Friday, March 9, 2018

The Irony of God's Love

by Nicky Smith

Through life we all develop a void within us. At the root of this void is a desire to be loved. Everyone wants love and in fact, we all need love. We are made this way. However, the only way to fill this void permanently in us is through obtaining the love of God. 

While some live their lives unaware of this void, many may sense that there is an emptiness that needs to be filled, but few know how to fill it. When we do not know how to fill the void through obtaining God's love, we turn to others around us to help fill us with love. However, when we turn to others or the world, we are filling our void through artificial means. These ways may include such things as wanting others to accept us and our life decisions, or wanting others to stroke our ego (expressing how beautiful, smart, or accomplished we are). Some seek to fill the void by accumulating material possessions or constantly seeking for better job opportunities hoping their accomplishments will help them feel fulfilled. Others try fill the void through artificial versions of intimacy. Some try to control their environment or the people around them in order to fill the hole inside. Others abuse substances or food to fill them. We may also seek to fill it through feeling loved and accepted in various good God-given relationships, whether it be a parent, child, or spouse. You can become aware of this void if the relationship is overly intense or if you feel like you follow them about emotionally like a puppy dog, where their love and acceptance creates happiness in you and their lack of love and acceptance leads to you feeling empty and insecure. I'm suggesting there is a difference between needing another's love and being grateful that another loves us. Although feeling loved by another is a good thing, needing another's love and acceptance to fulfill us is not good, because it is never enough to replace the love of God in us.

Almost everyone uses at least one of these things as a replacement for feeling God's love and acceptance of us, but after getting a "fix" and feeling loved, accepted, or understood, the void slowly reappears and again we are left feeling worthless, unloved, lonely, misunderstood, unaccepted, insecure in relationships and about our life choices, and so on. When we turn to the world and those around us to fill the void, the void is only filled temporarily. Counterfeit versions of love and acceptance never fill the inner need we have for God's love for very long. Furthermore, they act as a replacement of God's love and when we are seeking after these things, we are not seeking after God's love and acceptance as fully as we should. However, when we have obtained God's love and acceptance, we will not feel lonely, misunderstood, and insecure, because God's love for us fills our void and the lack of love and understanding of those around us do not compete. 

God is Love
God's love manifested in many, many ways. Some of the more commonly understood and accepted manifestations of his love is through receiving counsel and truth. Other times we may obtain comfort from God. Sometimes we may feel the abundance of his love. I have felt it on a few occasions. The feeling of God's love for us is something that is beyond description. It is far more than any love you might feel from another person. 

God's supreme characteristic is love (1 John 4:7-8). I have come to learn that everything he does and allows us to experience is an expression of his incredible love for us. In fact, everything he does and allows is evidence of the greatest amount of love he has for us. Any deviation from what he does for us would be less love than that. This is why God is love. 

Now, John wrote that the more we come to know God, the more we can feel God's love. 
7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. (1 John 4; emphasis added)
John also explained that we come to know God through becoming more like him. Thus, the more we become like God, the more we can feel of his love. 
4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. 
15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2; emphasis added)
Eventually we can get to the point where we are filled with his love and we know we are accepted by him. This is not just for a moment in time, but something that fills us and stays with us. It permanently fills the void we feel in us (unless we sin or move away from God's will, whereby we will feel that emptiness in whatever way it manifests again). However, prior to this point, as we follow the narrow path into his presence, God in his grace and mercy allows us to periodically feel of this love, until we can one day be filled with it. 

The Irony
There is irony in God's love. Irony is something that occurs in the opposite way in which you would expect. God's love is ironic because it often occurs in the opposite way in which you would expect or even desire. One very important aspect of God's love that is often forgotten is his chastening. Paul wrote:
5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. (Hebrews 12; emphasis added; see also Proverbs 3:11-13)
Each of us have weaknesses and struggles which prevent us from having a pure heart. These things separate us from God. God desperately wants us to be able to abide in his presence, but we have to have a pure heart and clean hands (see Matthew 5:8; Psalm 24:4; Isaiah 59:2). John said that our fellowship with Christ can only happen as we walk in the light, being cleansed of all sin. (See this post on walking in the light.) Walking the narrow path always involves rooting out our sins, weaknesses, and false beliefs and this is almost always painful and involves suffering. 

