“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” -Mark 8:34 NIV
The decision is an easy one. We’re so naive when we choose and we overestimate our strength. Denying yourself is easier when you’ve been burned by the fire of choosing your ‘self’. Taking up our cross is a noble act and the cross doesn’t feel so heavy when you start out.
You know you made the right choice. It doesn’t take a priest to recognize that choosing to follow His call gets you an ‘A’ on that particular day. The encouragement from your very own cheering section is intoxicating and you’re tingly with possibility.
The sun starts to set and you keep at it. The crowd dwindles and you have to switch gears. Denying yourself starts to get a little more real when you feel your stomach growl and your back grow tired. You know that people are leaving the sidelines to head home and make dinner. What you wouldn’t give to be able to sit down with them. Then, somebody yells out, ‘You can do it!’ and it buys you more time because you believe them.
The cross is starting to take the swagger out of your step and you have to get in the zone to find a new pace. You turn your attention inward and find a reserve of inner strength to fuel you. Your mind finds that place where you knew what you had to do and you replay it over and over to the beat of your steps.
The night is in full force and your inner reserve is running on fumes. All of your reasons for leaving are starting to sound like you made them up. And, as if the cross weren’t enough, now you have to battle the doubt that weighs heavy on your shoulders. You look over to the sidelines and all of our cheering section is gone.
Sideline cheerleaders can only go so far. This is your journey, not theirs. You start to wonder what they’re saying about you back in their living rooms. You wonder if they doubt you the way you doubt you as they slip their toes into their wool slippers and stay warm in front of the TV.
You planned to travel through the night, but this night doesn’t want to end. Night has too many people to entertain and he’s completely forgotten about the runner on the dark road.
Just when you think you can’t take it anymore, someone finds you. You’re so relieved to welcome the encouragement. You feel yourself needing and are ready to drink the strength from the paper cup they hold out. But, it’s not strength they offer. It’s something unexpected and for whatever reason, it’s more powerful than it should have been.
It’s the smell of your pillow. It’s the tingle of lust. It’s the craving for one more. It’s something telling you, ‘I need you now’ and you crumble because you think need it, too. You need something to remind you that you’re alive because you fear you’ve been forgotten.
Finding you at your weakest point is not a coincidence on behalf of your old vice. It’s a crowbar to the knee, an untied shoestring, a misplaced hurdle. You have a choice. You’ve always had a choice, but this is the point of fight or flight.
Temptation pours the drink and puts it in your hands. Fatigue is the purifier. Self-motivation turns into self-doubt to leave room for faith. The void of denying yourself is the place where you’re tested. The vast nothingness is where only the tempter will tread. Promises of being fed or being rescued ahead of schedule. Your lust seduces you into choosing something for yourself.(Mat.4:1-11) It’s a way out on a long road of nothing and the only thing you can see in the cold night is the breath of ‘self.’
But, you need to feel the void. You need to know that you can make it, that you can say ‘no’ now, when nobody is watching so that you believe you can say ‘no’ when everybody is watching.
You need to learn to deny yourself when it’s the hardest, when it makes the least sense. Of course you think about it all the time, it wouldn’t be a ‘test’ if you didn’t. Doubt is part of it. It’s the backboard to faith. This isn’t an effort for a reward. This is an act of obedience. Whether or not anyone cares no longer matters. You chose before, you’re choosing now and you’ll have to choose again. Of course you’re missing out on something, but would you trade your soul for it? Because, that’s really what it comes down to.
What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? -Matthew 8:35 MSG