Encounter: Read Luke 9:23-25 and Galatians 2:20 in several different translations. Are there other ways of saying “deny yourself”?
For the last several weeks, we have been focusing on Psalm 23. It is short and familiar, yet it makes some extraordinary claims about our life with Jesus as our good shepherd. Can our life really be like that? The more we practice living in his presence, the more we experience the peace and freedom from worry that is promised in the psalm.
The Lord is my shepherd.
Who’s in charge, the shepherd or the sheep? Obviously the shepherd is in charge, not the sheep. For Christians, Jesus is our shepherd. He is in charge. At least he should be.
But we sheep too often want to be in charge. The good shepherd is there to lead, to guide, to comfort, and to strengthen, but we want our own way. Frank Sinatra had a big hit with “I did it my way.”
God calls us to do it His way.
In Luke 9:23-25 we read
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?
What does it mean to deny yourself? To lose your life or save your life?
Dallas Willard, in the book life without lack, refers to this denying of yourself as death to self. He writes “This is the essence of the death-to-self life: that we should no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and rose again.” Our wants and desires are secondary to living for Jesus our Good Shepherd and savior. It's not that we don’t have wants and desires, but that we bring all of our wants and desires into line with what God wants for us and from us. Jesus is our example. He didn’t want to be crucified. He prayed “If possible, let this cup pass from me.” But his desire to do the will of his Father was far greater than his desire to save his life.
What keeps us from saying “The Lord is my shepherd. I’m not in charge here. The Good Shepherd is. I don’t want anything that He doesn’t want for me.” Do we trust God enough, do we have faith enough, to let Jesus be our good shepherd, to let Jesus be in charge of our lives?
All of us slip up from time to time. Transformation is a process. It takes time. But with God’s help we can say more and more “The Lord is my shepherd. I’m not in charge here. The Good Shepherd is. I don’t want anything that He doesn’t want for me.”
Let us pray. Lord, you are my shepherd. I don’t want to be in charge any more. Lead me. Guide me. Comfort me. Give me strength. Let me live in your goodness and love all the days of my life. Amen
God bless you and keep you
Reflect: What does it mean to deny yourself? What does it mean to lose your life for Jesus? Remember times you have denied yourself something that you wanted. Why did you deny yourself? Remember times when you acted out of concern for someone else without even thinking about yourself. Why did you do that?
Encourage: What does the shepherd in Psalm 23 do for us sheep? Make a list of all the verbs in this passage.
Gather: In your small group time, talk about how Jesus has been a shepherd in your life. What was the result? When have you resisted? What was the result?