“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.