“You’re not cool, Nathan! You’re not cool!”
In college I played intramural basketball with some of my best friends. One of these guys would yell that at me every single time that I made a basket (which was rare). If there was even the teeny-tiniest hint of pride or arrogance on my face, he would scream from the sideline to remind me that I was in fact not very cool. At the time, this annoyed the snot out of me. It got to the point where I would dread seeing the ball go in the basket because I knew his scream would soon be filling the court.
While I did not enjoy that refrain ringing in my ears, there are some statements that I intend to tell myself daily:
“I am nothing. I deserve nothing. I can do nothing.”
In a world of self-help praise and positive thinking vibes, this proclamation does not sit well. I do want to clarify from the onset though that I am a wholehearted believer in reminding ourselves daily of our blessed identity in Jesus Christ, and I strive to teach myself the implications of the gospel onto my identity each day.
But for the purpose of this blog, I am focusing on the idea of contentment and how these phrases help us to reorient our hearts and minds on thankfulness and gratitude in light of our present circumstances.
We are called by God to deny ourselves. This is one of the main mandates of Jesus’ call to discipleship.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23
Discontentment is a litmus test for how well we are walking after Christ in our day-to-day lives, how well we are practicing the spiritual discipline of self-denial.
But how do we deny ourselves daily? How do we remind ourselves that we are not the center of our world? In his book, Chasing Contentment, Erik Raymond offers up these three short proclamations as one of a myriad of means through which we can find true and lasting contentment in Jesus Christ through denying ourselves.
I Am Nothing
This is not to be in conflict with the biblical truth about the dignity of every human life.
Rather it is putting ourselves against the majesty of God and realizing how small and insignificant we all truly are. All throughout Scripture I see men and women of God who had an understanding of their nothingness so to speak in light of the wonderful majesty of God. One of the most stark and surprising instances of this comes from Genesis chapter eighteen. In this chapter, Abraham is conversing with God, making his requests known to God in regards to Sodom and Gomorrah. Look at verse twenty-seven with me.
Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, – Genesis 18:27
Let me remind us that this proclamation comes after Genesis 15, when God proclaims his covenant blessings to Abraham. So Abraham knows the good news of God’s covenant faithfulness, yet he still proclaims that he is but dust and ashes.
Erik Raymond encourages us to find joy in being able to say that we are nothing:
Isn’t this what makes God’s pursuit of us in the gospel so refreshing? He pursues and arrests us by his grace. Though it may seem severe to think you are nothing, in the gospel you have Christ to be your everything!
I Deserve Nothing
The gospel shines incredibly bright into our lives because without Christ what we deserve is death. This may be a well-worn verse but it is no more striking in its verdict:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23
This couldn’t be any more clear. What we deserve for our sin against God is physical and spiritual and eternal death; eternal separation from God. The wonderful news of the gospel could not shine any brighter either in this passage, as we see that the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus is available for us!
Contentment is found in denying ourselves. Denying ourselves comes from remembering not only that we are nothing apart from Christ, but that we also deserve nothing. Pastor and theologian Mark Dever is known to quip “Anything less than hell is dancing time for Christians!” How true this is. When we truly understand that what we deserve is hell, anything less than that in our lives is a time for rejoicing. Lecrae, in his song Boasting makes the statement:
If we fought for our rights, we’d be in hell tonight.
This is truly the case. You and I deserve nothing.
I Can Do Nothing
This is a hard one for me to remember as I am striving to live for God in vocational ministry. Yet its implications are profound on every one of us who professes Christ. Apart from Jesus, you and I can do nothing. We don’t have the power to say no to temptation, we don’t have the power to say yes to the Spirit, we don’t have the power to save souls. In all things we are unable to do what is necessary for bringing God glory in our own strength or ability.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit: apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5
This is the reality about me that I seek to cling to:
I am nothing. I deserve nothing. I can do nothing.
With this, I can strive to deny myself daily. With this, I can see the beautiful message of the gospel shining through as it is truly a gracious gift of God. With this, I can practice Biblical and gospel-centered contentment.
While I often despised the refrain of my lack of coolness coming from the sidelines during a basketball game, I am already growing to love this method of self-denial.
Remember that you are nothing.
You deserve nothing.
You can do nothing.
Meditate on this and you will find the joys of the gospel message.
In His Name,
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