And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself…” Mark 8:34a
Denying oneself is so counter-cultural today. We see advertisements all the time about all manner of possessions, food, clothing, reading materials, apps, and many more, all while being told having them will make us happy and live better. It’s really hard to push that clamor to the background when we want to focus on anything else. Is this the sort of thing we’re called to do in order to follow Jesus? Are we to give up all the comforts of life so we might live faithfully? Have you ever thought about this?
What does it mean to deny self and follow Jesus? It doesn’t necessarily mean denying physical needs. In this passage Jesus had just met a major physical need with the 4000 by feeding them. After three days of following Jesus and not eating, Jesus recognized their need for food, and met it. He’d also met the need of the blind man in restoring his sight, with the double attempts perhaps being an example to the disciples the depth of their own blindness. So then, what does it mean to deny ourselves in order to follow Jesus?
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is quoted as saying, “The line separating good and evil passes … right through every human heart…”. Good and evil resides in us all! I’m certain many of us bristle at hearing this, but this understanding is entirely scriptural (Ecclesiastes 7:20, Romans 3:10-12). In the entire span of eternity, there’s only one human this doesn’t describe, who completely denied himself in obedience to his father, and he’s asking us to do the same for him. Like the hyperbole used by Jesus about eyes and hands causing us to sin, the evil we all carry within us limits in our being true followers of Jesus. Our evil needs to go! But how do we do that? We can’t. But Jesus can!
In this season of Lent, rather than deny something to help you lose weight or feel better about yourself, why not ask Jesus to help us with something standing in the way of our relationship with him? It wouldn’t need to be huge, but perhaps something smaller, which would give you courage to deny other, larger things, like that dark corner in your heart that you can’t or won’t surrender. In your prayer time, ask Jesus to impress you with something to deny yourself, and then lean on Jesus to do it!
By Rich Obrecht