Posts Tagged self-denial

Self-Denial as Self-Help: Avoiding ‘Eat-Pray-Love’ Self-Indulgence

Self helpOver at the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog, I offer some critiques on Kathryn Schulz’s recent piece in New York Times Magazine on the modern age of self-help.

Schulz highlights a variety of approaches to introspection and identity-seeking, and although she briefly mentions the Christian “method” of submitting oneself to God first and foremost, she proceeds to casually shrug it off, using scientific non-consensus as her excuse, instead favoring a “promiscuity” in our approach-taking and hypothesis-testing:

Try something. Better still, try everything—throw all the options at the occluding wall of the self and see what sticks. Meditation, marathon training, fasting, freewriting, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, speed dating, volunteering, moving to Auckland, redecorating the living room: As long as you steer clear of self-harm and felony, you might as well do anything you can to your inner and outer ecosystems that might induce a beneficial mutation.

As I go on to argue, Christians should be cautious of this type of universalism:

Christians mustn’t give way to a life of random, impulsive decision-making, whether it’s geared toward curing a personal addiction or ramping up something as innocent and well-meaning as helping those around us. Submitting to a smorgasbord of humanistic experimentation in our identity-seeking may yield “beneficial mutation” for some, but “beneficial” according to whom and at the cost of what? In the end, Schulz’s proposed path of self-realization involves diminishing the mysteries of God-empowered transformation to an exotic menu option amid a buffet of Eat-Pray-Love self-indulgence.

Regardless of whether we’re able to fully rationalize God’s transformative effects over our deepest desires, attitudes, and decisions, in humbling ourselves before the Lord of Lords and asking what he would have us do in all of our endeavors, economic or otherwise, we can have confidence that he will follow through according to his will.

This doesn’t mean the process is easy. Seasons of introspection and self-evaluation are not typically resolved with the single thump of a Bible or the first implant of that seed of self-denial. But that’s certainly where we should begin. Living a life of whole-life discipleship requires earnest dedication and preparation, and a particular path for preparation exists—namely, submitting oneself to a real God with real purposes for real people with real needs. The marketplace of humanity gets much more interesting when the market information gets that good.

“Commit your way to the Lord. Trust in him, and he will act,” writes the Psalmist. “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way.”

Read the full post here.

 

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Is Marriage About What Adults Demand or What Children Need?

I have written previously on the ways in which the current push toward gay marriage is rooted in a larger cultural obsession with self-fulfillment over self-denial. This is not a “gay” or “straight” issue as much as it is an issue of a predominantly self-seeking culture that continues to debase and transform basic definitions of love, commitment, devotion, and sacrifice.

In the same way, a vote for or against marriage amendments like those currently in play in Maryland, Washington, Maine, and my home state of Minnesota doesn’t just represent a moral statement on the ways in which we view gays or straights, but, more fundamentally, it speaks to the ways in which we view our overarching moral and social obligations to others—i.e. to everyone. When we redefine and contort that which is natural and sacred to meet our own personal wants and demands, who else is impacted?

In marriage, and specifically public marriage, our consideration should extend well beyond the husband and wife, or whatever other combination we might try to invent.

In a short ad put together by i2open, this point is made clear:

Every child has a father. Every child has a mother. And the government does abuse to every child by further legitimizing and promoting the fantasy that this needn’t be the case if the grown-ups wish to pretend differently.

If social justice is about right relationships, then rightly ordering our relationships should be where the marriage debate begins.

For those in Minnesota, I urge you to vote YES.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Test of Self-Interest: Transforming the Natural into the Spiritual

The Journey of Abraham and Lot, 1356-67, Also Manfredi De Battilori Bartolo Di FrediUsing the example of Abraham, who listened to God’s call to ditch his comfort zone, Oswald Chambers provides a lesson in self-denial and obedience:

As soon as you begin to live the life of faith in God, fascinating and luxurious prospects will open up before you, and these things are yours by right; but if you are living the life of faith you will exercise your right to waive your rights, and let God choose for you. God sometimes allows you to get into a place of testing where your own welfare would be the right and proper thing to consider if you were not living a life of faith; but if you are, you will joyfully waive your right and leave God to choose for you. This is the discipline by means of which the natural is transformed into the spiritual by obedience to the voice of God.

Whenever right is made the guidance in the life, it will blunt the spiritual insight. The great enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but the good which is not good enough. The good is always the enemy of the best. It would seem the wisest thing in the world for Abraham to choose, it was his right, and the people around would consider him a fool for not choosing. Many of us do not go on spiritually because we prefer to choose what is right instead of relying on God to choose for us. We have to learn to walk according to the standard which has its eye on God. “Walk before Me.”

Such an insight is crucial if we are to successfully execute God’s plan for our lives. As it did for Abraham, such an approach will transcend our earthly concerns, impacting all of our decision making, whether economic, familial, personal/vocational, political, etc.

Without fundamental and intentional alignment to God—through his Word, prayer, the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit, etc.—we are left to our own devices and our own short-sighted notions of the “good.” In our profit-making, we will tend toward rationalizing and justifying actions that are in our perceived self-interest. In our sacrifice, we will tend toward emotionalization—allowing humanistic impulses to guide and direct our giving, which will, in turn, lend toward constructing golden calves.

To serve God, then, we must first deny ourselves, and to deny ourselves in any truly worshipful or productive way, we must live with “the discipline by means of which the natural is transformed into the spiritual by obedience to the voice of God.”

If we do not aim to achieve the right—i.e. the will of God, or what Chambers also calls the “best”—all of our petty, humanistic intellectualizing, emotionalizing, and excuse-making will lead to petty, humanistic outcomes. Surprise, surprise.

