according to His Word. or i forget to. i also like what you said about boundaries and self-care. sometimes i feel like i have very “needy” friends, eventho these are people i absolutely LOVE. but lately, ive been trying to draw some healthy boundaries, and its incredibly hard. i feel so guilty. ahhh! i’ll tell you more later (hehe).

  3. And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. – luke 9:23

    i cannot shake this verse. thank you for your reflections b/c this is such an uncomfortable but direct word from our Lord. our tendency is to either ignore it, gloss over it, or take it beyond its meaning. i too am still in process of figuring it out. no matter how you slice it though, it still cuts. we recently studied this passage and hope you don’t mind me sharing some of it with you…to add some more fodder for your thoughts.

    there are two kinds of denying oneself 1) to disregard your own beliefs 2) to disregard your personal interests. contextually, the latter seems to be meant. especially considering the good points you brought up, i interpret the verse to mean disregarding my personal interest as it takes away from “follow(ing) (Him)”. there are some personal interests that actually help us to follow Him (as in Mary’s choice to be at His feet), there are some personal interests that need to be redeemed (genuine desires that can find their ultimate fulfillment in Him), and there are some personal interests that take us away from Him (wants that are just temporary fixes to much deeper needs).

    to take up, or to carry, ones cross is by no means a pretty picture. in those times it meant and was understood to mean carrying a cross beam that you’d be hung upon, not only a humiliating task but one that led to your death. to the Jewish people stoning was the form of execution but to be hung on a cross of wood, hung on a “tree”, was to be cursed by God (Deut 21, Joshua 10). to the Romans crucifixion was a form of death relegated to the lowest in society; Roman citizens were not hung.

    to follow our Master into true life and resurrection, are we willing to disregard our personal interests (that keep us from following Him), even going through being humiliated, cursed, and treated like a nobody unto death…just like our Lord? or to put it more simply: am i following after Him?

    • I have been thinking about what you shared for all these past days and really appreciate your thoughts. It is so true that the call is radical, non-compromising, and non-apologetic. I think about Peter in his early years of following Jesus – still so insecure, so motivated by his own desire for power and significance outside of Christ, so immature in his understanding of who Jesus was (understandably so, since the Resurrection had yet to occur…Peter was really only going by all he understood of the Messiah’s identity up to that point). In those early days, Peter “followed” Jesus but only to a certain degree because he still did not truly understand who He was in the eyes of Christ, and he did not understand who Christ was. So when the time of testing came, Peter denied Christ 3x. Yet it was Christ’s restoration of Peter in love and grace, and Christ’s greater revelation of Himself after the resurrection, that freed Peter to willingly and wholeheartedly take up his own cross and follow after Jesus in a new and deeper way. I think sometimes we Christians just throw a blanket statement of “denying oneself” over all forms of self-neglect and self-denial without really fleshing out the core of what fuels an honest, whole-hearted denying of self that is rooted, DEEPLY rooted, in an understanding of Christ, His grace and love, and our identity in Him. I feel like that’s where I’ve been tripped up for most of my life, and I’m wanting something more solid and real now. Thanks for dialoguing with me on this. Still so much food for thought!

      • word. so true, we often forget the beginning and ending of that verse: “if anyone would come after me….and follow me.” all the suffering…why and to what end? it is Jesus (the alpha and omega)…that relationship is and should be the motivation.

        praise God for his command of sabbath rest. even in the grueling demands of ministry Jesus always made time to steal away to be with His first love. even if no one really recognized Him or understood Him, He was understood and refreshed by His Heavenly Father. In such places was He transfigured and had holy fellowship to empower Him to head to Jerusalem.

        we follow Him into suffering but we also follow Him into rest…this is where we need to deny and put to death our self sufficiency to live in transforming dependency.

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