God helps us with this process of becoming pure through chastening. This chastening takes on various forms: Sometimes it is through his words, while other times it is through the experiences he allows us to have. Through his chastisement, he aims to help us remove the spiritual disease that exists in us so that we can comfortably and confidently be in his presence. This chastisement is mostly always painful, just as performing surgery to remove a cancer would be painful and unpleasant. It is aimed at helping us see things as they are and develop humility, and uproot the false beliefs and weaknesses in us. (See this post on uprooting our weaknesses and false beliefs through developing humility.)

Some may proclaim that God would never intentionally do anything to hurt us, but I propose that God allows us to feel pain so that we can get rid of anything that is a stumbling block in our way to come back into his presence. Thus, every single difficult experience we have is God helping us overcome something preventing us from being in his presence. Think of Christ asking the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions. He didn't want to remove that part of his heart that was filled with the love of riches, but Christ asking him to get rid of his riches was Christ's way of loving him. I have come to learn that love isn't always what we think it is and there are times when an act that can seem unkind is in fact loving. Coming to know God more enables us to better understand what is truly loving and what is not. 

These painful experiences allow us to understand Christ's suffering (see 1 Peter 4:1,13-14). When we have "fellowship with his suffering" (see Philippians 3:10), it is then that we are able to better feel and comprehend God's love for us. In essence, it is through our suffering that we can more fully taste of his love for us. Paul wrote,
8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.
 (Philippians 3; emphasis added)
While the greatest love is manifested when a man lays down his life for another, Jesus' suffering and death is a manifestation of his infinite love for us (John 15:13; John 3:16). John wrote:
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (1 John 1; emphasis added)
16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3; emphasis added)
It is through the laying down of our lives for others (see this post on laying down our lives for others) that we can perceive and understand God's love for us. It is this that gives us fellowship with his suffering. It is then that we experience his love for us to the greatest degree. This is what fills the void each of us have. 

Recently I was led by the Spirit to read Psalm 23. It is such a oft-quoted psalm that I've never paid too much attention to it, but the day I read it, it took on new meaning for me. I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by a difficult experience and as I read this psalm I felt comforted in what the Spirit helped me understand. 
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Jesus is our Shepherd. Like a shepherd who cares for his sheep, Jesus cares so deeply about us. When we allow him to lead us, we can and will get to a point where all our needs are supplied. Any need for love and acceptance is filled by him. 
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He will lead us to a place where we can feel his rest (green pastures) and be filled with his truth (water).
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (Psalm 23)
However, this requires that we follow him along the paths of righteousness. Although these paths lead to our soul being restored (our void filled), these paths also always lead us through the valley of the shadow of death. We cannot walk the paths of righteousness without deep suffering that feels like death, because in fact, through this suffering we are required to die to self (see this post of dying to self).

To many, it would seem unloving to lead someone through the valley of the shadow of death, but it is only through walking through this valley that we can come to know God and his love for us. It is in this valley that we obtain a fellowship with his suffering. 

Another psalm that gives a similar message is Psalm 84. 
5 Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them.6 Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. 
7 They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God. (Psalm 84)
Baca speaks of tears and weeping. In other words, Baca refers to the valley of the shadow of death. As we go through that valley of death, we can choose to allow ourselves to be filled with God's love and truth as we sanctify ourselves in our suffering. The aim is that we turn that valley of death into a valley of learning and the Lord's rest. 

