The hardest prayer I have ever uttered was, “God, teach me to die to self.” According to the Bible, putting self to death is the key to spiritual maturity (see Matthew 10:38). Except for Jesus, no one exemplifies the execution of self better than Paul. Not wanting to be a hindrance to the gospel, the highly educated apostle decided to know nothing among the Corinthians, except Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). He sacrificed the power of his eloquence, so others might understand the simplicity of the cross. Embracing self-sacrifice for the sake of others is a recurring theme in his first letter to the Corinthians, and the application of the ministry of Christ, who gave his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
How do I die to self in a culture that preaches, “kill to self”? I suspect this is not just a dilemma for me but for many maturing believers who desire to be true imitators of Jesus. Am I willing to sacrifice my rights, so that others may come to Christ? I stumble upon my own tendency for self-preservation, when the Bible teaches me self-denial. One of my seminary professors stated it like this; “the putrid stench of mortification precedes the sweet aroma of sanctification.”
Church history provides several examples of faith heroes who put self to death so others can live. I am reminded of Robert Jermain Thomas, a welch linguist and missionary, who traveled to Korea in 1866 to distribute Bibles. He handed a copy of the Scriptures to his executioner moments before his martyrdom. Mockingly, a local soldier used the pages of that Bible as wallpaper, which caused his house to become a church, years later. Revival broke out in Pyongyang, and today many Koreans are in heaven because Rev. Thomas sacrificed his comfort and safety.
We may never be called to bring Bibles to dangerous places, but we must learn to articulate the gospel. Becoming a soul winner demands the surrender of our desire for acceptance – so others can live. As a pastor, I must sacrifice the convenience of a cozy office to seek lost sheep. I must equip the saints for the work of the ministry, and in the process kill the recognition my flesh craves.
If only these things were easy to do! Putting self to death is not natural. It requires divine enablement. So I pray reluctantly: “Lord, teach me to die to self so others can live.” I hope this is your prayer, too.
Picture: Robert Jermain Thomas.