Preparation Through Self-Denial

 “It is easy to imagine that we will get to a place where we are complete and ready, but preparation is not suddenly accomplished, it is a process steadily maintained. It is dangerous to get into a settled state of experience. It is preparation and (more) preparation.”

The above quote from My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers can be both encouraging and discouraging. It is meant to instruct us about the reality of Christian service and the truth that nobody is ever completely ready to do what God has called him to do, but preparation is always ongoing. A completely prepared worker in the harvest would look and act just like Jesus. There have been some good workers like the apostle Paul, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, etc. Yet even they would admit their struggles and desire to have more of Christ in their lives.

I (Norm) am always impressed when reading about Gideon in Judges 6. The strength of his going was in the power of God’s sending. The Lord Himself appeared to him and said in Judges 6:14, “Go in the strength you have and save. Am I not sending you?” Of course we know that Gideon, by his own admission, was the least of the lowest and an unlikely candidate for this high calling from God. The strength of Gideon’s going was not in his qualifications, but it was in the power of God’s sending. This is what we call God’s ekballo power. Ekballo is a Greek word that means to thrust, cast out, be carried along (by the Spirit). It is like a jet propulsion!

A Need to Examine the Heart

Many people have made contact with the Elijah Company saying they have a call. We often try to discourage people by “de-romanticizing” the call to be an end-times harvester.

“The sense of sacrifice appeals readily to a young Christian. Humanly speaking, the one thing that attracts to Jesus is our sense of the heroic, and the scrutiny of our Lord’s words suddenly bring this tide of enthusiasm to a test.” Oswald Chambers

Chambers goes on to say that the Lord is able to call our desire into question and purify our motives. Why do we want to serve the Lord? I can think of several wrong reasons: To experience new cultures, to escape present difficulties, to have people think we are adventurous, brave and committed, to travel and the list goes on. After twenty-five years of mission’s experience, I can testify that all these reasons fade once the difficulties and perseverance begin to cost. The Lord lets these things happen to test us. He wants us to learn self-denial and commitment with pure motives.

“If anyone desires to be my disciple, let him deny himself – that is, disregard, lose sight of and forget himself and his own interests – and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, Amplified Bible)

The issue in serving the Lord is not location or function but it is heart. That is why the Lord says in Matthew 5:23-24, “If you are bringing your gift to the alter and you remember your brother has something against you, leave your gift and first be reconciled to your brother.” Personal relationships are true reflectors of the motives of the heart. Ninety percent of everything we do in ministry has to do with developing and maintaining personal relationships. Many of us would be more willing to die as a martyr than to lay aside our personal rights reflected in these personal relationships. Dying as a martyr can have some merit for self. That is why Paul wrote to the Corinthians in I Corinthians 13:3,5, “If I give all I posses to the poor and surrender my body to the flames but have not love, I gain nothing. Love does not seek its own.”

Preparing For Your Call Through Self-Denial

“Are you willing to obey your Lord and Master whatever the humiliation to your right to yourself may be? You were looking for some great thing to give up. God is telling you of some tiny thing; but at the back of it there lies the central citadel of obstinacy: I will not give up my right to myself.” Oswald Chambers

Missionary life is filled with opportunities for learning self-denial. Last year we were in India. I (Debbie) brought a book with me by Amy Carmichael called A Chance to Die. It was a rugged trip with hours of traveling over bumpy roads, dangers from thieves and hours of hard endurance. When I came across a difficulty that called for self-denial, I remembered the book I was reading. I was able to say to myself, “This is a chance to die; a chance to die to myself.”

At the same time I had remembered the book by Oswald Chambers quoted above. His book is called My Utmost for His Highest. I was challenged so strongly by the life of Oswald Chambers and Amy Carmichael. The testimony of how they lived their life helped me during moments of self-denial and personal pain. If they could do it, so could I. During those difficult moments of self-denial and hardship I would say to myself, “My utmost for His highest.”

We just returned from 33 days in the Middle East. There were times of endurance on this trip as well. There is no getting away from it. If we are going to reach this world with the Gospel of Jesus, we will have to learn self-denial and sacrifice. It is going to cost us something. But we can assure you that it is worth it. Start learning self-denial right now. This will prepare you for your destiny. Jesus gave up His life. He laid it down for us. Can we expect to do less? Self-sacrifice is the way to find your true self. Don’t withdraw from suffering but learn to embrace the cross of Christ now. We encourage you to answer the following questions:

  • Is there a “personal right” that you need to give up? The Holy Spirit speaks to us when we listen. What small thing is He asking of you? Listen to what He is saying, say yes to Him, and in prayer lay it down.
  • Is there a person you do not like? Does the person you are thinking of stir negative emotions in you because of something they have done, or perceivably done? The greatest challenge you may face will be to pray for and speak blessing to that person.
  • What are your reasons for wanting to serve the Lord? On a piece of paper write out your reasons for wanting to serve God in missions or otherwise. Evaluate and bring these before the Lord in prayer.
  • What situation are you facing right now that is an opportunity for self-denial? Can you say to yourself, “This is a chance to die; a chance to die to myself”? Can you say to God “My utmost for Your highest“?

“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self” (Matthew 16:24, Message Bible).

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