And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
I memorized this verse in Sunday School years ago, so I know it well. Unfortunately its ultra familiarity causes me to quickly gloss over it and not allow it much thought. It is a bit perplexing what it means exactly, taking up my cross and such. But for whatever reason (God knows), it has recently come to mind, I have meditated on it, and been challenged with a fresh meaning.
I recently decided to read through the whole Bible as fast as I can. I don’t recommend this regularly. Consistent, slow meditation is likely much more beneficial, but it really has provided some awesome insight into God’s plan and story of the Bible that I just didn’t get reading a chapter at a time. To my surprise, what I’ve really become aware of is the challenge of giving my time towards Bible reading and not towards other things I usually fill my days with. I have routines, routines I like; such as listening to podcasts while driving to school, watching a cooking show while making dinner, and reading a novel before I go to sleep. All these I have chosen to set aside so I can devote that time to reading and listening to God’s Word. In doing so, I have become much more aware of how strong the desires of the flesh are in my life. I know reading the Bible is what I should be doing and what will truly be more productive, but my flesh battles that and tells me I will be happier or more relaxed doing other things. Of course, none of these “other” things are inherently bad and I haven’t completely stopped them forever, but I yearn for my heart to be one that loves the things of God more than anything in this world. I want to live for eternity and not for the moment. This doesn’t come naturally for me (or for anyone for that matter – Jeremiah 17:9). When I come home from a full day of work, I hardly feel like plopping on the couch and reading Leviticus. But this is where God led me to Luke 9:23. Each time I choose God’s Word over worldly pleasures, I have to “deny” my flesh, but in so doing I am choosing to come after my Lord and Savior.
Jesus says we are to “follow him”, and where did Jesus end up? Giving up his life at the cross. Jesus really didn’t want to go to the cross, but he denied his personal comfort and accepted his suffering because God called him to and in so doing he accomplished the greatest work ever, atoning for the innumerable sins of the world. So we also are called to deny ourselves, our fleshly desires, our schedules, our ideas, our life plans, and be willing to do the hard thing, to bear our cross. Of course, my experience with Bible reading is small and insignificant, but the verse says “daily”! We aren’t going to be giving up our very lives every single day, but I know there are things in all of our daily lives that we can give up and replace with something more pleasing to our Father. Certainly our humble Savior in making himself “nothing” (Philippians 2:7), was daily denying himself the smaller pleasures in life he being God had every right to enjoy, even just the simple comfort of a warm place to lay his head at night. Can’t we also, who have been so abundantly blessed with more than we could ever need, deny ourselves, daily take up our cross, and follow the leading of our King? Instead of seeking to satisfy our desires in the moment, Jesus calls his followers to think eternally. We must deny ourselves every single day and instead choose to do something that maybe we don’t want to do, or isn’t the easiest option, but we know will bring glory to God and display his worth to those around us. While I know I have barely unpacked the full richness and meaning of this verse, God has given me this piece for such a time as this and I hope you too can see the value in our call for daily denial.