Self-Denial

“Conscious self-denial leaves a man self-absorbed and vividly aware of what he has sacrificed; in consequence it fails often of its immediate object and almost always of its ultimate purpose.”

– Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

I think this quote is so true.  The common idea of self-denial, as in deciding to go without certain comforts of life, generally leads to a much greater self-focus.  What I have decided over the years is —that is NOT self-denial.  That is stuff-denial!  It is simply depriving yourself of stuff, which is not at all the same thing as denying your self.  To do without things is to revel in how strong and self-sufficient you are, while to actually deny self means to realize, in true humility, your own weakness and dependency on God. 

What I really need is to deny my SELF, specifically my own selfishness.  Rather than some display of Spartanism which actually accomplishes nothing, it is a matter of putting others first.

True self-denial involves listening to another person’s ideas, rather than pushing forward my own.  It means serving in a position that isn’t my first choice in order to give someone else preference.

I really think that is what Jesus meant when He said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and  take up his cross and follow Me.”  I don’t think He was particularly speaking of living an austere, nomadic life or leaving prosperity behind.  That may have been the case, and may still be the case, for some of His disciples, but I don’t believe that was his central point.

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  ~Philippians 2:3

To me, that sums up self-denial very nicely.

Thanks to Gretchen for sharing this quote today.

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About dayuntoday

I'm a wonderer. I spend a lot of time mulling, pondering, and cogitating. This is just a place to park some of those thoughts.
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5 Responses to Self-Denial

  1. Sherri says:

    Hmmm…thinking about this. Not sure I completely agree. If self denial is lack of selfishness it does start in the heart, IDEALLY. But sometimes we must do what we know is right, even if our heart is not there yet. And that’s not always bad. Example: not spending on an extravagant luxury that we can afford because we know it would not be the best use of God’s money which he has entrusted to us. We can’t always wait until we “feel like it”. Sometimes we just have to do the right thing. I call that a form of self denial. Is it not?

    • dayuntoday says:

      Obviously, you can call it that. Everyone else does. 🙂 But I think that is better called simply good stewardship.

      What I’m saying is that many people deny themselves of *stuff* but are really not denying their sinful natures at all. I think some people take pride in how much they ‘do without,’ which makes it self-fulfilling rather than self-denying. Make sense?

      By the same argument, it could *possibly* actually be self-denying to spend a lot of money. If you hate to spend money, but know that a particular expensive gift would truly bless someone, it would require self-denial to spend so much. Anything that goes against my own desires is self-denial–it has nothing to do with stuff or money.

      At least, these are the ideas I’ve been tossing around. What do you think? 🙂

      • Sherri says:

        I think you are right. Never thought of your example because I LOVE to spend money…
        Pride in doing without would never occur to me. I guess I always just cringe a little when I hear someone say self-denial has nothing to do with money because it SEEMS like a big fat excuse to tell ourselves that we are just fine surrounding ourselves with more and more stuff.
        SO….. I agree with the first half of the sentence… “Anything that goes against my own desires is self-denial–it has nothing to do with stuff or money.”…but not the last half. Our desires very quickly translate into real, physical things, whether it be money, affection, recognition, stuff or whatever. So we can’t honestly say it has nothing to do with them, can we?

    • dayuntoday says:

      “Our desires very quickly translate into real, physical things, whether it be money, affection, recognition, stuff or whatever. So we can’t honestly say it has nothing to do with them, can we?”
      Just for the record…affection and recognition aren’t exactly physical things. 🙂 And yes, those may be the things we need to deny in order to deny self. The fact that you mentioned those underscores my point that it’s not necessarily about material things (though you are right that it MAY be, at least for some people) but about giving up your desires, whatever they may be.

  2. Sherri says:

    But I do really agree that “stuff” is on the outer edges of any self denial….it’s not the core, the heart of it.

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