Lately I've been learning a lot about healthy boundaries and relationships and what they look like and how if we don't take care of ourselves we will have nothing left to give to those around us. We will be people pleasers and manipulaters unless we learn how to have boundaries and respect for each other....
Like so many other things , I find that when I ask people their answers are usually vague and don't satisfy the reason why I want to know...so what better thing can I do than look at Jesus's life?
Growing up in the Old Order Mennonite Church it appears that "denying yourself " means dressing a certain way or abstaining from things seen as "worldly" or "sinful" when in reality it is the heart of the person behind the object that makes something good or bad. Consider the internet, computer, and radio(which aren't allowed)...they all have good and bad available on them. It is the heart of the person that draws them to the good or bad side...sadly most of the people in this culture don't seem to realize this but rather they are content to rest in the rules the church makes rather than dealing with the heart issues which can so easily be covered up in plain clothing to the outside world....but on the inside .... thousands of abuse victims are suffering...
My conclusion: wearing certain clothes such as a cape dress or abstaining from material things such as a computer and the internet does not seem to be what Jesus meant when He said deny yourself. The Bible focuses so much more on the heart than on the outside and yet in the plain culture I have observed that the dress and material rules are held as high or higher than Scripture while heart issues are often just brushed under the rug or medicated which to me is twisting Scripture...
After I left the Mennonites I got involved in the Pentecostal Holiness movement. It appeared that anyone who didn't dress like them was considered a sinner and not right with God. Those(from the same movement yet in a different country and culture)who wore jewelry were considered to not have as much knowledge as those who believed jewelry was sin. Those who cut their hair were seen as sinners. It was expected that at the end of the service you were to go pray in the altar. You were considered spiritual if you spent time in the prayer room, if you shouted, and if you spoke in tongues. The message was so often fear based.
There was a couple that came to church basically every Sunday. The man never went to the altar. His wife did occasionally but very rarely and had trimmed hair and wore some jewelry. They were considered by the church as sinners and were often exhorted to get to the altar and pray because they aren't promised to get home safely that night after church. It happened to others as well. I felt bad for them...
Now that I've been out of that culture I see how toxic it is. People were being manipulated to do things that they might not have felt comfortable with. Being called out in front of the church to try to get them to run to the altar and weep in "repentance ". Told to stand at the altar and raise their hands if they were really serious about God helping them. The offering plate was passed every service and if you didn't put anything in you might be reminded that you may not get God's blessing. Ten percent was insisted upon and stories were told of those who gave 10 % even when they didn't have enough to make ends meet somehow had their situations turned around. The lost were expected to come to the church but there was rarely anything said about ministry outside the church. It seemed that the whole reason of having church was to get an emotional high and then go fellowship over food afterwards. Not much was said about how to live a Christian life in today's world but rather on just having a charismatic service at church "led by the Spirit ".
I don't remember much being said about denying yourself but rather just going to church to have a good time. Often afterwards it was commented on "what a good service that was"....instead things were preached against such as pants on women, jewelry, cutting or trimming hair, beards, shorts on men, etc and yet the women did all kinds of fancy things with their hair. The theater and movies were off limits and visiting any other church that was more liberal in standards for they were all seen as wicked and sinful churches. Our church was the only right church, it seemed.
I can't speak for anyone else but it took the pandemic to help me realize that I was just going to church for an emotional high. Red flags starting waving that I had been ignoring and I began to realize that I was spiritually starving from the lack of sound Biblical teachings and that despite this church being on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Mennonite church I grew up in, they were still similar in many aspects; such as dress standards and fear based preaching as well as being an elite group. Being filled with the Spirit was earned by speaking in tongues after praying long and hard enough as though God was withholding the Gift untill you somehow earned Him and until you spoke in tongues you were considered to not be filled with the Spirit even though you could be saved. Fasting was also held on a very high standard. It was an expected fact that every day of the week except Sunday there would be three people to fast and pray. It became a twisted spiritual aspect that became a way of self punishment for myself.
My conclusion: it seemed that the only thing being denied was the things being preached against. It seemed that negative emotions were not allowed and that you were expected to be on an emotional high at all times. If I was an outsider(sinner) coming to such a church I would have been freaked out, knowing what I know now. I was taught to believe that charisma was taught in the Bible but eventually I began to see that things didn't line up. For example, expecting the lost to come to church but not doing any ministry outside of church to minister to their needs. No sound Biblical teachings about how to be a Christian in today's world. Extreme focus on speaking in tongues, messages and interpretations, as well as "shouting and other kinds of charisma "...
Now my pastor will occasionally quote Jesus's words "deny yourself" but they always leave me hanging with a question mark. I long to be part of a ministry. I've tried and couldn't continue in several avenues of ministry. I was told (by someone from my former church) that I'm being prayed for that God would hedge me in where I'm at because I'm needed were I'm at. I'm told that I am going off the deep end and if I don't stop at jewelry were am I going to end up? I've told people that I don't think I'd ever do so and so only to find myself doing that very thing I said I wouldn't do.
(Some advice for your consideration: Don't say that you will never do a certain thing. I have found that almost always somehow God will bring me to a place where I will do that very thing. And be okay with it, providing it isn't actual sin in God's eyes. It seems to me that if someone says never it must almost make God grin and presents Him with the challenge of changing your words. I do believe God has a sense of humor in this especially since we as humans are so inclined to stay inside our own little box when in reality He wants to take the box out of the way so He can use us better.)
So after all that, I've been thinking about what is recorded about Jesus's life on this earth and how I can learn from His example what it means to deny oneself.
