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Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." Matthew 16:24‭ NRSV

The idea of denial may invoke negative connotations for many. For example, when someone quizzes us about something, we may declare no knowledge, like Peter when he denied knowing Christ. It may also mean withholding something from someone or ourselves, an alien idea, to a world so focused on self-centeredness and instant gratification.

However, self-denial can be a very positive thing. For example, during Lent, we are often encouraged to give up something we enjoy, like coffee or chocolate. Someone jokingly told me the give up mustard for Lent, which isn't a sacrifice at all because they dislike mustard. Yet others may fast, depriving themselves of food for a specific period.

But whatever we deny ourselves, and whenever we do it, it should be done as a spiritual practice. In self-denial, we submit ourselves to Christ. We seek a deeper connection and understanding of him and his will for us in our acts. We do this by spending time with his divine word, meditation, prayer, and introspection. Our fast is simply a diet without submission, and our other acts serve no purpose.

Jesus wanted us to be fully aware that being his follower comes with a price; denying ourselves and accepting him. We are to die to our natural inclinations and desires, replacing the desire for sin with a new passion for him. And while we are reminded to exercise spiritual discipline during Lent, we should do this every day of the year, not just the forty days of Lent.

Jesus continues, in the following two verses (25-26), with the reason why this is essential. "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?"

Gracious Father, thank you for the hope of salvation. We confess denying ourselves and submitting fully is difficult. We know we must, and our very souls are at stake, yet we fail to do so. Forgive us; we pray. Help us to remember the importance of relinquishing our wills to you. Speak to us through your word, open our ears to listen in prayer, and mold our hearts to your will. In Christ's name, we pray. Amen.


Pastor Tim

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