by Mike Ratliff
18 And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, “Who do the people say that I am?” 19 They answered and said, “John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again.” 20 And He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” 21 But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.”
23 And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25 For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:18-27 (NASB)
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 go 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. Wrong! 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. Why is this event so easy?
We are armored and standing when we are Spirit-led. We are not armored and are ready to fall when we are Flesh-bound. 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.
23 And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. Luke 9:23-24 (NASB)
What must we do to remain armored, 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 heart 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 up 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. 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.
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. 14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. Philippians 4:10-14 (NASB)
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.
1 Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” 7 The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, 12 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.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; 19 and he took food and was strengthened. Acts 9:1-19 (NASB)
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 Flesh-bound concept of life. The Flesh-bound 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.
26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).
27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
40 They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. Acts 5:26-42 (NASB)
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?
28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB)
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 cleanses our conscience enabling it to work correctly. The godly value system in our consciences is now more apparent to our hearts. We now treasure the right treasure.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21 (NASB)
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.
1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13 (NASB)
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.
Soli Deo Gloria!