Job Experiencing God's Love
Job is a man who was very righteous, yet God allowed him to suffer. It is safe to say that Job went through the valley of Baca. One might ask why God would allow Job to experience this terrible suffering. I believe it was through his suffering that Job's faith increased to such an extent that he was able to enter the presence of the Lord. 
1 Then Job answered the Lord, and said,
2 I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.
3 Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
4 Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.
5 I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.
6 Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42; emphasis added)
It was through Job's trials that he could get to the point where he could be in the Lord's presence. For this reason, when God allowed him to suffer, God was showing Job the greatest possible love he had for him. 

As we willingly walk through the valley of death, experiencing great trials of sorrow and suffering, we can use these experiences to sanctify us, knowing that God allows us to have these specific experiences as a manifestation of his incredible love for us. While some feel abandoned in their suffering, we can know that God is there and completely mindful of us. As we go through these experiences (and especially as we offer our lives as a sacrifice to God and others) and become sanctified, we can be filled with God's love. This love fills the emptiness each of us feel at times. We then no longer have the need to try fill the void by seeking love and acceptance from others. Although being loved by others is always a blessing, it will never fully and permanently fill us and seeking to fill it with anything other than the love of God makes it harder for us to be completed by his love, for it is only God's love for us that completes us. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Placing Yourself on the Altar For Another

by Nicky Smith

Recently I read the story of Abraham needing to go to Egypt to escape a famine. 

21 And I, Abraham, journeyed, going on still towards the south; and there was a continuation of a famine in the land; and I, Abraham, concluded to go down into Egypt, to sojourn there, for the famine became very grievous.
22 And it came to pass when I was come near to enter into Egypt, the Lord said unto me: Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon;
23 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say—She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise:
24 Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.
25 And it came to pass that I, Abraham, told Sarai, my wife, all that the Lord had said unto me—Therefore say unto them, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee
(Abraham 2; emphasis added)
I also read this same story in an apocryphal account of Genesis found on the Dead Sea scrolls and this statement, similar to verse 25 in Abraham 2, stuck out to me:
"...Say to them of me, 'He is my brother, and because of you I shall live, and because of you my life shall be saved.'"
It is very likely that Sarah would have been scared because she must have known the Pharaoh would take her as a wife and she knew all that that entailed with the new role. In doing this, she was willing to "give up her life" (not through death but the life she could live and the life she wanted) in order that Abraham could live. 

When I read these accounts this verse came into my mind:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
When we think of this verse in Jesus' sermon on love and obedience, it is not unusual to consider that Jesus is speaking about dying for others and that this is the greatest form of love we can give to another. However, the Spirit impressed upon my mind an expanded understanding of this verse. 

Sacrificing the Life You Want

Each of us have desires and things we want in our lives. These things may be a particular lifestyle, a specific type of marriage, a certain number of children, a particular career, and so on. We may also have goals we want to accomplish in our lives. All these things may be righteous, godly desires. Yet, God may ask us to sacrifice something in order for another to live. "Live" in this sense can refer to enabling someone to remain physically alive, but most often actually means enabling someone to spiritually live, or overcome a weakness or sin and draw closer to God than they otherwise could without your sacrifice. In other words, God may ask you to give up something huge in order for another to return to God. 

In Revelation 12, it describes those who overcame Satan: "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death." (Revelation 12:11) 
Those who are able to overcome Satan are those same people who are willing to lay down their lives. They aren't anxious about preserving their lives. As stated, this does not only refer to being willing to physically die, but being willing to give up everything you wished your life could be like. In the end, not loving your life unto death means that your life doesn't matter as much as surrendering completely to God. This requires we die to self. (See this post on the death of self.) God will then use our lives to benefit others and draw them closer to him, so they too can live. 

Like Sarah, Paul was willing to completely surrender to God and experience whatever might happen to him in order to minister to others and testify of Jesus:

22 And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there:
23 Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.
24 But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20, emphasis added)
Jesus said that only those who do not love their lives (or who are willing to completely surrender everything) are his disciples. 
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14)
I recently thought about Isaac and why he was willing to give up his life. Paul, in referring to Abraham's faith, suggested that God raised Isaac from the dead as a result of that experience. 
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:
19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. (Hebrews 11)
It is amazing to me that he was willing to lay down his life so that his father, Abraham, could pass a test. (See this post for more details on Abraham passing his test.) His willingness to offer his life in this way showed that he did not "love his life unto death," but instead loved God and his father more than himself. Isaac, being a type or figure for Christ, exemplified Christ's love for his father.

