“He called the crowd 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 NRSV
After sharing his first passion prediction in Mark, Jesus and his disciples are near Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus calls the crowd together and shares what sounds like marching orders: deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me. This is a passage that is certainly helpful during the season of Lent, as we prepare for the coming season of Easter. Yet as this passage showed up in our Lectionary texts this past Sunday, it serves as a helpful reminder as we continue our journey through this season after Pentecost, where we continue to grow in grace. This is a season some of you may be entering that involves conversations around stewardship. I invite you and your churches to consider how you could share stories of how you deny yourselves so that you can more fully embrace God’s will in your lives.
It’s hard to pass by a DQ sign. I have long been an ice cream fan, and whenever peanut butter is involved, I struggle with saying, “No, I don’t care for any ice cream.” I have found that driving by a DQ and not stopping is a good way to practice denying myself.
When I say no to myself I can more fully say yes to God. When I deny myself, I practice ways of being more like Christ. Denying my will so that God’s will be done. Wait a minute – that’s a familiar phrase. When we pray the words, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, we proclaim our desire to be about God’s will and not our own.
We all face daily temptations which lure us away from God’s will. Denying self is saying no to these temptations, and standing firm in our faith to follow God’s will. Some folks refer to these as indulgences, as Rev. John Wesley does so in these words about desires: “Who would depend anything in gratifying these desires, if he considered that to gratify them is to increase them? Nothing can be more certain than this: Daily experience shows that the more they are indulged, they increase the more.” Thanks a lot, Rev. Wesley. Yet there is truth in his words, as when I indulge in something, there’s always this pull to take just a little bit more. That one cookie that just came out of the oven, that melted in my mouth, becomes a temptation to make an excuse to walk through the kitchen again to take another. The more I indulge, the more I want. Rev. Wesley’s words challenge me to consider my own habits, especially those habits which are in opposition to denying myself.
What is the object of my desire, or my love? Where do I spend my energies, my resources, and my time? With respect to my baptismal promises – to share my prayers, my presence, my gifts, my service, and my witness – where am I denying myself, taking up the cross and following Jesus?
Plenty of folks have said if you want to see what’s important to you, open up your checkbook. Or for those who do your banking online, click open your statement. For those of us who carry phones, some phones have ways for us to review our screen time, detailing where we spend most of our time looking at our screens. This might provide some helpful insights on our own behaviors, and might cause some adjustments in our habits. What apps are opened the most? Is it your favorite game, Facebook, a news app, text messages, or Kindle? Or maybe it’s your Bible app, or your meditations app, or your prayer app? What if we took account of where we spend our time and began a new practice to deny ourselves so that we would more accept the Divine? Augustine, one of the early church fathers said, “For if by loving himself man is lost, surely by denying himself he is found.”
As we consider this season of stewardship in our churches, consider how you might be the messenger God could use to help others think about starting somewhere new in their own life of discipleship. Perhaps you could talk about when someone invited you to share a tithe each week, and how you embraced that spiritual discipline, and what that has meant to your life. Perhaps you could share a story of realizing how busy you were with work/life, and how you fell away from your relationship with Christ, and when you started over and experienced a new life in Christ.
Each day, we are provided an opportunity to start somewhere, my friends. When it comes to denying ourselves, where can we begin a new holy habit that moves us away from our indulgences so that we can be inspired by the Divine?
If you would like to view past editions of Driving with David, follow this link: https://beacondistrictnc.org/category/from-the-ds/