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A Lack of Self-Denial: In Sex, Economics, and Everything Else

President Obama’s recent “coming out” on the issue of same-sex marriage has led to a renewed discussion of the issue. Obama’s explanation for his “evolution” (which, in reality, is unlikely an evolution at all) is that his Christian beliefs require it:

When we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.

Now, I have no issues with the Golden Rule properly applied, but I resent that it’s come to be used not as an imperative for disinterested compassion, but as a bludgeoning tool for legitimizing particular behaviors and supporting an anything-goes moral outlook. At a fundamental level, such a view of “equal treatment” requires us to rid words of meaning and rip truth out of justice, should that particular truth be so awful as to offend so-and-so’s individual choices.

Through this understanding, the President’s refrain goes something like this: “Want to change the definition of an age-old institution? Well, if I wanted to do that, I would certainly want to be appeased.”

And there’s the biggie: I. I. I.

When the Golden Rule is contorted as such, it illuminates how much we’ve come to elevate self-satisfaction and self-affirmation in our society-wide contemplations about morality and justice. Rather than look to things like history, experience, science, or God himself (gasp), we base our actions and outlooks around what we might prefer. And alas, even when we do choose to look at the right sources—as Obama so keenly attempts with his “faith”—we tend to limit their value only insofar as it allows us to throw they’re broader purpose out the window.

The mindset is captured well in Collin Hansen’s analysis of the recent goings on, in which he sums up our current cultural outlook as follows:

  1. God made me this way.
  2. He wouldn’t deny my natural desires.
  3. And I don’t have to explain myself to you or anyone else.

Yet such cultural erosion is by no means epitomized or even made clearest by this frequent battle over whether homosexuality is right or wrong. The push toward homosexual marriage is just one logical step in what has been a decades-long journey down a road of obsessive me-centered self-affirmation, and it certainly won’t be the last. That we’ve come to view homosexuality as the primary issue in the larger debate is unfortunate, yet it is perhaps due to the fact that many Christians don’t seem to think there is a “larger debate.” As Hansen puts it, “The pursuit of self-fulfillment covers a multitude of adultery, divorce, and pornography in our churches. Why shouldn’t it also cover homosexuality?”

Yet there is just as big of a need to re-re-re-(re?)-emphasize the former: Why shouldn’t it also cover the rest?

When we look beyond the issue of homosexual marriage to issues of heterosexual sex, whether we’re talking pre-marital sex/contraception, pre-marital cohabitation, pornography, adultery, or whatever, we see the church becoming more and more comfortable with a version of “love” and “covenant” centered around Individual X’s abstract personal desires and less and less attached to (or interested in) the truth of the Bible and the Gospel. It should come as no surprise that Christians who are fine and dandy with sinful heterosexual lifestyles feel the need to affirm homosexual ones. By their own framework of “truth” and set beside their own moral outlook, such a move does indeed constitute “justice” and “equality.”

Thus, while the question of whether one favors homosexual marriage is indeed an important one for public debate, for the Christian in particular, such popular calls have a deeper Read the rest of this entry »

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Phil Wickham on Radical Individualism: Lose Your Life Just So You Can Find It

Last week I wrote two posts dealing with the connection between self-denial and self-interest (or what I like to call the “upside-down economics of Christianity”).

Today I just wanted to share a song by Phil Wickham that conveys the concept pretty well.

Watch a live performance of the “True Love” here:

In the chorus, Wickham explains how Jesus’ sacrifice gave us freedom of sin:

When blood and water hit the ground, walls we couldn’t move came crashing down. We were free and made alive, the day that True Love died, the day that True Love died.

He then points out what is required to experience such freedom, namely faith in God and a rejection ofworldly (i.e. irrational) self-interest:

Search your heart; you know you can’t deny it. Come on, lose your Read the rest of this entry »

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Supernatural Devotion: Oswald Chambers on Self-Denial

Oswald Chambers

Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)

Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest is perhaps the best devotional I’ve ever come across. Thus I am currently reading it for the second time (albeit off schedule).

This morning’s selection stuck out to me, particularly because it points to yesterday’s subject of self-denial and redirecting natural inclinations. The selection is titled “Why Can I Not Follow You Now?” and you can read it by clicking here.

Chambers is talking about how we often want to jump-start God’s will in our lives. Perhaps there is a vision or a calling that God has made clear to us, but we don’t feel like God has given us the final go-ahead to execute it.

As Chambers explains:

At first you may see clearly what God’s will is — the severance of a friendship, the breaking off of a business relationship, or something else you feel is distinctly God’s will for you to do. But never act on the impulse of that feeling. If you do, you will cause difficult situations to arise which will take years to untangle. Wait for God’s timing and He will do it without any heartache or disappointment. When it is a question of the providential will of God, wait for God to move.

When we think of Biblical self-denial, we tend to think of denying things that are “bad” (e.g. dishonesty, lust, selfishness, etc.). But although we must certainly deny our flesh when it comes to blatant sins, such self-denial may also be necessary when it comes to the actual things God has called us to.

This is where following the Holy Spirit is crucial. There will not always be a clear-cut Bible verse to tell you what your individual path looks like. Although we must align all of our pursuits to God’s Word, it is often the Holy Spirit that tells us which job to take, which person to marry, or which city to live in.

But even when we know God’s will (e.g. the job, the spouse, the city), our flesh still has the potential to distort the timing and the execution. For instance, Jesus’ death was the ultimate Read the rest of this entry »

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