As you may know, the church is in the middle of what’s called Lent, a season in the liturgical calendar when the church ramps up its game in spiritual disciplines such as prayer, repentance, alms giving and self-denial. While Lent isn’t a concept you’ll find in the Bible, it’s a special season that has evolved in the life of the church as people have sought to prepare themselves properly to celebrate Easter. Lent is most famously known as a season to give up something, to make a sacrificial choice. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “I’m giving that up for Lent.” There’s good reason for Lent to be associated closely with self-denial: Self-denial was one of Jesus’ most emphatic commands for following Him.So, it might be good to take a moment to reconnect on Jesus’ teaching to deny ourselves while we are in the season of self-denial.The What
The four passages below contain two things:1. Jesus’ famous passage about denying self.2. Other passages in the New Testament that show us how it looks to deny self.
Read each passage, knowing that God has something He wants to show you personally. Hover until God shows you something you haven’t seen or thought of before, and write down what He shows you.
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what they have done'” (Matt. 16:24-27).
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
“No one should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Cor. 10:24).
“Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Rom. 15:2).
The So What
In the Matthew passage, what did God show you about what it takes to truly follow Jesus?
How did the other New Testament passages shed light on Jesus’ command to deny yourself? Write down two or three things as if you were explaining to a friend what it means to deny yourself.
Putting into Practice
Believe it or not, it’s easier to deny yourself by giving up things such as chocolate or social media than it is to deny yourself by considering others’ interests a priority before your own. We want things such as the front of the line, the best movie seats, the quickest exit. We pursue those things out of reflex. If we want to deny ourselves and enjoy the sweet spot of following Jesus, we need to retrain our thinking and our behavior. Lent, regardless of whether your church tradition observes it, is a good time for this training.
How can you practice the discipline of looking after the interests of others before your own interests? Write down two or three simple things you can do every day to build muscle in the area of putting others’ interests ahead your own. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
• Hold the door for someone even if it means he or she will be ahead of you in line.
• Volunteer for a task in a study group that no one else wants.
• Don’t eat the last chip or piece of chocolate.
These suggestions may seem simple, but it’s important to start small. Give the muscles in your soul a chance to build new muscle memory, then (similar to physical training) start adding some weight. Before you know it, your reflex reaction will be on behalf of the interests of others, not your own.