Happy in Hardship
We almost don’t have to teach babies to say the word “mine.” We want their first utterance to be “Daddy” or “Mommy,” depending upon which you are, of course; you hope the child first identifies you. But often, their initial exclamation is the selfish and possessive “mine!” It happens when you, or a sibling, or anyone attempts to abscond with a bottle, binky or toy to which the infant has become attached. Perhaps through mere observation the little one has learned that this magic word attaches ownership to the object and when expressed with enough volume, emotion, and sometimes repetition, brings the thing back immediately to its rightful owner. Selfishness is natural and it works!
Denying oneself is not natural. Although it could be argued that parents deny themselves for the sake of their kids, they still look out for their own kids—little extensions of themselves. If you need to see this theory in practice, spend some time in the youth softball stands or at the soccer fields on the weekends. It can happen in any sport, even my beloved basketball! According to kidzworld.com:
A high school basketball referee in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania may have considered asking for "danger pay" after a parent body slammed him on the gym floor during a game…. Peter Dukovich was charged with assault for his wrestling maneuver, which happened just moments after his wife was asked to leave the game for yelling and swearing at the same referee.
After all, don’t these refs and coaches know that when they make a questionable call involving our precious ones, or in some way besmirch our offspring, that’s not just any little human, that’s “mine!” So, protecting what’s ours and fighting against anything that might deny us, or ours, is the natural response. Someone suggesting the opposite is to be resisted and, some believe, violently!
Is it any wonder that Jesus even suggesting, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24) was met with no small measure of resistance and eventually, violently? His philosophy of self-denial was a threat to what the religious leaders had perfected and packaged as righteousness, but was actually selfishness with a counterfeited stamp of God’s approval. Set that aside? Sacrifice the attention and accolades of unsuspecting people? In their minds, the Pharisees and Sadducees had to be thinking, “mine!” And they would fight off the perceived threat with the call to, “Crucify, crucify Him!” (Luke 23:21).
How do you feel about taking up your cross and following Him? What does it mean to deny yourself? Does it mean a life of depression and despair to follow Christ? When you transition from “mine,” to “His,” does it mean you no longer have any joy? Actually, it is quite the contrary.
The history of our faith is replete with those who learned the joy of living for Christ, rather than for self. David Livingstone, a famous 19th century missionary to Africa, expressed well the reward of sacrifice when he wrote,
“People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owed to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own best reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and the bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? I never made a sacrifice.”
The world is littered with those who fully indulged in the natural bent toward self. It usually doesn’t end well. The discovery of true self-denial—a life centered on Christ—brings an abundance only He can give.
Once our lives are centered on Christ, we learn to live, as the Apostle Paul did, not for ourselves, but in the service of others. He didn’t live the cushy life of many high-profile “public servants” today. Instead, Paul was able to say, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…” (Colossians 1:24).
“‘He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.’” —Matthew 10:39 nasb