When we offer our lives as a sacrifice for others, we need to make sure we are doing it at the Lord's request. Sometimes we can have in our minds the idea that the sacrifice we are offering is what God wants, but instead we are doing our own will. Our own will may seem very godlike and charitable, but when we are not doing God's will, we are doing our own. One of Satan's greatest tactics is to lead us to be distracted with things that really aren't God's will and we may think we are "laying down our lives" for God and others, when in reality we are laying down our lives for ourselves. 

The offering of this sacrifice is much like a mother who offers her body (and sometimes her life) to birth a child. Pregnancy is uncomfortable. Childbirth is painful. But, in losing her body, she gives life to another. Similarly, the sacrifice God may ask of us is never an easy thing to do. It's the kind of experience where you ask, "Is there any other way? Please take this bitter cup from me!" Then as God says, "There is no other way," we surrender everything because we love God and others. Then, just as a mother develops a deep abiding love for her child, the sacrificer develops greater love for the one they sacrificed. 

Outcomes For the Sacrificer
The offering of one's life, as Sarah and Isaac gave, is never solely given for the other to receive life. In fact, the experience has a dual purpose for the one offering the sacrifice. These outcomes can never be minimized because they are vital in the progression of the one offering the sacrifice. 

1. INCREASED FAITH. While Sarah's sacrifice enabled Abraham to physically live, she would have gained a lot through the experience too. Interestingly enough she went through this experience twice. The first time was with the Egyptian pharaoh (Genesis 12) and the second time was with King Abimelech (Genesis 20). Although we don't know the details of Sarah's subjective experience, it is likely in my mind that her faith in God increased after the first time, as she was preserved in miraculous ways. It is entirely possible that she obtained greater faith when she went through the experience a second time. 

Furthermore, as we rely on God through such an experience, he will give us promises which we can cling to as we offer that painful sacrifice. We can know that in the end we can obtain the blessings he promises us. During the sacrifice as we wait for the promised blessings, our faith is tried, but as we see those promises come to pass, our faith in God will grow. 

Elijah was told to go to Zarephath because God has commanded a widow to give him food (1 Kings 17:9). He found the woman and asked for water and bread. She said she had enough flour and oil to make a little cake herself and her son, but that she and her son were going to die due to not having any more food. She was then given a promise through Elijah that if she were willing to give up her last bread for Elijah she would not run out of food. She had faith and offered her food to Elijah (1 Kings 17:8-16). It is evident that this experience wasn't so much for Elijah, but was rather for the woman to increase her faith and rely on the promise God had given her, as she offered the last food she had to Elijah. 

2. SANCTIFICATION. Just as Christ was resurrected and Isaac obtained his life in a literal way, the sacrificer is able to draw closer to God through this experience, becoming a new creature. In some cases, the sacrificer may be given eternal life. Each of us have weaknesses, sins, and false beliefs we need to overcome, but through the offering of one's life for another, we are able to crucify an aspect of our flesh. We do not know in what way this sacrifice of Sarah's provided an opportunity for her to sanctify herself, but it is not unreasonable to consider that a lot of beliefs she had about marriage and womanhood may have been examined. This experience could very well have provided her an opportunity then to overcome some of her weaknesses.

3. EXPRESSION OF LOVE FOR GOD AND OTHERS. In the end, the experience is the ultimate expression of our love for God and the person for whom we are being sacrificed. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) We may not have that love when we first begin to offer that sacrifice, but as we go through that experience, our love for God and the other person develops and grows. Moses is another who gave up his life multiple times for others. He gave up living a comfortable lifestyle in the Egyptian palace, as well as his wife and children in order to lead the Israelites back to Canaan. Moses did this because he loved God and he loved the Israelites. 

