The Essence of Following Jesus is Self Denial-not Self Improvement
Today's guest post is from one of our summer team leaders, Joy Hook. We're thankful for how the Lord has used SOS to shape her heart for the Gospel and grateful for the truths she is sharing with us today.
This past summer I was a team leader at SOS, and reflecting back on it, I experienced more spiritual growth than I ever have before.
As Christians, the devil lets us believe that we can follow Christ while following our own wants and desires, just as long as we put Jesus first, or rather think we do. That is a lie that I realize now that I constantly fell into, and at the beginning of my SOS summer was living out. I love everything about SOS, and since eighth grade, I have dreamt about being a team leader one day. This summer, when that dream became reality, I was over the moon. The first week that we had campers I primped and prepped so that I could appear to these campers as the best team leader ever. The thing that I had not realized was that I had also been doing this with my coworkers as well. The first week of camp, I wanted to appear to be the hardest working team leader while remaining fun and relatable. Every time I would make a decision I would first think, “How would this make me appear in the eyes of those around me?” and, “If I do this, will I ultimately win more affection and gain worth from others?” If I decided that it would make me feel like I had more worth, I would do it. This way of thinking lead to me following Christ, while trying to improve myself in the eyes of others. The problem with that way of thinking is that the essence of following Jesus is self-denial, not self-improvement. Ultimately, through self-improvement you are trying to come to a place where you are proud and comfortable with who you are. But the more you look to yourself for your worth and happiness, the unhappier you will become. When we move toward self-improvement, we are relying less on Christ, and more on ourselves. If we do not place God on the throne of our lives we are cheating Him and not giving Him enough of ourselves. We cannot put Christ on a shelf for there are other things that you can put under that, but nothing can ever measure up to Him and what He adds to our lives. Like C.S. Lewis said, “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing”. God deserves nothing less than the throne in our lives, and until we can relinquish our chair we cannot truly follow him.
In his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis says “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says ‘Thy will be done.’” Or “All right, then, have it your way,” which means God won’t put Himself first in our lives apart from our doing so ourselves. When God is not first in our lives, when we refuse to deny ourselves for the sake of Christ, God basically lets us have our own way, which is the worst thing that could happen to us.
At SOS last summer, it was easy for me to fall into the trap of self improvement in my position as a team leader. I felt like a mini-celebrity with all of the attention being placed on me (not to mention the rush of happiness when you see campers pushing and running to sit with you at dinner). I realized God would let me continue on the road to self-improvement, even though it shifted the focus from Christ to me. I had to come to the realization that I desperately needed him in the center of my life. My dad likes to remind me, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s about thinking of yourself less.” Self-denial is about humbling yourself so that God can work through you and in you. We need to see our worth in Christ, but we also need to think about ourselves less in order to focus on others and God’s plan for our lives. In self-denial lies the path to Christ and His fulfillment in every way, beyond anything we could think or want. SOS helped me realize that, and it changed my life yet again. I was able to go forth and look at myself as having worth because I am a child of God, and I was able to direct my focus to others and let God work through me.