Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously once wrote that when Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die. This is the way you follow Jesus – whether you’re young or old, rich or poor, educated or not. The road in following Jesus means the road of death to self, for this is what it means to call Jesus “Lord.”
It means that we are choosing to give over our desires, our hopes, our aspirations, our ambitions, and our very lives to Jesus. Quoting this time Hudson Taylor, the famous pioneer missionary to China, “either Jesus is Lord of all, or not Lord at all.”
This death we die is a one time choice when we initially choose to follow Jesus, but it is actualized in a thousand little ways each and every day. In other words, we have died, therefore we die. Jesus emphasized this every day component in His famous definition of what discipleship really is: “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
Chances are, if you’re reading this, the way you will “die” today is not through physical death. It is instead through one of those daily choices by which you give over some element of your sinful nature to crucifixion. What might some of those every day choices be today? I’d offer three for your consideration – three practical ways you might die today:
More times than not, I enter into a conversation not to actually listen but to speak. Even when someone else is doing the talking, I am subconsciously working out my clever reply, my next point, or something else that I can contribute to the conversation. In all these ways, I am right in the middle of that everyday conversation choosing the road of self-centeredness. I am not putting the interests of another ahead of my own.
But if I choose to listen to the person in front of me, if I choose for my next statement to be a question that invites them to share more about their own point of view or their own needs, I am actually choosing the road of self-denial in a very practical way.
Chances are someone will wrong me today in some slight way. The same thing will likely happen to you. That person might not even realize they have something that offended you, but when it happens, you and I have the choice of simply letting it go and extending grace, or holding some kind of subtle grudge.
When we choose the road of unforgiveness, we are choosing the road of self-lordship. We are choosing to hold something over someone’s head, even if they don’t realize it, that gives us power over that person if only in our own minds. But when we choose to simply let it go, or to not return injury in kind, we are denying ourselves. We are dying to that impulse of self-importance that motivates these kind of grudges.
Perhaps this should go without saying, and yet our prayers are often an ironic reflection of whether or not we are daily dying to ourselves. It’s not that we shouldn’t bring our own needs to God in prayer; we certainly should. And yet those personal needs should not be the only subject of the conversation we have at the throne of grace.
One of the practical ways we can die to ourselves on a daily basis is through consciously choosing to pray for others. Pray at length for them. Pray for many of them. Pray for those near and pray for those far. In so doing, we are choosing once again self-denial, for we are in prayer putting the needs of others before our own.
The beautiful thing about choosing these practical examples of dying to self, along with a host of others, is that through dying to ourselves we find the ultimate and true life Jesus has in mind for us. For though the pathway to life is through death, life is indeed the destination Jesus has in mind for us:
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will save it” (Luke 9:24).