Bite size chunks of WORD
From THE CHARACTER of GOD SERIES
A LESSON ON SELF-DENIAL~taking up my cross
Jesus speaks these words to our hearts with power, yet they are salty words, stinging words, that I never quite understood, nor wanted to hear, “Then He said to them all, If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
Self-denial. Self-control. Practice of self-sacrifice. To be willing to give up personal pleasures or to undergo personal trials in pursuit of increased good for God’s glory.
My strong points were never self-discipline or self-control. But, God has been working to see both of these characteristics rise up within me, along with all the traits listed in II Peter 1: 5-8. He’s taught me to instill one trait at a time, and practice, practice, practice, before moving on to the next. He’s had me pray II Peter 1:1-11 over and over again for months now, not only for myself but for each one on my list as well. And His work is paying off in big dividends.
Now I understand. Self-denial, the art of denying self, the flesh, also called the body of sin. This doesn’t mean that I’m not tempted not to do it, but to “save” self instead, but I understood. But what cross was I to take up daily? I didn’t know, and when in doubt, ask God. I prayed asking Him to please reveal to me what my personal cross was. On this page unfolds the chain of events of yesterday, when answers tumbled forth like rocks down a mountainside.
In the darkness of the early morning hours, I bowed before the throne of the Lord my God to renew my commitment to Him. After a moment of praise, I spoke these words loud and clear. They poured from my heart with great meaning, “I come to You as a living sacrifice, as an empty vessel; I come before you humble, broken, and weak. Do unto me according to Thy Word. Keep doing what You’re doing, and don’t stop. Do anything it takes to make me more humble, more broken, and weak. I deny myself and I take up my cross and follow you. Create in me a clean heart.”
Later that same morning the Lord spoke, “Deny self, Paula. Keep on denying yourself.”
“Okay, Lord”, I said.
I stayed with my study of the things above that we are all to keep our eyes on, instead of the temporary things on the earth. I marvelled at the beauty of heaven, the glory of New Jerusalem, the Lamb’s Bride; the thrill of being able to bask in the light of my precious Savoir Jesus, to be able to say to the Father,” show me Your glory”, and to see it in full. And I re-read personal prophecies about the ministry the Lord has given, as He has told me to do. I confessed things here in this world I must endure as I run my race to heaven, that I may gain the prize that is set before me: persecution, trials, afflictions (Note: not due to sickness and disease, as I’ve been freed from this by Jesus, I walk in divine health); tests, temptations, weaknesses. Setting my mind and heart upon the heavenly things takes the sting out of this salty part of our reality. I have heard it said that these things don’t happen to us, but I have discovered that is not what the Bible teaches. If this were so, why would we be told to endure to the end? What all would we be enduring if there is nothing to endure? Why would the early church have to suffer from all the above but not us? There are so many scriptures and entire passages which speak of the trials, tests, temptations, and persecution. How about Paul’s instruction to Timothy? “All who are godly will suffer persecution.”
So I began my daily laps of my race, continually turning my face upward, looking up each time the enemy said to look down. But as morning gave way to afternoon, it was soon obvious that I was “too slow”, not redeeming my time as well as I could. At the center of my days is the the ministry in which God has called me to serve, and the final stage of preparation for it, all other activities revolve around it. Yesterday was no different. I was just moving more like a snail than a hare.
The snail’s pace threw a wrench in my prayer plans. Don’t get me wrong, I pray and pray and pray, as the Lord told “The more you pray, the more power”. I mean structured prayer time. I knew I would not find the time to travail in the Spirit over the needs in my special prayer book. I did manage to travail over one before ministering to Chris’s needs took over. My evenings are spent in the presence of the Lord praying the pure-Word for the ones which He given me to pray. As afternoon faded into evening, there was a marked heaviness in my step. The devil attempted to sway me from prayning the Word. It was a strong temptation but I resisted. I entered the prayer closet and knelt before the Father and Jesus. When I pray in God’s presence I am always strengthened with might in my inner man, and my heart is filled to the brim with joy inexpressible and full of glory, and this sustains me physically. But while I prayed last night, the fact that there was prayer undone that day stayed with me. Eventually, I was reminded of something the Lord had told me, “You will need to pray during the night sometimes.” As this thought persistently entered my mind, I said, “Lord, I know I need to start doing this, but today was a fasting day. Could I start that on Monday?” I paused, then I remembered that Monday was the same, so I questioned the Lord again, “I won’t rule out Monday, but Tuesday might be better. How about Tuesday? Monday or Tuesday, maybe?” No answer, there was only silence.
