Where Is Self-Denial and Counting the Cost?

I got this email today and thought others would find an interest in the answer as well.

I am hooked. I read you book “So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore” and it resonated with me on a very deep level. You see I have been searching for the real Christianity for a long time. I even went to bible college and got a theology degree to try to get my life to where I thought it should be if I was really to be a real Christian. All to no avail. I am still searching but what you have here is really tugging me to where I know I need to be. I have some questions however which I hope you can help me with.

How does the counting the cost – and self denial – and divine discipline fit with the idea of the patient God who is understanding of our weaknesses and willing to walk with us through our journey? I think I am starting to understand but every now and then I get confused. Anyway hoping to begin to
live the life that is described in the word rather than this lifeless facsimile.

Your question confuses me a bit, because I see plenty of room inside the Lord’s compassion for us to count the cost, and deny ourselves as we follow him. The denial comes in the following, I guess. Jesus asks me to do some incredible costly things. By following him, I often have to deny what Wayne wants to do. But he has lovingly won me into that space. Look how much time Jesus invested in the disciples, loving them through their selfishness and ignorances, and then challenging them to self-denial as the expression of relationship-borne obedience. Denial is not the way we gain him. Denial is the tool we need to live in his will instead of our own. Religion sets up a list of rules and expectations and then gets us to think that our achieving those is self-denial. It is not. It is only performance by another name. It is our effort trying to gain God’s favor. Simply, that doesn’t work.

So I guess religious performance sees self-denial and counting the cost as a way to gain the relationship. I don’t. The relationship is a gift and God will be incredibly loving and patient helping us be won to his love for us. But as we grow in him, we will often face the choice of doing what God wants or being tyrannized by what we want. Will God be patient with us even if we choose our own selfish pursuits? I find he does. But we will miss out on some aspect of his unfolding purpose in us and a deepening relationship by doing so. You see, I don’t understand people who claim that they love God and that simply means they want him to bless whatever they want to do.

Knowing him means you want to engage who he is and what he is doing. He has the best ideas about everything, and he wants to walk me through the unfolding adventure of life with his light and love. That is often incredibly costly. I’ve made huge decisions suspecting that the consequence just might be incredibly hurtful and harmful, rather than a huge blessing. I do that because I’m nuts about him and the things he asks me to be involved in, even if most of the people I lay down my life for may take advantage of that generosity, or even abuse it for their own self-satisfaction. That’s the cost and that’s denial.

Jesus’ warnings are fair game for us. If you’re going to live by your own convenience, you’ll miss out on the greatest joys of his unfolding kingdom in your life, which will challenge you to go where you’re not comfortable, love even when it means people will take advantage of you, and give even when it isn’t appreciated. That is how Jesus lived and told us we are blessed when people lie about us, exclude us or speak evil of us, because that is how he was treated. No, that isn’t always fun in the moment, but the depths of relationship that takes us to in him, are well worth the journey. As Paul said, “momentary, light afflictions work in us an eternal weight of glory.”

It’s all about his glory, not our personal comfort!

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22 Comments
  1. Mountainash November 16, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    “I do that because I’m nuts about him and the things he asks me to be involved in, even if most of the people I lay down my life for may take advantage of that generosity, or even abuse it for their own self-satisfaction.” Yes! Great thoughts here!

  2. Andy November 16, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Hey, this is Andy in Japan (soon to be “in Cambodia”).

    It’s nice to see you write on this, and I really appreciate what you said. I think the religion we create reflects human ego. In the same way, even apart from religion, when I struggle with this topic it’s often related to my ego. Denial can be a way to make myself seem special. I really like your description of denial as just a part of the journey in Christ and where he’ll take us.

  3. Mountainash November 16, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    “I do that because I’m nuts about him and the things he asks me to be involved in, even if most of the people I lay down my life for may take advantage of that generosity, or even abuse it for their own self-satisfaction.” Yes! Great thoughts here!

  4. Andy November 16, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    Hey, this is Andy in Japan (soon to be “in Cambodia”).

    It’s nice to see you write on this, and I really appreciate what you said. I think the religion we create reflects human ego. In the same way, even apart from religion, when I struggle with this topic it’s often related to my ego. Denial can be a way to make myself seem special. I really like your description of denial as just a part of the journey in Christ and where he’ll take us.

