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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)
Conclusion
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. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Rejoice in Suffering

by Nicky Smith

James says, "Count it all joy when you meet various trials." (James 1:2)

Recently as I was going through a specific trial the Spirit said to me: "Rejoice in your trials." I wondered how I can do this because my trial wasn't something in which I was finding much happiness. I kept pondering it. Later I had another trial which caused me to experience great pain in my heart. It literally hurt and the pain was so great I couldn't breathe. Very quickly I felt consumed by the pain. I couldn't think. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I prayed but struggled to connect to God because all I could feel and think about was the pain in my heart. I wondered how I can rejoice in this when I feel this way. The next day as I was praying and as I gained a bit more in control of my pain, I learned some things about rejoicing in painful trials.


The Necessity of Self Control

Pain is a response to a negative situation or experience. This pain results from false beliefs or weakness we have (which in turn results from false beliefs). Allowing the pain to consume us is never the right thing. When we allow the pain to become dominant in our lives, it forms a barrier between God and us. We can't hear his voice when all we focus on is the pain. We have to exercise self-control by acknowledging the pain of an experience and then putting that pain in a box to the side (which does not mean eliminating the pain, because that requires changing our beliefs and overcoming our weaknesses). Putting a boundary on our pain means we can continue to call on God and hear his voice, as well as function in daily life through tending to all our responsibilities, despite the pain. 

Controlling the pain requires that we also control our thoughts, because if we let our minds focus on how terrible the situation is, those thoughts quickly spiral out of control which leads to an inability to control the pain and the result is often self-pity (see this post on self-pity). It is so easy for us to allow our sadness to become despair and once we do, it is hard to escape it. However, if we exercise self-control, we can feel pain and sadness, but not feel consumed by it. It's not that we are ignoring the pain but rather, that we don't allow ourselves to wallow in it. 

8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)
Feeling pain or sadness is normal. In fact, they are essential for helping us learn and grow. However, we cannot let those things control us. The more we focus on them, the more we given them power over us, in that pain skews our sense of reality and our decisions are impacted. When I focus on my pain, I quickly forget the purpose of the trials and what God is trying to accomplish through them and that they really are for my good. I find that when I allow sadness to consume me, I end up doing something that further isolates me from God and my faith decreases. It also often leads me to do things that cause pain and sadness in others, because I may do or say something I shouldn't.

Having self-control during a difficult trial is hard. We can cry to God to help us develop this self-control. As I have asked God to help me have self-control, he has given me just the right experiences and has taught me how to do it. Relying on God to aid us is essential. It is rare that we will successfully navigate a trial without fully depending on him.  


Rejoice and Joy

Controlling the pain is not sufficient to learn what we need to learn in the trial. With not letting the pain consume us, we are able to learn to rejoice in the trial. Rejoice means to celebrate something, or to see the good in a situation or experience. It is different to simply experiencing the emotion of happiness or joy, because rejoicing involves an attitude of mind and heart regarding our trials. As James said, we count or view our experiences as a joy (James 1:2). In other words, rejoicing requires we see things in a particular way that allows us to become open to God giving us joy, not that we immediately experience joy. It entails changing our perspective on our trials that lead eventually to feeling joy. In fact, Paul in addressing those who minister the gospel, wrote that they can be "sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing." (2 Corinthians 6:10) Sorrow and rejoicing can coexist. However, we ought to consider the root of our sadness and whether it is based on the sins and suffering of others, or if it is based on our not having the life and experiences we desire.

Rejoicing involves desiring (not simply accepting) God's purposes in the suffering we experience. Rejoicing means we feel grateful for God's plan for our lives, knowing he is allowing us to experience exactly what we need to draw nearer to him. Rejoicing involves praising God for his involvement and help in your life. Rejoicing entails totally surrendering our lives to God and trusting that the experiences we are having will work our for our good, as we obey him. Rejoicing entails using our trials to become pure, instead of simply trying to get through them, with little or no benefit to our relationship with God. Rejoicing means opening our hearts to feel God's peace, comfort, and love. 


Peter states that we can rejoice in God's blessings and in how he is preserving us (as we turn to him), knowing that these trials try and increase our faith:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1, emphasis added)
Rejoicing is very difficult if we allow painful thoughts and emotions to consume us. However, once we have those controlled, we can then change our attitude that leads us to rejoice and become open to eventually feeling joy. 