If we are going to receive any of these intended blessings when asked to offer such a sacrifice, we need to offer that sacrifice willingly. (see 2 Corinthians 9:7)

For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God. (Moroni 7:8)
If it is not done willingly, the sacrificer will not receive the intended blessings offered to them for giving that sacrifice. 

Outcomes For Those Receiving the Sacrifice 

As Jesus Christ sacrificed his life, he offered a prayer saying,
1 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:
2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17)
Jesus' sacrifice was so that we might lay hold on eternal life. Just as his sacrifice does not guarantee that everyone on earth automatically receives eternal life, the same is true of those who have another person sacrifice for them. In the case of the sacrifice being offered for spiritual life, the person being sacrificed for has the opportunity to repent or to reject the offering. Obtaining life is always based on repentance and surrendering to God. For instance, Isaac could have been willing to give up his life, but Abraham also had to be willing to give up his son too and completely surrender to God.  

There is an interesting story in the Book of Mormon of a group of people who offered their lives as a sacrifice for the Lamanites. They had made a covenant with God that they would never kill another being and as a result had buried their weapons of war. They would rather suffer death than break that covenant (Alma 24:19). The Lamanites prepared for battle against them with the hopes of destroying the Anti-Nephi-Lehis (Alma 24:20). We know that the Ant-Nephi-Lehis lay prostrate on the ground and praised God, not knowing the outcome, but trusting completely in God. After a large number of them were slaughtered, this led a great number of Lamanites to repent and give up their weapons for a life devoted to God (Alma 24:24-25). This is a great example of literally laying down one's life in order for others to have the opportunity to repent and turn to God.   

When we reject Jesus' sacrifice, we are condemned until we repent; similarly, those who do not repent and draw closer to God when another has been asked by God to sacrifice their lives are condemned until they do repent. It is a serious matter, especially given that another has sacrificed so much. 

God may ask you to sacrifice your life for another. Or, God may ask another to sacrifice their life for you so you can repent and overcome weaknesses. No matter the pain that comes from the situation, surrender to God. It is part of developing increased faith. It is part of sanctification. It is part of your walk back to God. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Learning to Love Through the Death of Self

by Nicky Smith

In the last few weeks the Spirit has been impressing upon me an old concept in a brand new way. I have been learning about it little by little, as if the Lord has been adding color and texture to my understanding of spiritual progression. Recently as I was sitting listening to my husband talk, I was asking the Lord, "I want to learn to love him more. Father, please teach me how." Immediately the Spirit explained that as I "die to self," I will learn to love others more. The Spirit then gave me some initial insights on what this entails. 

This blogpost is a result of this growing understanding, although I do not claim to know all things pertaining to this topic. This topic may be familiar to you, but using different words to describe the same thing. I have to say though, I am not anywhere near where I need to be in practicing this, but I am working on it every day.  

Death to Self

Death to self is essentially laying ourselves on the altar as an offering to God. Death to self means we are willing to do whatever God asks us to do, no matter how hard it may seem and no matter how painful the experience is. We no longer follow after our own will, but God's alone. So often we speak about the necessity of laying ourselves on the altar but we do not fully understand what this entails. We know it means doing and desiring the will of the Father, but I have come to understand that it encompasses so much more than how we typically understand this phrase. 

The natural man (and woman) has a great deal of needs and wants in life and in their relationships with others. The natural man expects attention and praise. They desires favor from both God and men as well as desiring to fit in. The natural man endeavors to conform to the standards of others (whether it be appearance, personality, or standards of righteousness). They also have expectations of how others should and should not treat them. They seek to change others and at times, control them. They also have hopes about how others will view them. They expect love to be given and received in particular ways, both in themselves and others. The natural man then responds to the behaviors of others in certain ways and determines whether a relationship of any kind will be formed with that other person. The natural man also at times does loving things for others, but with the motive of self. This is hard to detect because on the surface they seem like very kind things to be doing, but upon digging deeper, they are simply doing those things to feel good about themselves. 

