Freedom from self

Lord, deliver me from the urge to open my mouth when I should shut it. Give me wisdom to keep silence where silence is wise. Remind me that not everything needs to be said, and that there are very few things that need to be said by me.”  Those words were written by a Christian missionary, Elisabeth Elliot.

ElisabethElliotElisabeth Elliot  (1926 – 2015)

Oh how I relate to that prayer! I can look back to things I’ve said, then come to regret more and more, as the years bestowed a measure of wisdom and humility upon me. My words were often well-intentioned. With the benefit of hindsight, however, I recognised that they had all-too-often been fuelled by ‘self’ in one insidious form or another. Nowadays I’m learning to say less – and to pray more!

Age-old problem

We live in an age where self-expression is considered healthy. Self-promotion is so much a part of our culture that it’s virtually invisible. It was given a boost in the early 20th century, when Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud invented psychoanalysis, a technique in which the patient lies on a couch and says everything that comes into his mind.

Social media has exacerbated this age-old problem and raised ‘self’ to new heights. From film stars to  ordinary people – from sporting heroes to teenagers – from politicians to pensioners – social media is awash with self-promotion.

Needing to be noticed

Needing to be noticed, approval addiction, fear of what other people think, wanting to be the centre of attention. These things are so widespread and so much a part of our culture that they have become ‘the norm’ – hardly even noticed by the majority.

Yet they subtly, insidiously undermine our relationships – with family, with friends – and with God Himself. ‘Self’ is an addiction. The more it is ‘fed’ , the more it demands –  and the more it obscures the damaging effects of the very words and actions that ‘self’ fuels.

Jesus sometimes refused to reveal the truth about Himself, even when it would have seemed to us “an opportunity to witness.” He did not always answer questions. He did not always say who He was. He told some of those He healed to tell no one about it.

Humility is rather out of fashion these days. Few hide their good deeds – instead they post about them on social media. But Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Emptiness of self

I never felt such an entire emptiness of self-love, or any regard to any private, selfish interest of my own. It seemed to me, that I had entirely done with myself. I felt that the opinions of the world concerning me were nothing, and that I had no more to do with any outward interest of my own, than with that of a person whom I never saw. The glory of God seemed to be all, and in all, and to swallow up every wish and desire of my heart.

Sarah EdwardsASarah Edwards (1710 – 1758)

Those words were written by Sarah, the wife of 18th century theologian Jonathan Edwards. No doubt those words would be considered totally incomprehensible to the majority of people today. They go against so much that our culture venerates and promotes.


The lady on the market stall who refused to take my leaflets understood the dangers of an over-simplistic Gospel message that doesn’t fully explain what Jesus meant when he said:  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

The consequence of such a dangerous Gospel message is explained by Oswald Chambers : “There are a lot of Christian cripples about! They cannot get on their own feet, nor can other people put them there. You try to pick them up! They may take a step or two, and then down they go again. There are many like that, and you can spend your life trying to get them up on their feet.

What is it that is eating the very life out of them? What is it that is making them such helpless cripples that they cannot walk? It is self-centredness. Make no mistake about it, it is self in some form. It is self that wants to be taken notice of. It is self in the form of pride.

oswald_chambersOswald Chambers 1847-1917

Oswald Chambers continues: “This sin of pride is a master-thief, as it robs God of that honour which would be given Him by His people if they are humble, and of that joy which He takes in their humility. Pride also robs believers of their present joy and comfort.

Nothing like the sin of pride unfits us for divine service,” Chambers insists. “It renders us incapable, so far as it prevails, of any acceptable service either to God or man. Pride is that vile abomination which the Lord hates, and which He will not allow in those whom He loves.”

Chambers urges his readers to “turn from our miserable selves and cease to be occupied with them, saying once and for all: “I am done with you, wretched self. I throw myself on to Jesus Christ. I take the one great step of committal.” Jesus never lets such a person down.

Jesus never lets such a person down!


When I Survey (Cathy Burton)


The glory of God seemed to be all, and in all,” wrote Sarah Edwards, “and to swallow up every wish and desire of my heart”. In these few words is the key to blessed freedom, real spiritual growth and true happiness.   This is a key we need as we seek to navigate this dark world. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

From darkness to delight