Over the last few weeks the theme of death has come up in a lot of my devotionals. The scriptures I’ve studied out, sermons I’ve heard, and books I have been reading caused me to pause and ask, “God, what are you trying to teach me?” I think there are different types of deaths that need to occur within me in order to open me up to new possibilities and depths of transformation in Christ.
Christianity is life through death made possible through Christ’s resurrection. Jesus’ death was a tragedy, but it made it possible for us to be raised with Him in new life. If we are to follow him we too need to die to self. Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross but He did, for us, for me. The death I am called to is also painful and uncomfortable, letting go of self for Him, but for a greater good. In the tragedy of death I’m transformed. It’s a death that comes from killing that which hinders.
Mark 8:35 (The Message) “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it be to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”
To truly let Jesus lead, I have to die to everything I am at my core: a controller, someone who wants to lead herself and thinks she knows best. A self-protector, someone who wants to preserve my life even if it’s at the cost of others. When I lean into suffering and embrace it, I embrace death of self and His resurrection in me takes my place.
Purpose is always found outside of our comfort zone. I receive purpose through death so I can see past myself. Self sacrifice through death to save not only myself but to see my greater purpose. I can’t see my greater purpose if I don’t die. In one of his podcasts, Andy Stanley, described self-protection in terms of self-preservation. I love this imagery. To preserve ourselves, is to run from the death we are so often called to. It is only this death that can bring true life and grant us full access to the love we all so desperately yearn for.
John 15: 2 (NCV) “He cuts off every branch of mine that does not produce fruit. And he trims and cleans every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. […] 11 I have told you these things so that you can have the same joy I have and so that your joy will be the fullest possible joy.”
To experience real joy I have to crucify my faulty thinking, continually see where I am tempted to self-preserve and chose death to self in order to access and experience purposeful life, to the full. Self-preservation leads to grasping for control. Do you ever find yourself planning a response or reaction on a hypothetical scenario? Some of you absolutely don’t, but you probably know someone like me who does. You may also have your very own flavor of crazy when it comes to reaching for self-preservation. When I do this sort of ‘planning’, I’ve crossed over into my self-preservation mode. It’s in this space that I reach for control because I am afraid of something. In these moments I am learning to take stock of what I am scared of, bring it before God and say ‘no’ to the crazy. I am learning to choose love and truth as a filter for my thinking and to take the focus off of me and place it on others. I am incapable of this when I do not die to who I am in my nature.
The greatest challenge can be waiting on God when things are confusing. It’s in the confusion I chose to die and wait, instead of act and control. It’s in the confusion and discomfort that I chose to wait for Him to save me, instead of trying to save myself. I give up control and let the discomfort and sometimes even pain wash over me and am still until He shows me the way. Dying is releasing. I need to die to be open to new possibilities and depths of transformation in Christ. It’s being open, vulnerable and whole-hearted in this way that allows me to engage and be present in each moment and enjoy it to the full.
When I allow the discomfort and God’s comfort to wash over me simultaneously I die and He gives me the fullest joy (John 15:11). He transforms the fear from a I’m-being-chased-by-a-bear type of fear to a I’m on –joy-ride-on-a-roller-coaster type of fear. The former is riddled with anxiety that leads to self-preservation, while the latter is a trusting exhilaration that relinquishes the emotion in full assurance that it will be ok, because there is something greater ahead. I am transformed through death to become only that which I am able to become through Jesus. It is then that I can sacrifice myself for others, in the right way. I receive outward focus in right perspective.