In the GROWTH practices I have identiﬁed, O is the ﬁrst stretch practice. The six practices are Go to God in worship and prayer, Receive God’s Word for you, Opt for self-denial, give Witness to your Spiritual experiences, Trust God in a new venture, Humble yourself before God.
In my personal walk with the Lord, opting for self-denial has been the most productive stretch practice.
Jesus told the rich young man to sell all his possessions and then follow him. He told the disciples that anyone who would follow him must deny himself and take up the cross daily. Those weren’t commands; they were challenges.
The rich young man wouldn’t even consider giving up anything he owned; he went back to his old way of life. It is the willingness to consider this challenge of doing without that is most important. The disciples continually struggled with what they wanted to hang on to from their life before Jesus.
We, too, struggle with how to rise to the counterintuitive challenge of losing your life so you may save it rather than trying to save your life and ending up losing it. It’s a riddle that is fully understood only when the Spirit opens our eyes.
Understand self-denial to mean not insisting on receiving what is rightfully yours in a relationship but voluntarily giving up something important to you at that moment. Such an act of self-denial, or of losing something from your life, can be a powerful reminder of what you gain as a follower of Christ, thus saving your life by losing it.
Paul did not give commands to his fellow workers and his churches. He pointed out where they should head in speciﬁc situations and told them to ﬁgure out how to get there. He was not big on rule-making.
But he continually emphasized motivations as more important than behaviors. To him, it was clear that the Holy Spirit can and does change human spirits. I interpret human spirits as what we now can call human motivations. He refers to the Spirit 143 times in his letters. The fruit of the Spirit consists of the changed emotions that bring love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control into a believer’s life.
Paul told the Ephesians to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That is, realize who you are in Christ and act accordingly. Such an intentional act of submission can be especially diﬃcult be-tween husband and wife. When one or the other is argumentative, the natural tendency is to want to defend yourself or your view. Self-denial would be the choice to forego more self-defense, not carrying the discussion on any further. As a conscious act, that can be an exercise in self-denial that has spiritual value.
I am not advocating self-denial and constant submission as a lifestyle. Such might emerge later. But to start, consciously try an act of self-denial or intentional submission once a week. Notice how you feel about it. Deriving beneﬁt from such acts involves being open to the Spirit’s inﬂuence. See what happens.
I purposely chose the O of Opt for self-denial as the key verb for this act of growth in the Spirit. Such an act of self-denial is in your power. Doing it may involve overcoming a basic fear that something bad will happen to you. Face it as a challenge to put your trust in God.
What are your practices to help you grow closer to God?