  5. David Grant November 17, 2009 at 1:23 am

    One of the costs to me was leaving the group I had been in for 28 years. I had to swallow my pride and admit that much of what I had been taught and then taught myself was twisted in many ways. Giving up the desire to fit somewhere and belong was and is a strange experience. I wrote a lot about it for a couple of years. Some of it was harsh, some of it was prophetic and I don’t know which was which. I just wrote and wrote and wrote and allowed myself to feel, to question, to be wrong, to understand, to love, to say God why am I here? I thought I knew your voice, I counted the cost, I quit my job to serve others and yet I was just another blind man teaching more people to be blind. Now I don’t know anything about counting the cost other than being true to myself even when it doesn’t fit what others want. And yet now I feel I’m hearing you. I’ve found some purpose but it’s more than that. I feel I have found your pleasure. Things are not better because of this, but I am better. I now feel that I can belong anywhere. The cost for me has been to belong nowhere. I enjoy each day for what it is. I find the joy of relationships in the moment. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring so each day has become precious to me.

  6. David Grant November 17, 2009 at 4:23 am

    One of the costs to me was leaving the group I had been in for 28 years. I had to swallow my pride and admit that much of what I had been taught and then taught myself was twisted in many ways. Giving up the desire to fit somewhere and belong was and is a strange experience. I wrote a lot about it for a couple of years. Some of it was harsh, some of it was prophetic and I don’t know which was which. I just wrote and wrote and wrote and allowed myself to feel, to question, to be wrong, to understand, to love, to say God why am I here? I thought I knew your voice, I counted the cost, I quit my job to serve others and yet I was just another blind man teaching more people to be blind. Now I don’t know anything about counting the cost other than being true to myself even when it doesn’t fit what others want. And yet now I feel I’m hearing you. I’ve found some purpose but it’s more than that. I feel I have found your pleasure. Things are not better because of this, but I am better. I now feel that I can belong anywhere. The cost for me has been to belong nowhere. I enjoy each day for what it is. I find the joy of relationships in the moment. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring so each day has become precious to me.

  7. Don November 17, 2009 at 6:58 am

    It really is out of the relationship and not to a relationship. Mankind tends to get that backwards and that is the cause of all the frustration and despair. You can trace that line of thinking back to Cain’s attempt at pleasing God. He thought by bringing the works of his hands; he could please God.

  8. todd November 17, 2009 at 7:38 am

    ‘Knowing him means you want to engage who he is and what he is doing. He has the best ideas about everything, and he wants to walk me through the unfolding adventure of life with his light and love. That is often incredibly costly. I’ve made huge decisions suspecting that the consequence just might be incredibly hurtful and harmful, rather than a huge blessing. I do that because I’m nuts about him and the things he asks me to be involved in, even if most of the people I lay down my life for may take advantage of that generosity, or even abuse it for their own self-satisfaction. That’s the cost and that’s denial.’

    note to self……ask God to make this real to you….ask God to make this real to you… 🙂

  9. Greg T November 17, 2009 at 8:55 am

    If you’re going to live by your own convenience, you’ll miss out on the greatest joys of his unfolding kingdom in your life,… Wow, this is soo true. That being said, It takes trust to know Him. Trust can be hard sometimes. If you’re having problems with trusting Him, tell Him about it and ask Him to help. Trust is on the edge and on the edge is where the freedom ultimately is.

  10. Don November 17, 2009 at 9:58 am

    It really is out of the relationship and not to a relationship. Mankind tends to get that backwards and that is the cause of all the frustration and despair. You can trace that line of thinking back to Cain’s attempt at pleasing God. He thought by bringing the works of his hands; he could please God.

  11. todd November 17, 2009 at 10:38 am

    ‘Knowing him means you want to engage who he is and what he is doing. He has the best ideas about everything, and he wants to walk me through the unfolding adventure of life with his light and love. That is often incredibly costly. I’ve made huge decisions suspecting that the consequence just might be incredibly hurtful and harmful, rather than a huge blessing. I do that because I’m nuts about him and the things he asks me to be involved in, even if most of the people I lay down my life for may take advantage of that generosity, or even abuse it for their own self-satisfaction. That’s the cost and that’s denial.’

    note to self……ask God to make this real to you….ask God to make this real to you… 🙂

  12. Greg T November 17, 2009 at 11:55 am

    If you’re going to live by your own convenience, you’ll miss out on the greatest joys of his unfolding kingdom in your life,… Wow, this is soo true. That being said, It takes trust to know Him. Trust can be hard sometimes. If you’re having problems with trusting Him, tell Him about it and ask Him to help. Trust is on the edge and on the edge is where the freedom ultimately is.

  13. Joni Menard November 17, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    “But will we miss out on some aspect of his unfolding purpose in us and a deepening relationship by doing so. ”

    Was this meant to be a question or a declarative? If it’s a question, how would you answer it? If it’s a declarative statement with the “we” and “will” transposed?

    This questions came up in one of our small groups last night, “Do I miss out when I screw things up?” We talk to lots of folks that take a statement like this and worry about what they are missing. We don’t always realize when we are living by our own convenience, do we?

