That’s meant for medieval mystics. They had no earthly possessions, ate a meager diet, and had none of the pleasures we know about. “Deny yourself” fits their mentality better than ours. We have family and work relationships. We honor one another and expect to be treated in kind. When that does not happen, a bell goes off. Someone is crossing a line. I have a right to be listened to, valued for my contribution.
Picture Jesus on his way to the cross, being devalued, ridiculed, spit up, whipped, mocked. He had said to would-be followers, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” We easily criticize the millennials for their entitlement mentality. We often embrace the same outlook if we are disrespected, ignored, or criticized, as if we deserve better treatment. Jesus didn’t.
To go the way of the cross is to embrace pain and maybe mistreatment. It means to be overlooked when you thought you would be admired. Those who learn how to accept this road as normal Christianity are the holiest people on earth–and therefore the happiest. Joy comes most fully to those who don’t aim for it, who learn to choose short-term pain for long-term gain, who don’t say they deserve more than what Jesus got, who know they are aliens here and at home in the new earth, who embrace Peter’s word that we rejoice in the coming kingdom, “though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials” (I Peter 1:6). Marriage problems escalate because we thought it was going to be easier than this.
Self-denial is not only meant for desert monks but for contagious Christians. It’s for people who desire a marriage twenty degrees above average, who would like to transform their workplace from a smog-infested atmosphere of negativism into a pleasant environment for friends.
People who don’t know how to deny themselves
.are taking themselves too seriously
.ride the up and down roller coaster of living by their circumstances
.take up offenses on a regular basis
People who have learned to deny themselves
.are hard to offend
.don’t feel entitled to having things go their way
.consider a hard day a really good day
It took the disciples several years to get it. Once they got it, they lived that way–and died that way. Thank God for their examples of how to really live. Andrew, our oldest, named his son Elliot to remind his family that “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” People who deny themselves stick out, like Phil and Margaret, Karen’s parents, who have lived this way most of their life. Rubbed off on Karen, and by God’s good grace it is finding expression in our kids. I told them, “Serve. Don’t expect to be served. When you go to your friend’s, do the dishes. Servants have responsibilities, not rights. Accept your responsibilities without claiming your rights, and happiness sneaks up on you.” So go ahead–deny yourself!