(And no I’m not being morbid and talking about physical death, so bear with me here.)
Let me start from the beginning…
Funny story actually. Several weeks ago I got a phone call from a friend asking me to speak at a small women’s event. The theme was going to be gardening.
Of course, I had to contain my excitement and quell my voice as a grin spread the full length of my face. In my first devotional book, Glory in the Garden, I relate stories of my newfound hobby of gardening to Scriptural truths. I love gardening. I love the Bible. I love how the garden relates to the Bible. And now I get to teach about it. And oh yeah, I love teaching.
The Prophetic Topic
Over the next couple of weeks I played around with all sorts of ideas on what my speaking topic would be. I prayed for wisdom and guidance. In the meantime, I was reading a gardening book called Secrets to Great Soil. It included detailed information about the benefits of compost in the garden.
Composting is about taking what was once alive – wood chips, kitchen scraps, etc. – and putting it together, and it eventually turns into the best mixture a soil could ever have, producing the greatest and most abundant of harvests.
I had written a devotional in Glory in the Garden about how composting in our garden is very similar to how we are to die to our sin, both once we accept Christ and daily while we’re still in the flesh.
So I had my topic and began my research.
“Can’t Teach it til ya Live It”
I should have known. God has this track record with me of not just giving me topics for me to teach about but to, you know, actually make me live them first.
I should have known that if I was going to teach about dying to myself that I might have to, you know, start dying to myself.
All the verses on dying to our sinful passions, denying ourselves, and taking up our cross, etc., I could quote. I’ve been in church all my life and I have plenty of head knowledge of dying to sin and flesh. How many times have I sung “I Surrender All” at the end of the church service?
But as much as I naturally recoil at surrender, it’s actually more preferable than death. Soon it became clear to me that I hadn’t really done all that much dying.
Give me the fuzzy Jesus stuff and the powerful love relationship but don’t make me give up anything in myself that I don’t want to.
A Hard Sifting
Over the past couple of months I’ve been through some inner turmoil. (To catch up, you can read here, here, and here.) And frankly, that’s just a representative sample. My analytical melancholy self has been through the ringer. I know now it has been a sifting process – God has a lot of chaff he needs to separate from my wheat. And that sifting process hasn’t been pretty.
So there I was on the elliptical that day. Keep in mind that I had been studying in the Word about dying to self. As I often do, I was reading a book on kindle, which so happened to be Jennie Allen’s Restless. These words jumped off the page at me: “The kind of life I want so badly lies on the other side of death.”
I realized much of the inner turmoil I’ve gone through has been a result of trying to live a life surrendered to Christ while selecting which parts of my life I would actually surrender. When God commands us to love him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength – which actually happened to be in one of my devotionals that morning – a key word I had glossed over all these years is the word “all.”
Total surrender. Dying to my wants. Dying to my need to control situations and people. Dying to allowing my value to be dictated by flesh and blood. Dying to wanting to manage my reputation. Dying to my desire to be right. And did I mention dying to my need to be in control?
And that’s just the beginning. I’m sure there are many more deaths that I have to die before my literal death and Jesus will set me free from my sinful flesh.
What kind of death will I die?
One night I was watching NCIS – it’s an indulgence of mine especially when Matt is working a lot – and a character was shot in the heart. I marveled as he embraced death, smiling as he went, at peace. I couldn’t help but contrast that to other characters in these crime dramas who fight for every minute of life and it ends with a terrible struggle.
How much of a struggle am I going to put up when God shows me something that needs to die in myself? Am I going to fight to keep it or release it knowing that it’s for my good and his glory?
Abundance on the Other Side of Death
Another phrase from Restless spoke to me. Jennie, speaking about her own revelation of dying to self, said, “Each act of obedience felt like a small death. But each has turned out to breathe life into us in ways we couldn’t imagine.”
Just like an abundant harvest grows out of a soil full of death in the form of compost, my life will only produce an abundant harvest as I surrender. As I die.
Here we are, back at the very topic I’ve been preparing to speak on, except now I’m having to also live it.
Death isn’t an easy thing – in a literal or a spiritual sense – which is why I knew I needed to pray that prayer: Help me to die.
Jesus has set me free from the final penalty of sin when I accepted his gift of salvation. But until I meet him, I still wrestle in my flesh. That’s why Jesus so wisely said, “‘If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me'” ( Luke 9:23 HCSB, emphasis mine).
Daily. My elliptical epiphany was only the beginning, not the end. Each day I’ll be faced with the opportunity to die to myself so Christ’s work can be displayed through me. I can’t pretend it will be perfect. I’m sure it will be quite messy. Death almost always puts up a fight, after all.
But hopefully the more deaths I die the more I’ll be able to embrace and to love what comes on the other side.
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