Death to self, however, entails eliminating or letting go of all our needs, expectations, hopes, and dreams we have of others. We only desire what God wants. It is when we are able to abandon these things, that we can not only be completely open to God's will, but also be filled with love for others. 

There is a difference though between a want and a need. If I expect another to speak kindly to me, it will most often lead to me demanding (either directly or indirectly) that that need is fulfilled. If I don't have that as a need, but simply a desire, I can request that another will speak kindly to me, but I would not demand it and instead continue to show love in the way God desires of me. Too often we punish others for not doing as we expect and this shows it is a need on our part. Sometimes our reaction is a means to control the other person so they will change. Other times our response is a way to hold the other person accountable for their actions towards us (Of course, raising children is very different to how we interact with others because we have been commanded to teach them.). But, if we don't have expectations of others, my behavior will be unconditionally loving and will not reflect how they treat me. (Sometimes love is suffering the unkindness and other times it involves walking away. Examining our hearts and motives can help in determining if our actions are truly loving or not, but what our behavior looks like is up to the Lord and as a result knowing and understanding God's will is essential in knowing how to show love.) Regardless of what that might look like, we never withhold love due to how another is treating us. Rather, being dead to self means that no matter how we are treated, we respond with love and how that looks depends on the situation and the will of God. 

There are many references in the scriptures which speak of this kind of death. These are only a handful:

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. (Philippians 3:8)
Paul stated that nothing really matters except focusing on God's will and coming to know him. Now, that may seem extreme, because we know that God desires us to have loving relationships with others. So what has Paul given up and now sees as dung? His own will and his own needs. When we give up everything, we give up how we expect to love others and how they will love us. We begin to love others and accept love according to God's will and in his ways. Loving others in God's way and according to his will, involves letting go of our needs, that are so often rooted in this telestial world and adopting only God's will. 
23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
24 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. (Luke 9)
Jesus referred to this death to self as losing your life and as denying yourself. What do you deny yourself of? Your needs, your will, and your expectations. Instead you take up your cross and follow Jesus, in completely adopting the Father's will for you. 
24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. (John 12)
Jesus compared us to wheat, saying that unless we die, we cannot grow into what we're meant to become. Here he speaks of hating our lives in this world. He means that we ought not to love our lives so much that we cling to the things of this world and all our needs and expectations of others and the world around us. Those who do not love their lives in the way Jesus mentioned have adopted the Father's will in all things and eliminated their own desires and needs. 

The world would have us believe that we cannot be happy unless we have our needs met. But, the Lord has shown me that as we rid ourselves of what we think we need and as we only desire what God wants for us, we will experience more happiness and love than we previously thought possible. In essence, God fulfills all our needs and we are then able to love God and others more. We will have a greater capacity to tend to the needs and wants of others as we perform God's will. It is easy to think that becoming dead to self means that we become disconnected from others or emotionally distant, but that is not loving and someone who is dead to self does everything for others out of God's love. In fact, someone who is dead to self is more emotionally available than someone who is clinging to their own needs and expectations.

As I have considered what this looks like in marriage and parenthood, I have seen how I have certainly not died to self, despite seeing myself as wanting to do the Lord's will in all things. In being a mother I homeschool, clean my home, do the laundry, cook, tend to chickens, and so on. I'm sure all mothers know exactly how this feels. I get up at 5am every day in order to have 2 hours to myself to pray and study the scriptures. This alone time in the morning prepares me for the day ahead as I tend to all my duties. Yet, there are still times where I crave more free time, more time to rest or study the scriptures. And, I will sometimes sneak off to be alone or be in the bathroom longer just to be alone. Since this is how I commonly feel, the Lord recently said to me that I need to die to self in being a better mother. As I stop constantly seeking what I feel I need and focus on the Lord's will alone for me, I will feel the rest I desire. I will feel the fulfillment I've been seeking. The Spirit helped me understand that as I stop seeking things for myself and simply focus on giving to my children during the day, I am dying to self and the Lord then will fill me with all the things I feel I lack. So instead of feeling like everything is a chore, I know I need to focus on loving and desiring what God has asked me to do. 

