Calvin says that real self-denial is naturally very difficult for us because it means seeking the good of both friend and foe alike, and we don’t want to do that. Why must we be kind to everyone? The answer is because each person bears the image of God, not because every man, woman, and child is worthy in himself. Every stranger, no matter how lost, bears a family resemblance to us because of the image of God in him.
If we remind ourselves to love the image of God, even in the unloveliest of characters, we can treat others as we would like to be treated in similar circumstances. This means asking God to give us real sympathy and pity when we don’t feel like it. In reality, we sometimes find it hard to love our own families. If we are praying for God’s grace to love the stranger, how much more should we be praying for that kind of self-denying love for our own husbands and children and parents? Self-denial means asking God to fill us with His kind of love.
Self-denial is also a cure for that kind of restlessness that is so common in our culture today. Restlessness is always looking for something better or something else, never truly satisfied or content with what we have. Only when we surrender ourselves and seek God’s will for our lives, can we find peace. That is the essence of self-denial.
Self-denial means that we want what God wants. We agree with Him. We do not want prosperity apart from God’s blessing, and if it isn’t blessed, we don’t want it. Anything that comes to us without His blessing will only make us miserable in the end, so if He shuts a door, we can be thankful that it is for our good.
God’s blessings are always consistent with obedience. If we are not obeying Him, how we can we expect Him to bless or prosper us? If you are sinfully indulging yourself in one area and refusing to confess it, how can you be praying for his blessing in another area?
Self-denial understands that God wisely distributes wealth and poverty at His own pleasure, and not because we strive and struggle for promotion. The way up is always down.
Self-denial is giving ourselves wholly away to God and trusting that He is in control of all the details of our lives. All things are ordained by the Lord, and we must receive them all with a peaceful and thankful heart. Bless God in all circumstances. Meditate on His mercies and His fatherly goodness. If we chafe under His chastisement, we will not grow in patience.
“But the principle of true devotion is that God alone is the Guide and Ruler of all prosperity and adversity, and that he is never in undue haste, but that he distributes all good and evil with the most equal justice.”
So self-denial is much harder than we think. Just ask God to give you a clear opportunity to practice self-denial today, and you will see that it requires much grace. So does “Patience in Crossbearing” which is the next chapter in this little book.