for the Perpetually-Single Christ-Following Dudes in the World, Episode 7: Deny Yourself

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

Goodness. What a nice promise.

“The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked above all other things.”

Wait… huh?

Okay.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent a while trying to figure out how the same God who inspired the same set of scriptures could possibly inspire such contradictory statements.

I probably don’t need to tell you how fickle a thing the heart is. It says one thing one moment, then it says something completely different the next. It’s almost like it completely forgot what it said the first time. What a klutzy thing we have to deal with. Something else about this clumsy beast.

“Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

So let me splice all three of these statements together and see what happens.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart, which is actually deceitful and desperately wicked, but also the wellspring of life, which you’re supposed guard, actually.”

“Guard your deceitful and desperately wicked heart, which is the wellspring of life, and if you delight yourself in the Lord, He will give you the desires of it.”

See how none of this works?

Okay, it’s my fault. Let’s start over.

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Hi there, fellow perpetually-single Christ-following dudes in the world!

Our hearts desire to find another heart to share life with. Sweet!

Our lives flow from our hearts. Seems logical!

Our hearts are valuable enough to protect. Danged straight!

Our hearts are also actually pretty jacked up. Oh…

Our hearts tend to trick us into doing dumb things to suit its purposes. Ugh, yeah…

Yet through all of that, the Maker of the universe wants to give us our heart’s desires. Really?

Complicated, right?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

I’ve said before that when we give our hearts to Jesus, they’re not ours to give anymore. Instead, they are His. He knows who is best for us, and He will show us where our hearts belong. He is in the business of transforming hearts from stone back into flesh.

Stone hearts can’t beat. They can’t move at all. But they usually don’t get that way all at once. The petrification process takes time and pressure, and most of all, death. The more stone it becomes, the more dead it is.

I’ve always wondered what the hearts of Adam and Eve were like. Did they delight in the Lord? If they did, how long did it take for them to stop that? How long did it take for the life to slow from welling up within them? Did they feel it all in a moment? What was it like, having a spotless, completely healthy heart?

I know that it didn’t take long for mankind to stray from life. We were killing each other by the second generation. We’ve justified it and every other sin by what we might gain if we do this or that, or what we might lose if we don’t commit this or that sin.

Somewhere, deep down, there is a part of our hearts that is still alive, that still beats, that God can touch and bring life back to the rest of it. Somewhere, He wrote an undeniable, immortal truth, one that no one can ever fully block out.

But that doesn’t change the fact that our hearts are dying. We know that they’re dying. We know that life is good and death is not. So we will justify nearly any sin to make it not happen for a little while longer, or even to forget that it will happen for a while.

The thing is that no matter what sins we give in to, they’re all rooted in one basic one: selfishness. We want what we want, we are the awesomest of the awesome, and we absolutely must have our way. We take what we want, and we feed our ever-starving egos. Any sin can be reduced to this one heart issue.

In the interest of survival, our hearts deceive us into forgetting that it’s all futile in the end, that anything we gain in this life will fade with the world as it passes away. We delight in our own interests, but when we delight in the Lord, when we align our interests with His rather than trying to impose our interests on His, everything comes back into focus.

The desires of our heart were never meant to be survival. Living was supposed to be a given. We were always meant to be fully alive in Jesus, to “thrive, not just survive,” as Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman put it.

God designed us for love and companionship, but that was never meant to be the underlying force. My dad, not a Jesus-follower, places a lot of hope in the prospect of my brother and I carrying on the life of the world by having kids. That’s a really important thing, but life for the sake of survival isn’t life at all.

Our purpose as the creation is to express the vast dimensions of the love of our Maker. That’s when we’re at our best.

Accepting redemption through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Sharing that redemption with others.

Caring for orphans and widows.

Feeding the hungry.

Clothing the naked.

Helping the poor.

Healing the sick.

Ensuring that nobody has to go through life alone, apart from each other, apart from their Maker.

It’s when we get obsessed with ourselves that we go wrong, not when we’re pouring our love from our hearts.

But to do that, Christ calls us to do three things.

“Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow me.”

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That’s usually a decision statement. It’s usually that point in southern Baptist churches where the obnoxiously vibrato-ey organ starts cuing you in for the altar call.

