Friday, March 19, 2010

"Dying to Self" --A Testimony.

I really enjoyed Sharon’s post last week about “dying to self.” I didn’t enjoy it because I LIKE dying to myself, :) but because in my own personal journey and in our journey as maturing Christians, we must die to ourselves, bit-by-bit, day-by-day.

Honestly though, who really relishes the idea? The word “death” in itself doesn’t exactly bring about a warm and fuzzy feeling does it? “Death” brings connotations of fear, pain, and misery…certainly not something anyone would gravitate to naturally if given a choice. Here we see again, that living in God’s “economy” is often counter-intuitive to the logic of us humans!

Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” Luke 9:23-25

I think “dying to self” can be hard because our desire to have our own way is actually rooted in “original sin.” It takes us back to the Garden of Eden. You know the story. Essentially, Adam and Eve did something God told them not to do. He told them not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. John Piper teaches that the phrase has special meaning in the Old Testament...

The "knowledge of good and evil" refers to the capacity and the right to decide for one's self what is good and what is bad; what is helpful and what is harmful. Therefore, what God was forbidding was not an arbitrary fruit, but what the fruit symbolized. To eat of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" would mean to reject God as the all-wise, all-caring Father who knows what is good for us, and in his place to put ourselves. Therefore, what God forbade man to do was to exchange roles with him. He simply said: Don't try to dethrone me. Don't try to take my place. Trust ME to fill your life with maximum joy and meaning.”

I personally, learned a lot about “dying to myself” when God began to deal with me about how I viewed money. I believe my wrong attitudes began with the woundedness I experienced as a child, which led me to have issues with self esteem as an adult. These self-esteem issues caused me to be deceived into thinking that if I wore the “right clothes” and hung out in the “right places,” people would see me as acceptable. Material possessions really made me feel better about myself. If I was having a rough day, I would go shopping and buy myself something new. I placed a lot of value on appearance because that seemed to be what was important to the rest of the world and I wanted to “fit in.” I bought things I couldn’t afford to appear “successful.” I would get into debt and get bailed out only to go into debt again. My spending was like an addiction. I often had trouble controlling it and it controlled me. Granted, spending money or being in debt is not a sin, but it is a bi-product of sin. It certainly wasn’t God’s plan for me according to scripture.

That stuff had an importance in my life that it shouldn’t have had. I was dependent on it for my self-esteem and for my security. It held a higher priority in my life than God. You could see what I worshipped by looking at my credit card statement or by opening up my check register. Jesus was not Lord of my life, “mammon” was, and that, plain and simple, is idolatry.

Now, you might say to yourself, "yeah, but spending money and going into debt isn’t that big of deal. It’s not like you went out and killed somebody or something.” That’s what I thought for many years too. “It’s just a weakness I have. It doesn’t really hurt anybody.” But when I began to have a real relationship with Jesus, he wouldn’t let me stay where I was. He began to show me how my spending hurt other people. It caused issues in my marriage for one. Especially since my husband preferred to live frugally and felt much more secure by saving and investing money. He would get upset when I would overspend and I would vow to do better, but since I couldn’t control myself in this area, I would often fail and then in my shame try to hide the things I bought and then lie that I had “had the stuff for awhile.”

(That’s the other problem with sin. It brings us shame and makes us want to hide it and before we know it, we’re sinning to cover up our sin. Once again, just like Adam and Eve, back in that garden!)

The trouble was that I felt powerless over my spending at times, and the way I looked at money and stuff hurt my relationship with the Lord because I just couldn’t believe that He could provide for me what I was believing all that “stuff” for.

I know this sounds crazy, but you know how Jacob wrestled with God? I wrestled with God one time about my desire to buy a new outfit for my husband’s company Christmas party! (Stay with me here!) I felt him saying in my spirit not to do it, yet the thought of not doing it was probably similar to what a junkie feels when he thinks he’s about to miss a “fix”! I cried and carried on before the Lord because the thought of not appearing at that party the way I pictured that “acceptable” would look-- by not wearing what I thought people needed to see me in to like me and respect me-- was more than I could bear! (For some of you right now you’re thinking "what a nutcase!" But I suspect there are a few of you who may be nodding your head in agreement because maybe you have been there too?)

