After a long, dry and smoky summer, we’re delighting in the colorful turn of seasons to autumn. Within days of our first truly cold night, trees and bushes around here were spiking fall’s neon colors. That includes my neighbor’s tree. As I enjoy seeing it turn to a glowing orange, I realize it soon will drop its dying leaves to the ground for raking and disposal. The term “death to self” came to mind because of some recent personal devotional reading of an old classic: Humility by Andrew Murray (1828-1917), a South African writer, teacher and pastor, also known for his book, With Christ in the School of Prayer.
Reflecting on my last couple years of relational and spiritual challenges, I affirmed with Murray how “humility” isn’t high on a typical believer’s “want” list. We gladly receive God’s gifts of life, sustenance, purpose, comfort, maybe even fame. But if He calls us to let go of them, that’s another matter. It’s hard to see His purposes in loss, in the shedding of what is familiar. Yet Murray says:
Accept with gratitude everything that God allows from within or without, from friend or enemy, in nature or in grace, to remind you of your need of humbling, and to help you to it. Believe humility to indeed be the mother-virtue, your very first duty before God, and the one perpetual safeguard of the soul. (Whitaker House, 1982, p. 90)
Some people confuse “dying to self” with “death of self.” They’re not the same. “God treasures your divinely created self,” writes Christian author Jan Johnson, “He doesn’t want to obliterate the part of you that makes you uniquely you. God works within you and reshapes you into the person your renewed-in-Christ self is meant to be: not selfish with what you own, not concerned about how circumstances affect only you, and not crabby when others seem to get what you want. “ *
Murray concluded his book with this poem:
Oh, to be emptier, lowlier,
Mean, unnoticed, and unknown,
And to God a vessel holier,
Filled with Christ, and Christ alone!
Or, as the apostle Paul said it to his pastor- protégé Timothy: “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11 ESV).
*“Dying to Self and Discovering So Much More,” By Jan Johnson, Decision Magazine (August 25, 2011), accessible at: https://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/september-2011/dying-to-self-and-discovering-so-much-more/