There’s a reason for that. This is a very black-and-white statement. Either you do it, or you don’t, and you really have to figure out if you want to do it. It usually doesn’t happen all at once, but you at least have to decide if that’s what you want or not.

This isn’t an altar call.

See, survival is great, and so is everything God wants us to do, including finding someone to love for the rest of our lives.

But guess what.

That isn’t the underlying force behind our lives.

Jesus is.

When we become obsessed with finding someone, it is no longer about loving someone. It isn’t about love at all. It’s actually about us. When we’re more concerned with finding someone than growing into Christ, then finding someone becomes an idol. Really, it’s not even that finding someone becomes an idol. We become the idol because it’s about fulfilling a longing that we have. But a girl isn’t for filling a void. A girl is for loving. She just happens to fill some voids sometimes, but not the ones Jesus fills.

That’s why we have to deny ourselves. It isn’t about denying love. We should not deny love. God made us for love and to love. It isn’t about denying a person in our lives (unless we idolize a person). It’s about denying our ambitions from taking the throne which belongs only to the Lamb who was slain, and who is worthy, and holy.

God made us to marry so that we would have help through life, but no one can help us like Jesus can. Maybe at times we need someone to occupy an intimate space in our lives, but we don’t need anyone more than we need Jesus. Filling that void is about us, not about Jesus, so in order to love, we must deny ourselves.

Then comes the taking-up-your-cross part, and we can’t do that until we deny ourselves.

The cross symbolizes a lot of things.

It symbolizes pain. It reminds us of the torment that Christ went through in His final hours.

It symbolizes shame. People aren’t crucified for glory. They’re crucified for criminality. Jesus was falsely accused of the blasphemy that every single one of us are guilty of when we glorify ourselves about Him.

But it also symbolizes some good things because of Jesus.

It symbolizes sacrifice. Not only did He not deserve the cross, but the shame of the cross could never measure up to the spotless Lamb of God.

It symbolizes love. The Maker of all things sacrificed His only Son by birth, and His Son obeyed, in order to bring love back to life in a world that has been dying for ages, to adopt us into His family because even with our sins and failures we are more precious to Him than His own life.

Wanna talk about denying ourselves? Jesus denied Himself. He didn’t ask us to do anything He wasn’t also willing to do, and for the same reason. He denied Himself for love’s sake, and that’s why He implores us to deny ourselves. He knew love had nothing to do with Himself, but everything to do with the ones He loved. And He calls us to follow Him in that.

In every area of our lives, whether we see it or not, Jesus is beckoning us to follow Him. He is going in a direction. He is leading us home. He wants us to follow Him there. But at the risk of stating the obvious, we can’t follow Him without following Him. We need to pay attention. We need to watch. We need to listen. I’m not saying we will never get sidetracked, or that there will come a time when He will stop chasing us down to find us when we’re lost. But if we’re too occupied with filling the void, do we even really have the room to pay attention to Him? And when someone finally comes along, will we even be paying attention to her enough to love her, or just consume her as we do so many things we undervalue next to ourselves?

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It’s easy to go into denial, say we are fully following Christ, but be completely obsessed and overtaken by the notion of being with someone. It’s okay to want to be with someone, but not at the expense of Christ being dethroned in your heart. Without Him in His proper place, nothing goes right.

Ultimately, it isn’t even that we idolize other people. We can do that, but ultimately, it’s ourselves. That’s why self-denial is so important. If we’re more consumed with finding someone than we are with Christ, that is an obsession with what we want. It’s self-obsession, which has no room to love anyone else.

If we’re more consumed with finding someone than the someone we find, we’re concerned with what we can get rather than whom we can love. The same goes for Christ. We don’t seek to gain anything He offers. We seek the man Himself.

Maybe this is the chance you need to take to deny yourself. Maybe this aspect of your life is vying for control of your life. In order to take up your cross, maybe for now you need to deny relationships. Take up Jesus as your god, but don’t take up a girl. No one else bore a cross for you.

You are loved, so love. Jesus loves you so much. Let that melt your heart. Delight in that. Let selfless love be the desire of your heart. Let His truth cancel out any lies you’ve believed. Protect it from anything less than real love.

Deny yourself.

Take up your cross.

Follow Jesus.