As has been posited by many (perhaps most notably by Donald Kraybill and Greg Boyd), the Kingdom of God is an upside down kingdom. If you want to be first, you must be last. If you want to be rich, you must give it all away. And if you want to find self-fulfillment, you must practice self-denial. It seems quite backwards to us because we have become accustomed to thinking in terms of our own culture instead of the ways of God’s Kingdom. But if we will truly embrace these principles, we will find peace and fulfillment unlike anything we have ever known.
It’s important to think of our upside down duties in terms of the Kingdom, not in earthly terms. Practicing self-denial is not about living in abject poverty; it’s not about going on hunger strikes, and it’s not about removing oneself from society and living as a hermit in the woods. Self-denial is a matter of your heart attitude towards the desires and temptations of this world. Practicing self-denial is about refusing to let anything other than God be first in your life. It’s a daily submission to His authority, and a daily reliance on His provision.
It’s not easy living in this world and not indulging in all of the things it has to offer. We can quickly allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by consumerism and the luxuries of life. When we begin finding our comfort, identity, or security in material things, we have usurped God’s lordship over our lives. When consumed by stress, it is not uncommon to seek comfort in food, shopping, or entertainment. We convince ourselves that we need these things in order to cope with the pressures of life. If you can identify with that scenario, you are not practicing self-denial. You are turning to something other than God to “save” you from what you are feeling.
Self-denial means to stop finding hope in the material goods of this life, and instead find everything you need in Jesus Christ. When you fell stressed, pray; seek His face. When you are overwhelmed and distraught, lay everything at His feet. Just tell Him what’s going on. Admit you can’t handle it and affirm your trust in His ability to bring you safely through the storm. Acknowledge that you are powerless and that He is all powerful. Tell Him how much you love Him, need Him, and desire to serve Him. Stay in conversation with Him until His peace infiltrates and surrounds you. In that moment, in that warmth, you will find comfort and fulfillment.
Jesus said to deny ourselves and follow Him (Matthew 16:24); when we do, He fills us with His spirit and we will be forever satisfied (John 4:13-14). The joy of Jesus and the confidence of Christ are unlike anything on earth. No trinket or experience can compare. When we live our lives with Christ as the center, we can ignore the cheap imitations this world has to offer. When we say “no” to the world and rely on Jesus, our self-denial of the temporal rewards us with the self-fulfillment of the eternal. It’s an upside down Kingdom, but it is beautiful beyond compare.