by Mike Ratliff
Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:18-27 Emphasis Mine)
There are times it is easy to be selfless. I wake up on those mornings and have a wonderful quiet time with the Lord. I drive to work not letting anyone get me into a circumstance where the enemy steals my joy. It all flows together as I keep my focus on the Lord instead of on me. As I do that I treat those that I work with as far more important than me. I am so full of peace and joy that I start to believe I will never be self-focused again. Gong! Then reality sets in. Some circumstance that I perceive as unfair and affects me personally slips up on me and I become my old self again. I absolutely hate it when this happens.
I get angry and off I go into self-pity land. The part that drives me nuts is what is reminding me all through this that I have taken a wrong turn. What part of me is doing this? It is my conscience. I stop the journey down this stupid road as I turn back in mourning. I repent and get back to seeking the Lord, but my conscience is really letting me have it. I reevaluate my walk to try to determine why I let that circumstance trip me up. The only thing I can come up with is I must have laid my armor aside and became self-focused just prior to or during the event.
We are armored and standing when we are Spirit-led. We are not armored and are ready to fall when we are Soul-led. Why can’t we get this right? Why do we continue to slip and allow circumstances to drill us like this? The answer is found in the passage I placed at the beginning of this chapter. Here is the part that interests us.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)
What must we do to keep that armor on, as we remain Spirit-led? We must follow Jesus instead of doing what we want. Where does He lead us? He leads into a suffering, which requires a high level of self-denial. How can we learn to do this? Jesus will show us how. If I apply this to my reality check, I will see what I did wrong. I became self-focused and self-confident. When Jesus led me into a problem, I was not ready to handle it. I did not embrace it at all. Instead, I rejected it. Anger and bitterness entered into my Soul and I found myself steaming and wondering how I got there.
What is the key to having a selfless heart? We must be alert that’s for sure. We must be armored with the full armor of God as we walk in the Spirit. We must eagerly embrace sorrow and suffering instead of resisting. We must see sorrow and suffering as our best friends. What? Yes, we must look at these two things that the world rejects as the very companions that God will use to shatter our hearts. Does this mean we must look for hardship? No, I do not have any problems experiencing sorrow and suffering without looking for them. Trouble finds me and I am sure it does you as well. What we have to do is quit trying to control our lives by steering clear of all suffering. We must let go of the steering wheel and let Jesus drive. That means we submit to His Lordship in every circumstance. We never try to use our wiles and big mouths to try to change our circumstances. Instead, we must seek the Lord for Grace as we submit to His will.
What can we do to raise our spiritual awareness so we can walk this way? We have to realize we cannot handle this by ourselves. Our guard must be up continually. We must be Spirit-led, be walking in the Spirit and totally helpless before our Lord. We must put an end to being self-focused. We must become content with who we are and what our circumstances are. The Apostle Paul knew this secret.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. (Philippians 4:10-14)
Paul was in prison when he wrote this. He had learned to be content no matter what his circumstances were. We need to grasp this. We cannot attain a selfless heart unless we learn this secret. We must understand what we view as suffering is really the means the Lord is using to shape our hearts according to His will. Where did Paul get the strength to be this way? The Lord gave it to Him. Our Lord desires for us to grasp the importance of suffering in our spiritual growth. He wants us to learn to suffer for His glory.
Saul the Pharisee, Paul the Apostle, was blinded by his encounter with the Lord. He had been on his way to arrest believers and drag them back to Jerusalem for trial and possible execution. However, the Lord had bigger plans for him.
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. (Acts 9:1-19 Emphasis Mine)
Does it seem odd that those called to serve the Lord are also called into the baptism of suffering? It does seem odd to the natural man. It is antithetical to the Soul-led concept of life. The Soul-led believe all suffering is bad. It must be avoided at all costs. However, the Spirit-led must understand this deeper walk is costly, that is, it is costly by the World’s standards. However, once we become led by the Spirit, He will see to it that we will drink from the cup of suffering which will burn away everything in us not of the Lord.
Earlier in the book of Acts, Peter and John were arrested for preaching Jesus in the Temple. They were brought before the Jewish leaders and threatened.
Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:26-42 Emphasis Mine)
What sort of logic is this? Peter and John were beaten (flogged), which was humiliating, yet they went their way rejoicing because God had counted them worthy to suffer dishonor or shame for the name of Jesus! If we are Spirit-led, we understand the intimate relationship of suffering and spiritual growth. It is through suffering our faith is strengthened. While we are patiently enduring the fires of purification we will have our hearts shattered and rejoice greatly because the Lord has sustained us through it all and taken us out the other side more Christ-like. The one who drinks from this cup is developing a selfless heart.
Where does the strength come from which enables us to endure suffering patiently? It is supernatural. We do not have the will power to do this and God knows it. Where does it start?