Finding Comfort in Knowing the Purpose of a Trial

So much of rejoicing is about how we see our situation. As we see the trial as God sees it, rejoicing is a natural response. Consider standing in the rain. This has the potential to make you feel miserable. You may feel cold, lonely, and dejected. However, if you understand that standing in the rain is God's will for you at that time and that through standing in the rain you can learn to better trust God and overcome your sins and weaknesses, you can not only be grateful for the rain but, you can desire the rain. In fact, if you know how much you need the rain, you will ask for the rain. And, through knowing these things, you can feel comfort and joy from standing in the rain. 


When Job had everything he loved taken from him, his wife thought it better for Job to curse God and die. Yet, Job understood the necessity of opposition. He understood the need for pain and loss. He understood that just as we ought to be grateful for God's providence, we ought to be grateful for the trials he allows us to have too. 
9 Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.
10 But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? (Job 2)
Recently I have experienced another trial. As the trial began I thought about what God had taught me about rejoicing in my trials and I exercised self-control over my pain. I can see how my pain is in fact a sign to me that I have a weakness to overcome (just as physical pain often indicates that something is wrong with our bodies). Controlling my thoughts and emotions allowed me to focus on God's will and how he wants me to act. It allowed me to objectively examine my weakness and work on overcoming it through experiencing the trial. Despite the difficulty of the trial, through rejoicing, I was better able to connect with God and increase my faith in him. It also allowed me to see God's purposes in everything and express gratitude for God's hand in my life. 

Learning to rejoice is a process. I know I may fail at times, but I can immediately repent and continue walking forward. I hope that I can eventually rejoice always, no matter the experience. As Paul said, "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice." (Philippians 4:4, emphasis added) Here are some things to remember to help you (and me) rejoice always:


DON'T BE SURPRISED AT THE TRIALS YOU FACE

There have been times where I can see God has warned me that I would experience a particular trial and I am still surprised it actually happened. Peter said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) I have found that if I am surprised that I am going through a specific trial, it is harder for me to control the pain and my thoughts. 

TRUST THAT GOD IS ALLOWING WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU

The trials we experience are to help us overcome our weaknesses and sins (see Romans 5:3-5). God allows us to experience the perfect tailor-made afflictions so that we can increase our faith and become pure. Trust God is in all things. Peter wrote, “Let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.” (1 Peter 4:19) As I trust that God is giving the precise experiences I need to grow, I am more open to rejoicing in my trials. 

MOVE AWAY FROM HEDONISM AND SEEK THE SUFFERING

So many of our ideals in this world involve avoiding pain and seeking a comfortable, pleasurable life. Without the trials though, we cannot spiritually progress. Paul wrote, "But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth." (1 Timothy 5:6) A couple years ago when I really learned the necessity of my trials and my desire to do God's will and become pure in this life became my focus, I began praying for the trials I need in order to progress. Even though the trials rip my heart apart, I want them because I know I need them. 

DON'T COMPLAIN ABOUT YOUR TRIALS
Complaining (to God or others) about our experiences because they are so hard leads us unable to feel grateful for the path God wants us on. It shows our lack of faith and trust in God. It is evidence that our will is not aligned with God's will. Paul wrote,
14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings:
15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.
17 Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.
18 For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2)
I realized recently that in my complaining about my trials, I couldn't surrender my heart to God. I couldn't use the trials to overcome my weaknesses. I am now trying to complain less and to feel gratitude and trust God more. 

REALIZE YOUR SUFFERING BINDS YOU TO CHRIST
Our trials bind us to Jesus in a way that isn't possible outside of suffering. Peter declared, "But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing." (1 Peter 4:13) As I have accepted God's will in my suffering and said, "Let thy will be done, Father" I have felt a greater connection to Jesus. I see myself laying myself on an altar and offering my heart and will as a sacrifice to God in my trials. 


We are not going to feel joy every moment of the day, because sometimes we will feel sad, but we still have to rejoice. This requires we have self-control, which is acquired through relying on God and practice. Rejoicing then involves desiring God's will and trusting in him that he is in control in your life. Rejoicing includes feeling a deep sense of gratitude for our experiences and praising God for them. As we change our attitudes and behaviors regarding adversity, we can "glory in tribulations" (Romans 5:3) and open our hearts to feeling joy.