This is part 2 of the series “Do I have to carry THAT cross?” To read the original post, click here.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. or what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
~ Matthew 16.24-26, ESV
I am a selfish creature.
I do not make the statement with pride, but rather confess it, to my great shame.
Like most humans, I enjoy my own particular flavor of comfort. I love sipping my homemade iced chai, surrounded with whatever music suits my mood. My favorite find is a book to get lost in. I warm with pleasure when I find myself in a protective bubble of like-minded people, close friends, beloved family, and familiar faces.
I’ve been abruptly called away from these creature comforts, oh so many times.
Sometimes, the call is a roar of disaster. Maybe it’s sitting down for quiet time, only to be interrupted by yet another potty training accident. Or maybe you’ve finally reached the dinner table, only to watch, slow-motion-style as milk flies everywhere—the walls, the floor, and the dog. (Hello, cold dinner!) Maybe you’re finally taking that long-awaited Disneyland vacation, only to wake up the night before with all three kids vomiting in the hotel room. It could be a job change demanding relocation during a housing market collapse. Then there’s car accidents, sudden illnesses, work-related shootings—all ramming like a torpedo through our carefully-crafted card houses.
Sometimes, the call is a quiet interruption. Your son appears beside you, tears glistening in his wide eyes while you are balancing the budget; your daughter gently pleas for more time with “just you and me” while the dishes tower menacingly in the sink; three little voices beg for one more chapter when your throat feels like the blazing Sahara. Maybe you see someone grieving silently and know they need you to sit there with them, in quiet, while you neglect your long to-do list at home. It could be the gentle nudge to go visit that lonely Christian sister in the hospital when you’re dying to put your feet up and rest.
What’s the one thing I am loathe to do, but must do, if I desire nearness to God??
Day-by-day, minute-by-minute, self-denial.
The call to deny self is rarely obvious, often disguised in unimportance. Each day, I am obligated to fulfill duties, often losing out on those little comforts I love so dearly. Every hour, there is someone clamoring for help, forcing me to set aside things of momentary importance.
As I groan with dismay, I have to ask myself: Who do I love more—my God or my self? Who is more important—me or someone else? I can make bold statements about “dying for Christ” or another human, but if I am unwilling to make small sacrifices today, how can I expect myself to make the “big” sacrifice tomorrow?
Over the roar of the selfish beast within, hear the serene voice of the Savior: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
Most of us want to skip the self-denial part and grab up those crosses.
Trust me, you won’t get far.
Without first denying our wants/desires/needs we won’t get more than a few feet down the road—we’ll be too focused on how painful and inconvenient it is. Willing, cheerful, self-denial makes the burden more bearable because we have our eyes on Jesus instead of that heavy, splintery cross. Do you want to know the good news? When we take this step, we draw closer to Jesus than ever before.
Denying self rarely begins some grandiose sacrifice. Usually, it commences the moment we say, “You are more important than me. Your needs take priority over mine. What can I do for you?””You” means friend or foe. “You” means stranger or spouse. “You” means anyone other than me.
The lyrics from this old hymn beautifully illustrate the concept of self-denial:
“I work so hard for Jesus” I often boast and say
“I’ve sacrificed a lot of things to walk the narrow way,
I gave up fame and fortune, I’m worth a lot to Thee”
And then I hear Him gently say to me,
“I left the throne of glory and counted it but loss,
My hands were nailed in anger upon a cruel cross,
But now we’ll make the journey with your hand safe in mine,
So lift your cross and follow close to me.
Oh Jesus if I die upon a foreign field someday,
‘Twould be no more than love demands, no less could I repay,
“No greater love hath mortal man than for a friend to die”
These are the words He gently spoke to me,
“If just a cup of water I place within your hand
Then just a cup of water is all that I demand.
But if by death to living they can Thy glory see,
I’ll take my cross and follow close to Thee.
~ Ira F. Stamphill
Has Jesus placed a lone cup of water in your hands and nothing else? No, He’s given us abundantly more. He wants us to give it up for Him or to lay it down for another. To live for Christ is to die to self.
The pathway to Jesus demands surrender of our own needs (and wants) to serve someone else’s—whether it’s a roommate, a friend, an enemy, a child, a parent, or a spouse. It begins by choosing to die to self to breathe life to another.
In what ways can I train myself to lay down my needs for another’s today?
(Case in point: It’s taken me nearly five days to get this published. Twice, I’ve come close to posting, only to be interrupted with some request or another. You gotta love irony.)