For several years now I have made a conscious effort to follow Jesus in my actual life. In the process, I have discovered that following Jesus on a daily basis is impossible without dying to oneself.
This is what Jesus meant in Luke 9, verse 23 when he said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." He means, that following him is not possible if you have not first surrendered your life completely. In the same way that it would be impossible to work as a lifeguard without first knowing how to swim, we cannot follow Jesus if we are not engaged in the ongoing process of dying to ourselves.
Unfortunately, surrendering your life to Jesus isn't a one time event. I used to think that it was, but I've also learned that my decision to lay down my life and live for Jesus must be a daily activity in order to have any real significance. It's mainly because we are fickle creatures and we require constant, daily, reminders of the need to surrender or else we revert back to our old ways of life. I know I do, anyway.
For over a year now I have been undergoing a painful process of death to self. This has not been due to any effort on my part. Rather, it has been a process that I have endured at the hand of my Master.
We have an understanding, the Master and I, that death to self is vital to my spiritual development. I know that my heart is wicked, that my flesh is prideful, that my natural tendency is towards selfishness and vanity. So, I have surrendered to this process of being put to death - one day at a time.
As one might expect, the process is not easy. Nor is it an enjoyable one. However, the fruit of this death is life in the Spirit. As my flesh decays, the life of Christ is revealed in me over time.
A few days ago I was in prayer and I began to realize that much of the pain in my life at the moment was due to this process of dying to self. Over time I have lost friendships, endured suffering at work, in our church family, and in my personal life. As I enumerated these gradual losses it dawned on me that Jesus was trying to kill me. Specifically, he was doing the work I had conracted him to perform many years ago. He was putting to death my flesh in order to make room in my heart for his enduring, glorious life.
In short, Jesus - the son of God, the prince of peace, the lamb of God - was trying to kill me.
Fenelon, a 17th century christian writer, describes this process as "Circumcision of the Heart":
"Our own hands would never put the knife in the right place. We would cut away only a little of the fat and bring about a few superficial changes. We do not understand ourselves well enough to know where to cut. We could never find the sensitive spot, but God finds it easily. And even if we knew where the spot were located, self-love would hold back the knife and spare itself. It does not have the courage to wound itself. And even if the knife were plunged into the vital spot, the nerves would steel themselves against the pain, and the teeth would be gritted, in order to deaden some of the pain. But the hand of God strikes in unexpected places, finds the very place where the infection is fastened and does not hesitate to cut it away, regardless of the pain. And, oh, how self-love cries out! Well, let it cry, but do not let it interfere with the success of the operation." - (Let Go, page 86-87)
As I daily endure this slow process of being put to death, I also enjoy the sweet taste of the life of Christ in my spirit. My old self dies - Halleluiah - and the new self inhales the sweet breath of Jesus every single day.
The best I can do is to submit to this process of mortification and try my best to stay out of the surgeon's way.
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." - Galatians 2:20