“In whatever a man does without God, he must fail miserably—or succeed more miserably,” wrote George MacDonald (1824–1905), a Scottish novelist, poet, and Christian minister. This intriguing statement is often cited by modern speakers and writers and appears in MacDonald’s book Unspoken Sermons.

MacDonald was dealing with the difficult subject of a Christian’s self-denial and how we are to apply this teaching of Jesus: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

Rather than merely trying to suppress our natural desires, MacDonald said that true self-denial means “we must see things as [Christ] saw them, regard them as He regarded them; we must take the will of God as the very life of our being . . . . We are no more to think, ‘What should I like to do?’ but ‘What would the Living One have me do?’”

Getting only what we want is succeeding miserably. True success is found in “losing” our lives for Jesus’ sake and finding them again full and free in His will.