I like myself. Most people probably like themselves. And I’ve spent many years developing myself to be the me I want to be (in theory). And yet, Christ states very clearly, “If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Deny yourself. Well, I don’t know about you, but I have trouble denying myself another cookie, so what exactly is Jesus asking me to deny? So, naturally, when I started to hear messages on this concept, dying to self, I bucked against it so hard.
I was raised most of my life with teachers, mentors, media pushing the idea of being unique. Individualism is a mantra often heard in America. Be yourself. In America you can be anything you set your mind to be – in theory and, in some cases, in actuality. You be you. You do you. No matter what. So, after twenty-plus years of being told that being original is how to be happy in life, that’s what I believed.
And yet Jesus, the man we’re meant to emulate, prays to the father, “Not my will, but yours be done.” But I worked hard to have my will known. I took the (worldly) steps to form an educated opinion on pretty much everything. It’s like when you work really hard on a project at work or in school. You spend weeks perfecting an ad campaign or a research paper and then your project manager or advisor tells you, “I don’t like this theme. Do this theme that I have chosen.” Seriously?! I just worked for weeks on this project and now I have to start all over? And if you actually said that to your superior might their response be, “You should have come to me first”?
We should have gone to God first. We should have gone to prayer first. When we’re in our comfort zone of life, we often go to God last on most things. We go to significant others, parents, friends, mentors, even pastors before we go to God. It took me many years of marriage to learn to keep marital troubles between me and my spouse. I like to talk and process out loud and I like to have a sounding board, so I had trouble keeping personal things personal. And I had to train myself not to run to my Mom or sisters or girlfriends to tell them about our problems and, as a result, it taught me to turn to God. God first.
Jesus was not a crowd follower. Just like me, he spent years becoming who He was. And He was unique, an individual. But He put God first. He sought God’s will and put the will of God before his own will. And He literally died to self. He died to self because that was God’s will and He understood what it has taken me years to merely scratch the surface of: God’s opinion is the only one that matters.
Society may judge you for choosing to give everything to be His steward. The world, out of ignorance, may criticize your choices. But “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” Learning that His opinion is the only one that matters is liberating. We need to shed off the shame and insecurities of this world and focus on seeking and following after the one true God.