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Fear of Dying . . . To Self

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Then He said to them all: “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it.” —Luke 9:23,24

I was intrigued by the title of the book I saw in my local bookstore, probably because of its shock value. The title was How to Ruin Your Life by 40, and written by a favorite author of mine, Steve Farrar. I knew there would be something valuable in this book for me, for many reasons.

And since I’m especially bad about reading the end of a book first (so I know how it turns out—if it’s worth reading) . . . I was particularly grabbed by a closing section in the book entitled “The Greatest Fear.” Could you guess what this author believes is “the greatest fear?”. . .

“It is common knowledge that the greatest fear of men and women today is the fear of death. It usually appears as number one on top ten lists of people’s greatest fears. This is understandable. We do not know when our last breath will be or for what reason it will cease, and this hanging ignorance of the end leaves many in a lingering tension. But there is one fear that always fails to make the top ten lists, and yet, it may be the biggest fear of all: It is the fear of dying to one’s self.” (p. 131)

Certainly as military members we are sensitive to the subject of death and dying. We understand sacrifice. We are prepared, or as Christians we should be. But the daily burden of unselfish living—putting others’ needs above our own in every circumstance—how exactly do we do that? That is called “dying to self,” and I think the author has a good point in raising this matter as a “fear.”

Years ago Bible scholar and pastor/teacher Dr. John MacArthur taught about “dying to self” in a sermon from his daily radio program, “Grace to You.”  He said that his favorite teaching on the subject was a lengthy paragraph from an anonymous writer—and he kept it on his desk as a daily reminder of what Jesus calls us to do in Luke 9:23,24, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it.” I telephoned Dr. MacArthur’s staff after hearing this teaching—it challenged me to the core—and they emailed me what he said over the radio . . . which I will pass on to you:

“When you are forgotten or neglected or purposely set at naught, and you sting and hurt with the insult of the oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ—that is dying to self. When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, or even defend yourself, but take it all in patient loving silence—that is dying to self. When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, or any annoyance, when you can stand face to face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility, and endure it as Jesus endured it—that is dying to self. When you are content with any food, any offering, any raiment, any climate, any society, any attitude, any interruption by the will of God—that is dying to self. When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, or to record your own good works, or itch after commendation, when you can truly love to be unknown—that is dying to self. When you see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances—that is dying to self. When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself, can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart—that is dying to self.” —Anonymous

Whoa! I’m afraid I just can’t do that!! I know I can’t do that, and am afraid I will disappoint those who think I can! I’m afraid when the time comes, when unselfishness is absolutely required of me—that I will fail miserably! I’m afraid to admit there are desires within me which take precedence over the needs of others and obedience to my faith! Count me in—I’m afraid of the requirements of “dying to self!”

But the promise of Scripture is if I surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ, that Christ actually lives in me—and with Christ nothing is impossible! Maybe there’s hope for me! Galatians 2:20 reads, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” So with Christ living in me, I might actually be able to demonstrate the impossible—I might actually be able to demonstrate His “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22,23)

Staying in the book of Galatians we read, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:24, 25) And further teaching on this is in Romans 6, for example in Romans 6:11: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” I am set free not only from the power of sin and guilt, but also set free from the fear of “dying to self.” It is in dying to my own selfish nature that I am alive in the power of the Holy Spirit to truly live, to truly love.

What does this have to do with deployment? Everything. In and of ourselves we will not be able to stand up under the extreme demands of fighting this global war on terror. We will focus on the unfairness of it all. We will fear the unknown. We will let anger have the day, and we will take it all out on our spouse—the one we are supposed to love the most.

It is only in the power of the Holy Spirit, living in us, that we will have the ability to conquer bitterness, fear, anger . . . selfishness. And by thinking of our spouse and their struggles we can encourage them during this time of separation. We are set free to serve one another in love—even when apart. We can ask the tough questions, like “How are you today?” “Do you know how much I love you?” “How can I pray for you?” And in doing that we are facing our fear . . . the fear of dying to self. And having faced that fear, we can truly begin to live.

Work cited:

Farrar, Steve, How to Ruin Your Life by 40 (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006)

Questions to Share:

1. Do you believe that, in your marriage, you have been successful at living out Philippians 2:3,4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

2. During this deployment, how can you serve your spouse in love, considering their needs?

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