As I mentioned above when I was on a particular day listening to my husband talk, I was told I am not dead to self. I quickly came to have a small grasp regarding some of what this means and as I continue to have various experiences, I am learning more and more. Recently my husband said something innocuous to which I took offense. I felt wounded despite the fact that nothing he said was intended for me to feel that way. Even though I didn't get defensive in my words, I did leave the room in order to be alone and pray. As I prayed, I asked God if there was another way I should have acted. I couldn't think of any way that would have been more appropriate to act given how I felt, but as I prayed the Spirit said I acted in a selfish way because in wanting to go pray, I was going to "lick my wounds" instead of being dead to self. The Spirit taught me that if I was dead to self, what he said wouldn't impact me and I would simply absorb the stress and pressure he may have been feeling at the time. The Spirit helped me understand that if I am dead to self, God is always there to help me carry what may feel like a burden, and it ends up not being a burden to me at all. And then, as a result of that, it is possible for my actions to be only that of complete love. 

In the past I have tended to use defense mechanisms and feel self-pity as a result of negative interactions or experiences with others. I have also often felt offended by others' behaviors and words. I know though that as I die to self, I will no longer have the desire to use those mechanisms nor feel self-pity. I want to learn to be strong enough to take the burden and hand it over to the Lord. When we die to self, God will take over and help us carry the struggles and sufferings we may endure. Paul expressed this same concept saying that in crucifying his flesh, his needs and will no longer live, but Christ lives in him:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Meekness and becoming dead to self go hand in hand. Those who are meek are strong as they experience suffering and do not seek to control or change others. They simply love. If you are unclear about what the Lord's will in a particular moment might be, you can consider what you understand the most loving action towards the other person might be. Then, once you've done that, take it to the Lord to show you how you could handle the situation in an even better way. 

How to Die to Self 

Since death to self means that we are only desiring and doing God's will, if we knowingly sin, it means we are not yet dead to self. Sin is inherently selfish and always unloving. When you sin, consider in what way you have not yet died to self. Furthermore, when you feel offended or your feelings are hurt, consider why. This may be an indication of an aspect of you that has not died to self. When you struggle to love another, this is yet another indication that you have not died to self. When you feel annoyed, impatient, or frustrated by another, consider what needs to be overcome so you can die to self.  

Dying to self is a process. It is done bit by bit each day, just as you would carefully and slowly carve away the stone in order to create a stature. This process is painful. It is hard letting go of needs and expectations. However, once a portion of you has become dead to self, that aspect no longer hurts. 

I have always struggled with tones in others' voices that seem harsh. It caused pain to me to have someone speak to me in that way. That pain was an indication that part of me had not died to self. (Although not all pain means some part of us needs to die.) I had expectations and hopes about how others would speak to me. Over time the Lord and I worked on me changing and I got to the point where it is very rare for another's tone of voice to have any negative effect on me. When someone is harsh or aggressive with me, I don't feel pain anymore because I let go of the expectation that others will always speak to me in soft, kind tones. Now, as I have other experiences and interactions with others that cause me pain, I can see that it may be an indication that there is something I need to let go. And, just because I have died to self in one area, doesn't mean I am officially done. It will possibly take years for us to completely die to self, although it is up to us how fast we want to overcome the flesh. 

Multiple times Paul spoke about becoming dead to self. To the Ephesians he said that we put off the former man and become renewed, putting on the new man. When we remove sins such as, bitterness, anger, malice, and so on (which usually stem from needs and expectations that are not met), we are then able to be kind and filled with love for others.