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
We must turn to Jesus, come to Him in our helplessness, take on His yoke as we submit to His Lordship, and then learn what He teaches. What do you suppose He will teach us? He will teach us whatever we need to learn so we can become like Him. He will teach us how to suffer and sorrow for His glory. He will teach us how to be content through it all.
The key to living this way is to come to the realization this physical existence is simply the preparation for our future eternal existence with our Lord. When we understand this, deeply, we change how we view what goes on here on planet Earth. We quit valuing worldly things. Instead, we place the highest value on what God values. How does this happen? When God circumcises our hearts, this opens up the connection between our Spirit and our Soul. The godly value system in our consciences is now more apparent to our hearts. We now treasure the right treasure.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
Our hearts will be set on what we value the most. If we value possessions, we will be stuck in materialism. If we value anything more than our relationship with God, we will be mired in idolatry. However, if we treasure the Treasure we lay up in Heaven, we will be content because our physical circumstances have no bearing on it. When our hearts become circumcised and we become Spirit-led we take a huge step in becoming selfless. We must ask God to develop this wonderful gift of contentment in us.
Another level of selflessness is how we interact with everyone around us. Our submission to and embracing of sorrow and suffering has totally reshaped our heart. We are now living for God’s glory not ours. This means we put Him first in all things. For this to be true, our hearts must become tender. This will cause God’s value system, which is in our conscience, to become more and more apparent to our heart. When our hearts are this tender we will not be placing self above anyone. God is first and everyone else is more important than we are. We must put ourselves last. The selfless heart is a heart full of the highest form of love.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13 Emphasis Mine)
This form of love is God powered love. When we have a selfless heart this love becomes manifest in how we interact with everyone in our lives. There are no exceptions. This selfless heart will not retaliate. It turns the other cheek. Let us do a thorough and honest self-examination of our hearts. How hard is it to turn the other cheek? Is it a priority to win all the time? Does harshness ever spew from the mouth? How about gossip? How about helping the less fortunate? How about being a patient discipler of the new believers? How about patience in heavy traffic or in a long line at Wal-Mart? I could go on and on; however, you get the idea. Ask God to show you how selfless you are.
What is the key to developing a selfless heart? The key is total submission to Christ’s Lordship. We must give it all up. We must not cling to any of that old worldly stuff. Our fulfillment must come from our relationship with our Lord and from NO WHERE else. Once we have become a Spirit-led believer we must realize the work has just begun. There are no shortcuts. We must submit to our Lord’s cleansing fire. We must embrace sorrow and suffering as our close and dear companions. We must not push them away. We must not flee from their presence. We must allow our hearts to be torn, shredded, and reshaped according to our Lord’s will.
The following Puritan prayer is entitled “Belonging to Jesus.” It is a prayer of complete submission to His Lordship in all circumstances. Prayerfully read it and reflect on your own spiritual needs.
O Heavenly Father, Teach me to see that if Christ has pacified thee and satisfied divine justice he can also deliver me from my sins; that Christ does not desire me, now justified, to live in self-confidence in my own strength, but gives me the law of the Spirit of life to enable me to obey thee; that the Spirit and his power are mine by resting on Christ’s death; that the Spirit of Life within answers to the law without; that if I sin not I should thank thee for it; that if I sin I should be humbled daily under it; that I should mourn for sin more than other men do, for when I see I shall die because of sin, that makes me mourn; when I see how sin strikes at thee, that makes me mourn; when I see that sin caused Christ’s death, that makes me mourn; that sanctification is the evidence of reconciliation, proving that faith has truly apprehended Christ; Thou has taught me that faith is nothing else than receiving thy kindness; that it is an adherence to Christ, a resting on him, love clinging to him as a branch to a tree, to seek life and vigour from him. I thank thee for showing me the vast difference between knowing things by reason, and knowing them by the spirit of faith. By reason I see a thing is so; by faith I know it as it is. I have seen thee by reason and have not been amazed, I have seen thee as thou art in thy Son and have been ravished to behold thee. I bless thee that I am thine in my Saviour Jesus.
We must see all suffering before our Lord as sweet pain. There is no way we can do this unless we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Of course, the Spirit-led are walking through this life pursuing His leading so they will also fall in love with suffering for our Lord. Those who learn to endure will emerge purified, humble, and selfless. With each patient victory, Christ-likeness grows. This selfless heart is tender and made up of the soft fertile soil that causes pride to wither and die.
Oh Lord God, Abba Father I love You my Lord with my entire being. I want nothing but you. You have circumcised my heart and I am eternally grateful. Oh Lord, I pray for the reader and myself. You will never stop the demolition process you have begun in our hearts. Please burn away all of us that is not of You. Give us the grace to submit and patiently endure the sweet pain. Do not take away the pain Lord, but give us the ability to endure it for your glory. In Jesus precious name Amen!
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.