As I mentioned earlier about boundaries, I'm learning how to tell if people are toxic and the negative influence such people can have on my life, how I can make choices to better myself, and how I can grow and heal from the past so I have more to offer to those who cross my path. Sadly, I've had to cut my own parents out of my life for right now for my own mental health and protection as I try to heal, but I am amazed as time goes on at the positive effect this boundary has made and is making in my everyday life. Jesus had boundaries too and the Bible is full of them. Here are some good books to read on boundaries from a Biblical perspective:
In reality, it wouldn'be right either for Christian families to be homeless, parents to not provide for their children, or not be in the workplace when possible. There are times when such things happen but for the most part there are very few called to live the radical life like Jesus did. Rather I wonder how much more of a light we shine as we be up building inhabitants of the land where we are, working a job, having families and being a Biblical example to all we come in contact with. Sometimes it's made to appear as though denying ourself is some big mysterious thing or likened to Jesus dying on the cross which most of us will probably never face. Some ways I think of is taking care of our physical body by having a healthy diet, good exercise and enough sleep. Emotionally and mentally we can surround ourselves with healthy friends who challenge us to grow while not overdoing it and also taking time to just be alone to process our thoughts and take inventory of our own hearts and lives. And spiritually becoming a part of a healthy church body and cultivating a relationship with Jesus. That brings up the question:
What can I learn from Jesus's life?
-He was a carpenter. He had a job before He went into fulltime ministry.
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us? And they took offense at him. Mark 6:3
- He took time to sleep and rest.
And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. Matthew 8:24
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Mark 12:41a
Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. John 4:6
-He took time to be alone and also get his spiritual needs met.
And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. Mark 6:46-47
-He took time to eat.
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Matthew 9:10-11
-He set boundaries with His earthly family so He could obey His heavenly Father and do His will.
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him,“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said,“Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12: 46-50
-He set boundaries with other people.
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. Matthew 13:36a
And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.
I know there's many more verses that could probably fit on this list yet but even just with these there's a lot I can learn. There were times he was exhausted from ministry but what I see is that He took the time to rest and relax. He may not have taken a vacation but He spent time in nature.
He spent time taking care of His physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual parts of his life.
The Bible talks a lot about taking care of ourselves and having boundaries especially in Proverbs but can also be seen in other parts of the Bible.
One verse especially that I came across lately had never made sense until it was mentioned in the line of boundaries in one of Henry Cloud's books:
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23
As much as I may have my dreams of a certain kind of ministry, it is very hard to not get pulled into trying to make things happen faster than what God has planned.
Jesus spent only 3 years in fulltime ministry before He was killed. That's only .09 of his life. All the rest of His life was spent preparing.
The other 30 years I think were probably just in being a normal up building inhabitant of the earth among his human family. The Bible doesn't give us much detail except that He had other family members(Matthew 12:46-50) and that He grew in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52) Just that alone makes me think He was a pretty neat human being to be around.
If I pattern my life after Jesus's and what is recorded about Him, then my ministry may not be very long. And for the time being it is my responsibility to learn and grow and heal as much as I can for I don't know when God will open the door for me to do ministry whether it is as simple as hanging out with someone or some other thing.
I just finished reading the book Maximizing Misfortune by Jerome Edmondson. It is about turning life's failures into success. He grew up without mother or father and was raised by his grandmother. He made a lot of mistakes like we all do but his point was sharing his story and how God taught him how to learn from his mistakes and to turn them around for good so that they aren't wasted. One of those things was that he needed to leave the environment he grew up in and go live in another part of the country where there was more opportunity and to get away from the negative thinking and low expectation patterns of the culture he grew up in.
Until we can distance ourselves far enough and long enough from what we call normal we won't be able to see the toxicity of what was our normal but also the possibilities that lie before us with the gifts and talents God gave us at birth.
We can think about them and get glimpses of them but when you grow up in a culture where you're expected to stay in the box that your family and perhaps church has handed down for generations, you won't have the mental strength to go forward far enough and long enough to get very far. And we tend to fall back into the same rut we were in before that we were trying to get out of. Sometimes you may have to move to another country or culture to get to a place where you can go forward. That is what Jerome did. In part, that is what I have done as well and am excited at the progress I see happening. (I made my first sale on Ebay, and also found some books at a thrift store that I was able to resell for profit this past week. Along with doing interviews for a job I hope I'll like better and pays more to help me realize my dreams that I believe God has given me.)
So what do I want to leave with you? I would say: seek to grow, take your normal and learn about the good and bad in it and seek to change all you can, to heal your past, and learn how to take care of yourself and how to have healthy boundaries. Best of all, make it a daily practice of asking God to give you wisdom with your motive being the realization of how much you lack that very thing called wisdom. James 1: 5-8 says:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith,with no doubting, for the one who doubts is likea wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;he is a double minded man, unstable in all his ways.
You need to know something before you can utilize it. All you may know is failure, but God wants to teach us how turn it into something good. There is hope for us all. Even in these uncertain times. If we believe that God is in control and we walk close to Him, we will be able to go forward with confidence, and in doing so we will be letting not our light but His light shine into the lives of those around us. Now isn't the time to hide our face as my pastor so often says. Now is the time to go forward. To live in fulness in the blessings we have been given (despite rising gas prices) . To go forward boldly and with courage.
I have found that people who are seeking to grow and heal and have healthy boundaries are attractive to me. My role models. As I surround myself with such people it draws me upward, encouraging and strengthening me, fueled by the desire to have what I see in them that I don't have currently. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what that something is. I find it fascinating that for quite a while perhaps a year or longer I had been asking God for wisdom. And only in the last few weeks have I been able to see how He's been giving me wisdom all along.
Who will you be or continue to be?
-a person who seeks to grow?
-or a person who wants to stay in the comfort of their box?
We have a choice today. It's not necessarily our identity or who we are as a person, but either one will define who we will become...and will affect every area of our life...it is our choice what we will do with what we know...
and there will always be more to learn...