Byron and Emily Johnson were missionaries to the Ukraine before political unrest forced them to leave the country. They are now missionaries to Uganda and have a story to tell. In this post, Byron discusses the call for a Christian to die to self in order to enjoy true life.
During the last week or two, I’ve been reading “The Calvary Road” by Roy Hession. In addition, I’ve been reading through 1st and 2nd Corinthians during my time in the Word in the mornings. Through these books, God has really been teaching me what it looks like to die to self. As Christians, I think we are very familiar with Jesus’ command to us – that we must “deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow Him.” But I feel like The Lord is always showing me what this looks like in a deeper way, as I continue on in Him on the mission field.
God is looking for a consistent dying in me. And only after this consistent, daily, death to self will The Lord be consistently revealed through me. That’s my desire on the mission field and in my life – that the Lord is consistently being revealed through me. I think that’s the essence of the Christian life and of the missionary. No matter how awesome the works that I am doing are, or how many people I am helping, or how powerful the Bible studies I teach are – if they are all done in my flesh, in my refusal to die to self, and without the filling of the Spirit, they are just works and I end up beating the air (1 Cor 9:26). What God is looking at is not my works. He’s not looking at the outcome; the outcome is His job. He is looking at obedience and my faithfulness. And this obedience and faithfulness is found at the foot of Calvary, dying to my flesh and submitting to Him.
Something that The Lord keeps showing me daily, is that I need to “always carry about in the body the dying of The Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in (my) body” (2 Cor 4:10). In Ukraine, I felt like I really learned that my time was not my own, my money was not my own, and the ministry was not my own. As we left Ukriane, The Lord reinforced this realization. The ministry really wasn’t my own. My plans were definitely not my own. My desires, for sure were not my own. Now in Africa, I’m learning on an even deeper level to deny my body and allow His life to manifest in me. Absolutely nothing is my own.
Now, you guys may be thinking that this life of dying to self sounds horrible. But everyday, as I die a little more and allow Jesus to manifest in me more and more, I am finding a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). I have a joy that is only explainable because of Him.
God is teaching me so much as I read through Hesson’s book and through the Corinthians. I can’t ignore the stuff God is teaching me right now, nor do I want to. Hession explained it perfectly when he said, “People imagine that dying to self makes one miserable. But it is just the opposite. It is the refusal to die to self that makes one miserable. The more we know of death with Him, the more we shall know of His life in us, and so the more of real peace and joy.”
I’m experiencing this real peace and joy found in The Lord. And let me tell you, it has nothing to do with the circumstances around me. Although I’m so blessed to be here in Uganda, it’s been difficult. I’m burdened by needs I see everyday as I walk out the front door. I’m burdened everyday as I read the Ukrainian news. I’m burdened everyday as I see sin destroying lives. I’m burdened everyday as I receive messages from loved ones Ukraine.
But, the more I know death with Him, the more I know His life in me. As Christians, this is what we hold onto. Even though all of creation is groaning (Romans 8:22), even though the needs on the mission field seem unbearable at times, we have life because we have the Son (1 John 5:12) and I rejoice in that life!
My life verse and daily reminder says, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live in flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:29).
As a missionary, this is what I have to hold onto. I no longer live. My old man is put off. My fleshly desires cannot live anymore. My possessions, my time, my money, my plans, my ministry, my very life – none of it is mine, it is all the Lord’s. The life I live is by faith in Jesus. There is no other option for me. This is how I continue my race that He has placed before me. It’s not me who races, but my death to self and life in the Spirit is what continues on. I pray that this is the same for you.
“But none of these things move me, nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from The Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)