I remember actually saying out loud, “But God, what will people think?” It was like my self-esteem just crying out, “But what if people won’t accept me like this?”

It was a huge statement to make and it was the first time since being truly “born again” that I ever felt that I heard God’s voice well up boldly inside of me,

“Don’t you know I love you more?” He said.

And I cried and cried for quite awhile after that, alone in my bedroom, because I instantly reverted back to being that little girl from my childhood who longed to feel accepted and loved.

I went to the party that Saturday wearing something I had in my closet and you know what? I lived to tell about it! It was OK. I don’t think anyone even noticed I had worn it before! LOL!

That act of “dying” triggered a new direction in my life when it came to money. I continued to struggle with spending, but God provided opportunities to rescue me. He led me into bible studies that taught a biblical perspective on money, which helped me to realize what a wedge my view of money placed between my Lord and me. I desperately wanted to change, but it was hard. Like any “addictive” kind of behavior, you conquer it one step at a time.

The real breakthrough came the day I realized that I couldn’t control myself and I began to fast forward in my mind about what my selfish attitude about spending could possibly mean for the future of my children.

Would I put our family is the position of having to say to them one day, “Sorry, you can’t go to college because Mom had to have the latest wardrobe from Ann Taylor?”

My love and desire not to hurt my family, in combination with my desire to have a close relationship with the Lord, brought me to my knees and I asked for his forgiveness and begged him to help me “get this” because I didn’t want to have to learn it the hard way!”

Do you know what He did? He made it my job for a season of my life to have to know His financial principles inside and out so I could teach others!

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1 Cor. 1:27

I am blown away every day by the unbelievable grace God has shown toward me in this area of sin in my life. It really hit home about a year ago. I was asked to be on a panel of speakers at a church who was teaching a series on “How to Manage Finances in a Tough Economy.” They asked if I would do a segment on debt and I prepared my presentation for several days. A few hours before I was to leave to do my teaching, I was rehearsing what I planned to say and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Look what the Lord has done! Me, the girl who was in and out of debt, who was financially irresponsible and in a lot ways just downright ignorant about money, is about to stand side by side with a panel of corporate CFO’s, bank presidents and CPA’s and teach other people how God wants them to handle money!

It was miraculous! My area of pain and weakness-my “uncontrollable” area of sin, had been taken over by God and He was using it glorify him! The area of sin that Satan had intended to use to destroy me was placed in the loving hands of God and he turned it around and used it to save me!

...And so it is with all our sin. He knows we can’t handle it. He knew back in the Garden of Eden. From the very time that man first sinned, God began to work on a plan to keep us in fellowship with Him.

“Dying to self,” is recognizing that your self conscious, self serving, self-reliant ways-- the very things you are trusting in to make you happy, may very well be the things that are making you miserable. God created us to worship and glorify HIM, not ourselves. May we choose to live in that calling…denying our sinful nature and accepting his sacrifice… allowing him to turn our lives around and make that “ugly” sin into something beautiful before Him.



Sharon Sloan said...

Stacy, I loved reading this testimony about "death to self". How better to spur one another on that by sharing how God has worked and is working in our hearts through obedience and His Word.

I agree...when we die to triggers a new direction. And we stay on the narrow path that leads to life!

Oh, and I wrestled with God hard during my "death to self" over the decision to get a family dog. (whom I love by the way....we've had her 2 weeks today)

Thanks, Stacy. Really enjoyed this.


Kelly Combs said...

What a beautiful beautiful post Stacy. I'm so glad to see how far God has brought you and pray this will inspire others to see how far God will bring them in whatever area they need to die to self, even if it isn't financial.

Great words.

Edie said...

Oh Stacy this is so beautiful! I'm tearing up over here. :) I loved reading your testimony. This is such an encouragement to me because I can relate to so much you expressed here. Not so much with money for me but to other areas.

"But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1 Cor. 1:27"

I love the way God works.
Have a great weekend!