22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4)
To the Galatians, Paul said that those who are Christ's have crucified their affections and lusts, that is, their own desires. 
24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5)
As we subdue the flesh, our spirit's connection with God increases and we can have a greater understanding of his will as well as feel a greater amount of love and compassion for others. No longer is the flesh stronger than the spirit. To the Romans, Paul said,
1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Romans 8)
Fasting and meditation are two tools we can use to subdue the flesh. When we fast or meditate we are learning to control our bodies and in learning to control our bodies in one area, we are able to better control them in other areas. So, as I learn to control my mind when I meditate, I am more able to control my feelings, words, and actions when I interact with others. 

Furthermore, as I have asked God to show me how I am to change, he always gives me the truth and experiences I need in order to crucify my flesh. I have a long way to go though, because much of it involves changing my false beliefs and desires. Crucifying our flesh requires God help us and in most cases, it is done slowly over time, although it is possible for someone to let go of everything in an instant. As you allow God to teach you truth about yourself and others, and ask God for the experiences you need, he will show you how to become dead to self. God understands where you are in your progression and he will work with you where you are and lead you to where you need to be. 

Abraham Died To Self

Abraham is someone who died to self. His greatest wish was to have a son. This was a good thing to want, but God used many experiences to teach Abraham to let go of this desire or need within him. When he married Sariah, he did not know she struggled with infertility. Then, he finally obtained a son through Hagar, only to find out that he wasn't the promised heir. Some years later, he had to send Ishmael and Hagar away and that must have been very hard, but each experience was chipping away at Abraham's need for a son. Then, finally he obtained the son he had hoped for his whole life and God asked him to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. Abraham's willingness to obey God's will means that his needs and desires had been subdued. He desired to obey God above any desire he had in his heart. Abraham sacrificing Isaac was an outward manifestation that Abraham had crucified his flesh with all his affections and desires. These experiences that Abraham had spanned over years and were hard sacrifices for him, but each experience was the perfect experience for him to overcome his desires and needs and become dead to self. 

Three Outcomes of Death to Self
1. INCREASED FAITH. When we die to self, we show our trust in God that he will take care of us. We also demonstrate our faith in his path for us. Paul referenced the faith we have when we "crucify" ourselves in this way:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
2. SANCTIFICATION. As we die to self, we become increasingly pure. Dying to self always entails giving up the things of the world. It entails giving up the impurities of our hearts, such as our pride and selfishness. It means ridding ourselves of anything that is not godly and removing the things of the world on which we set our hearts. This is the essence of sanctification. There are many, many verses which speak about the relationship between sanctification and dying to self. Here are two:
6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.
11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
13 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? (Romans 6)
1 Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;
2 That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. (1 Peter 4)
2. LOVE FOR GOD AND OTHERS. Dying to self shows God that we love him more than the things of this world. It reveals how much we love others too, more than ourselves. Just as a tree is pruned, it then produces an abundance of sweet fruit, as we crucify our flesh, our love for others and God will grow. This really is the purpose of dying to self: becoming love, just as God's chief characteristic is love. 

Even though you may have crucified some of your needs, others may not have crucified those same needs. Being loving is acknowledging that others have needs and as God directs, being willing and able to fulfill those needs so that through you, they can feel God's love and thus draw closer to him. Part of learning to love others is learning to love them in the way they want and need to be loved. So often we love selfishly: loving others in the way we believe they ought to be loved. This is often based on how we want to be loved, or how we consider love ought to be expressed, or how we feel comfortable expressing love. As we die to self, we become open to how others accept love and we desire to meet their needs, all according to the will of God. Peter wrote how the crowning result of death to self is having charity:

2 That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. 
8 And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4)
Most of us have needs in terms of being loved and accepted. We have beliefs and expectations in how we are accepted, viewed, and treated. Giving up these hopes and expectations allows us more fully to love God and others, tending to their needs and doing those things that enable them to feel the love of God through us. Although these concepts seem extreme, it is evident in the life of Jesus that his flesh was crucified (long before he died on the cross) and that as he focused solely on the will of his Father, he was able to radiate love to those he came in contact with. As we start the process of dying to self, we will be filled with God's love and joy in ways we cannot yet comprehend. Then as we become truly dead to self, we become alive in Christ.