I have a good habit of doing a quick study of the scriptures before I go to sleep, but it was apparent last night that I would not be able to even keep my eyes opened enough to do this. As I struggled into my pjs, the fact that I should travail for the ones in my book was like a weight upon my heart. I argued with myself for a moment, and made my excuse to the Father, “Lord, look, I’m so weary, I’m staggering like a drunk man. I can hardly keep my balance.” I didn’t speak this out loud where the devil could hear it, but this is what I said in the hidden place of my mind which the enemy cannot see. “If You’ll just wake me up a bit earlier, I’ll do it. I’ll pray for the remainder of the special needs.”
One word of caution: never say anything to the Lord that you don’t mean, because He will take you up on it. That’s a guarantee. Do birds have wings?
The time was 10:20 pm, and God normally wakes me at 2:45 am to start our day together. Gone was my desire to go down and get my little dog, Alli her nightly treats, or a cup of steaming decaf for me to sip on as I did a quick dip in the Word before sleep overtook me. There’d be no dipping into the Word tonight. I left my Bible and notebooks by the bed where I had placed them earlier, and slipped under the covers. As my head sunk down into the pillow, I heard His voice, “Rest; just rest in Me.” But, oh-oh! Before I could do so, I felt the left side of my ribcage cramp. I almost reacted and turned over to counter it, but the Lord had shown me a much better way to fight the devil when he attacked me physically: facing the pain head-on, and thereby facing the enemy as well, showing him that I’m not afraid of him, because he cannot hurt me unless I fear. So I stayed on the right side. My spirit told me that if I would rest in God’s grace, I would be fine. I said,”Father, I rest in You”, and I relaxed my body. As I rested in the Father’s amazing favour, I had cause to rejoice: the cramp was gone, and I drifted into a pleasant sleep.
If I have learned anything at all during the past 8 months since my life was transformed inside and out, it’s the reality of the love God has for us. His love is as vast as an ocean, endless as the vast stretches of the Universe; His love is the sternness of a Father, and gentleness of a lamb. His love is complete, and our completer; His love is everlasting. Don’t ever doubt it, or take it lightly. It is not a light thing to be trifled with, it is a great privilege to be the beloved of the great King of kings.
And I’ve learned still more. God is a patient teacher. His ways are not grievous.** He never tosses a non-swimmer into the deep water. He always starts us in the shallows. As we are stronger spiritually, able, and willing, He promotes us. I was not yet ready for a diploma in Self-denial, but I was ready for promotion.
I awoke suddenly, like I do when the Lord awakens me. The room was pitch black, except for the glow of a nearby street light coming from the right side window. The thought came, “Is it time to get up?” I felt tired and a bit groggy, but I was praising God before I even opened my eyes. Then I put my face in the covers, something like a groan slipped out, “My oh my, oh my!” Like the flash of daylight, I heard, “Take up thy cross and follow Me.” Salty words, yet words of life. I acted. I blessed God, I denied myself, rose out of bed, and headed down the hall. Still staggering a tad, I set my face in determination. Up from my spirit came the words, ”Mortify! Starve the flesh! ”The Lord spoke again, “Do it willingly and with joy.” I laughed out loud, reached down into my heart and became willing as well as joyful. I switched on the bathroom light and checked my watch. It was 12:00 straight up. I’d slept all of one and a half hours. This was too funny. I laughed again as I entered the bedroom to pray. I now knew what my cross is: sleepiness. It’s ironic, really. There I was unable to sleep for years. Even with the aid of strong sleep-inducing meds, sleep often alluded me, playing a game of catch-me-if-you-can. So after I was freed by the mighty hand of God, the feeling of sleepiness felt strange, and I would find that I would fight the enemy in this area more than any other. He has often struck me with sleepiness while I pray, especially during the prayer at the end of the day. Still, that I could feel sleepy once again was a blessing, and sleep itself became so precious to me, as you can no doubt imagine. It was like a drink of water to a thirsty man. This made sleep the area which I have resisted giving up more than any other. To fast food was one thing, but to fast sleep? That was another. God had done an amazing thing convincing me to get up in the wee hours of the morning, but He was about to work a work of miraculous proportions. This morning, I stood on the hill of the the Flesh’s Last Stand, you could say. It’s am major battle, a fight of faith, but unlike Custer’s, this is a battle I’m winning. Not by my own strength, but by God’s strength and by the power of His might. It has been hard to give up, but I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me, as I confess with Paul, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I count everything a loss compared with the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness that comes from the law, but that which comes from faith in the Lord Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
The Last Stand was stood, but not the conflicts with the enemy, or the constant work to keep the body under. I would pick up my cross of sleepiness daily, and drag it along behind me, from the cross, to the throne of my God and Savoir Jesus Christ. “Seeing that we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets us, and let us run with patient-endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, did endure the cross, despising the shame, and is set down beside the Father in glory.”
Won’t you join me? To gain, we have to first lose. Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Him. Make this the day of your Last Stand.