  14. Wayne November 17, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    Joni,

    No, it wasn’t meant to be a question. Sorry I got the words mixed up. I need a full time editor staring over my shoulder…

  15. joyce wood November 17, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    To “play it safe” and go with the church’s way of doing things has been hitting my husband and I in the heart this last year. We feel the stress and push of the programs on our pastoral staff and people that “step-up” to be loyal to ministry and leadership. We’ve gotten so big that the meetings are crisply engineered to meet the time constraints to allow all the attendees to come and go with as little chaos in the parking lot as possible…what of a possible interruption by the Holy Spirit? We’ve seen several pastors come and go rather quietly. We have one living in our basement as he lost everything when he had an affair with his admin and it was discovered. He called us for a place to stay since he was scrambling to sell his house and work a job that would help he and his wife keep their heads above financial waters till the house sold and the divorce was final. Both have occured but we’ve found our self questioning the disassociation with the divorced…even when they’ve shown remorse, but can’t in good conscience return to a marriage that died. We know the leadership would like to see him leave the area…but, we are feeling the challenge to continue in friendship with all three if possible. We are questioning the long term struggle conventional churches have with the divorced, singles, and homosexuals. My husband has been a deacon several times …we can’t go along with what’s expected in cutting off relationship. I don’t think that disagreement with a person’s choices needs to lead to cutting them off…need to learn to live in the patience and affection of the Father. I believe that sin is it’s own punishment

  16. Sue November 17, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Note to Andy (not sure how else to contact you!) We’ll also be in Cambodia soon (Jan-Apr 2010) would love to meet up. Email is joe.sue@sheehyclan.com

  17. Joni Menard November 17, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    “But will we miss out on some aspect of his unfolding purpose in us and a deepening relationship by doing so. ”

    Was this meant to be a question or a declarative? If it’s a question, how would you answer it? If it’s a declarative statement with the “we” and “will” transposed?

    This questions came up in one of our small groups last night, “Do I miss out when I screw things up?” We talk to lots of folks that take a statement like this and worry about what they are missing. We don’t always realize when we are living by our own convenience, do we?

  18. Wayne November 17, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Joni,

    No, it wasn’t meant to be a question. Sorry I got the words mixed up. I need a full time editor staring over my shoulder…

  19. joyce wood November 17, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    To “play it safe” and go with the church’s way of doing things has been hitting my husband and I in the heart this last year. We feel the stress and push of the programs on our pastoral staff and people that “step-up” to be loyal to ministry and leadership. We’ve gotten so big that the meetings are crisply engineered to meet the time constraints to allow all the attendees to come and go with as little chaos in the parking lot as possible…what of a possible interruption by the Holy Spirit? We’ve seen several pastors come and go rather quietly. We have one living in our basement as he lost everything when he had an affair with his admin and it was discovered. He called us for a place to stay since he was scrambling to sell his house and work a job that would help he and his wife keep their heads above financial waters till the house sold and the divorce was final. Both have occured but we’ve found our self questioning the disassociation with the divorced…even when they’ve shown remorse, but can’t in good conscience return to a marriage that died. We know the leadership would like to see him leave the area…but, we are feeling the challenge to continue in friendship with all three if possible. We are questioning the long term struggle conventional churches have with the divorced, singles, and homosexuals. My husband has been a deacon several times …we can’t go along with what’s expected in cutting off relationship. I don’t think that disagreement with a person’s choices needs to lead to cutting them off…need to learn to live in the patience and affection of the Father. I believe that sin is it’s own punishment

  20. Sue November 17, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    Note to Andy (not sure how else to contact you!) We’ll also be in Cambodia soon (Jan-Apr 2010) would love to meet up. Email is joe.sue@sheehyclan.com

  21. Mike November 19, 2009 at 10:45 am

    A most excellent post!

    I find it interesting when there is teaching on following Jesus (kingdom life) that the vast majority use the scriptures about denying self and counting the cost in the context of suffering and devoid of joy. In teaching on kingdom life Jesus also told about the pearl of great price and the treasure found in the field. Both of those “lucky” individuals counted the cost, and were overjoyed to sell everything…actually they considered their everything a real bargain price for the treasure they were receiving.

  22. Mike November 19, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    A most excellent post!

    I find it interesting when there is teaching on following Jesus (kingdom life) that the vast majority use the scriptures about denying self and counting the cost in the context of suffering and devoid of joy. In teaching on kingdom life Jesus also told about the pearl of great price and the treasure found in the field. Both of those “lucky” individuals counted the cost, and were overjoyed to sell everything…actually they considered their everything a real bargain price for the treasure they were receiving.

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