Jesus called to the crowd along with his disciples and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)
This verse reflects Jesus’ command us to keep vigilant about those things, pursuits, and ways of being that displace God from the center of our lives and distract us from the goal of forever living with God. Given the era in which they lived, the people of Jesus’ day understood crucifixions as the political billboards on the roads of their homeland. If you were to pick up a cross, you were slated to die. Jesus’ instructions to deny oneself and take up the cross meant to die to what is keeping you from God, from being Jesus’s follower.
Excerpted from an online sermon entitled, “Principles of Discipleship” by Pastor John Hamby: What does all this mean in a practical sense? Someone has said it this way, “If when you are good, evil is spoken, and when your wishes are crossed and your advice is disregarded, and your opinions are ridiculed and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, and even defend yourself’ but you take it patiently in loving silence, then you are dying to self. And when you lovingly and patiently bear any disgrace, any irregularity, any annoyance, when you stand face to face with extravagance and folly and spiritual insensitivity and endure it, as Jesus did, that is dying to self. And when you are content with any food, any money, any clothing, any society, any solitude or interruption by the will of God, that is dying to self. And when you never care to refer to yourself in conversation or record your own good works, or itch after commendation from others, and when you truly love to be unknown, that is dying to self. When you see your brother prosper, see his needs wondrously met, and can honestly rejoice with him [with his big house, with big car, with his big pool – whatever it may be] without feeling envy, and never question God though your needs are greater and still unmet, that is dying to self.”
Dying to self is the most difficult thing we can do. Life affords so many distractions and false paths, and fears and self-doubts, as well as hungers for love and recognition. The transformation requires a discipline borne from self-examination, study, and a daily conscious choice to love of one’s neighbor as you’d love yourself. Somber but lined with promise, Lent is the season to examine ourselves and put to death those things within us that we hold onto and which keep us from entering fully into and reciprocating God’s love.
Prayer: Dear Lord, please grant me the discipline to look deeply into my inner self and release all that holds me back from dying to self and, thus, following you. Grant me the grace to trust the cross I am to bear and to remember that you go before me and yet are beside me all the way. Amen.