The biggest thing missing from American Christianity
Today’s post is going to feel like I wrote it because of everything going on in the world around us with the coronavirus and all the tensions in America right now. The truth is, I have an ongoing note in Evernote for topics I want to talk about on the blog. This one has been around since at least summer of 2019, if not before. So while it’s super relevant to to what’s going on right now, it’s an issue we’ve been facing long before we started living in a worldwide pandemic.
We live in a culture where everything is at the tips of our fingers. I’ve booked a hotel room on my phone at 11:30pm while laying in bed the night before I was supposed to go somewhere. We can order food and have it dropped off at our doorstep without ever actually talking to another human. If there’s one thing we’ve gotten really, really good at, it’s making getting what we want incredibly convenient.
And while that is nice, it’s created an environment where we feel like we deserve anything we want whenever we want it.
I’m part of this problem too!
In my job, part of what I do is craft the messaging for businesses and write the copy for their websites and email campaigns. Think about the emails you get from brands you subscribe to and that’s what I do. As part of that, one of the things that makes me so effective is everything I write is geared towards the customer. It makes the customer the hero of the story and positions the product as the perfect solution to the hero’s problems.
It’s astonishingly self-centered.
But it works.
And that’s why I can charge what I charge to do it.
Here’s the problem though:
As Christians, we’re taught to put the needs of others above our own. We’re taught to give up our wants and desires for both the good of others and for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus summed it up in two simple words:
We’ve gotten really bad at the idea of denying ourselves. And quite frankly – I’m terrible at this idea. When I talk about this today, I’m not speaking from some ivory tower looking down at all the selfish people who keep doing whatever they want. No. I’m just as narcissistic as everyone else. I’m writing this as much for me as I am you.
When society says you deserve whatever you want, whenever you want, and however you want it, it’s hard not to believe that’s the case. We get conditioned over and over and over to believe this is the truth.
It’s one of the big reasons I’m overweight. I bought the lie that I deserved to eat the pizza because it tasted so good. I bought the lie that I’m tired and deserve to lay on the couch. I bought the lie that I shouldn’t have to work hard to be healthy and since it’s inconvenient, I should give up.
Let me ask you this: where in your life are you guilty of not denying yourself?
A few months ago I heard a pastor give a really interesting take on this idea of denying yourself. It was framed in the context of politics and loving our neighbor. It blew my mind and really challenged my way of thinking. He said:
“When I think about the spectrum of government – let’s be real – it’s easy to just vote straight party. And that’s how a lot of us were raised!
What would it look like if I voted with my neighbor in mind?
Are there things specifically I want for myself – laws and things like that I want for myself? Yeah. Of course.
But what would it look like for me to vote with my neighbor in mind?
The Great Commandment – love God then love others like yourself. One of the most loving things we can do is cast a ballot. Research to see how the people we are voting for – how do they think about not just me, but my neighbor?”
What would it look like for us to deny ourselves – our wants and desires – in order to do what’s best for the people around us? For someone who grew up in a conservative home and went to conservative schools, this idea in a political concept was something I hadn’t spent a ton of time thinking about.
But it’s not just politics.
It’s not just denying your comfort by wearing a mask to show others you care about them.
The idea of denying yourself is a deeply personal issue. It hits in every aspect of our lives.
We deny our want of stuff so we can have the financial capacity to help a neighbor in need.
We deny our want of comfort in order to serve others physically and socially.
We deny our want of food so we can be healthier and in turn more capable of doing the things God has called us to do.
We deny our want of sexuality by not watching porn or following Instagram influencers so we can have eyes only for our spouse.
So today I’m going to leave you with three questions:
1. Where do you need to deny yourself?
What place have you been overly hedonistic and maybe even a little selfish that is keeping you from being and doing everything God designed for you?
2. Who is being impacted by that selfishness?
Sure your life is better because you’ve been doing it, but who’s life is on the other side of that coin that inadvertently is worse off because you’re focusing on yourself more than others?
3. What’s the one thing you can do today to deny yourself a little bit in order to love those around you more?
It doesn’t have to be a giant swing that totally changes your life. Every big thing starts with a small first step. What’s that first step for you?
For me, one of the biggest ways I’m working to deny myself is by denying my want of stimulation. I’m constantly chasing whatever’s next. If you know anything about the enneagram, I’m an Enneagram 7. Part of what makes up a 7 is the core desire to be happy, satisfied, and content. This deteriorates into frenetic escapism where we both chase stimulation and avoid feeling any negative emotion (like being bored). In a small, practical way, this means I’m constantly refreshes social media or looking at things on my phone in search of that next dopamine hit. My way of denying myself is to put the phone down so I can be present in the moment with my wife and kids. It’s hard, and I’m really bad at it most of the time, but it’s a present way for me to work on denying myself.
How can you deny yourself this week?
Who’s life would be made better if you were to do that?
What’s the first step you need to take?
It all starts with making the conscious decision to deny yourself and follow Jesus where he’s leading you today.
That’s it for this week!
Say your prayers.
Take your vitamins.
Have a nice day!