Learning to Say “No” To Ourselves

We who are parents know the importance of sometimes telling our children “no.” It’s not that we want to be joy-kills, but that giving them everything they ask for can be damaging to their character formation. Plus, sometimes they deserve a no for previous bad behavior. You and I have seen children who have never been told “no.” They tend to be rather spoiled and bratty, despite how precious they may appear. It’s easy to say “no” to a child as looking out for their very best interest, but more difficult to say “no” to ourselves. Quite frankly, we should look out for our best interest as well in this very same way.

One of the costs of following Christ is that we have to deny ourselves. Attached to our self-denial is the taking up of our crosses as we adopt a measure of the identity of Christ as part of our own (Luke 9:23). In this often ignored aspect of Christianity, we more often assert our wills, rights, and preferences. Sometimes it isn’t always the children who are spoiled, but we adults are far worse especially when we become stuck in our ways. Our children will one day refer to this as our being “stubborn.” If you heard the sermon this last Sunday morning, I told a story about how I wanted so badly to take one course of action but denied myself the inclination to do that very thing because it was unchristian. As hard as it was to deny myself, it was necessary as a Christian to do so. There are many times that I, and we, ought to very well deny ourselves because it is in our best interest to do so.

While we all have moments of weakness, we have to admit that these are the moments when denying ourselves are most important. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves.” Excuses are easy to come by when we don’t feel like trying hard enough. One particular athlete, a bronze medalist in the 2008 summer Olympics in Judo, stated that she trained for her worst days and not her best. It’s easy for anyone to excel on their best days, but a true champion trains to win on their worst days. Were we to train ourselves to this end, we’d do very well in following Jesus and bearing His cross. Admit it, many of us have interests, some of them athletic, that we understand this concept for and apply to it. How much more so should we do it for our faith? “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).

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