Jesus once said that we must deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him.
Sorry Jesus, but I am going to pass on this one. I would rather follow you from a distance and not up close if it means that I am on my way to death or worse than death – self-denial.
Every part of our culture screams that the worst thing we can do with our life is deny it. So many sins are justified in people’s minds because they refuse to deny themselves even if the thing they want is harmful to themselves and others. I am in credit card debt for several reasons but one reason is due to not being able to deny myself of things I want.
Self-denial is the realization that left on my own, I am not a very good master of my time, energy, love, and priorities. It is the understanding that God has my best interest in mind and that I am going to let him handle my time, money, relationships, causes, and decisions.
Self-denial is saying that what God wants for me is always going to be better than what I want for me. What I want will always be a factor but what I want is not the end all, be all. Dallas Willard talks about our spiritual transformation being largely a process of changing “our wanter” from what the self wants to what God wants. Some might ask, “how can I ever be fulfilled and happy if I have lost myself and my desires?” This is the paradox that Jesus brings – only through losing our lives will we find it. Willard says, “Jesus does not deny us personal fulfillment, but shows us the only true way to it.”
The next time you hear a testimony of faith, notice that almost every time the process is that of surrendering personal preferences, selfish desires, and self will for God’s perfect plan and work. Our self is what we hold on to most tightly, thinking that it will be our only hope for a satisfying life. But Jesus tells us that clinging to the self is not how to follow him and we can even lose our soul in the process.
The process of self-denial is a lifelong journey but you can start today by saying this one prayer, “Father, may I want what you want.”