In Matthew’s gospel we read - “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If any of you wants to be My follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow Me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?’” (Matthew 16:24-26).
Nobody models these words better than Jesus Himself. Think about it. Jesus was obedient to the point of death (Philippians 2:8).
Now, while some Christians may be called upon to lay down their lives, literally, most of us probably will never have to face martyrdom.
However, don’t miss this, the death required of us, however, is no less real. We still have to die to self - our wants, wills, and woes.
By nature, as humans, we are very independent. We like things our way. We want things our way. And not only that, but in our time, and on our terms. But Jesus just said, that anyone who wants to be His follower has to deny himself or herself.
That means ‘death’ to our sinful habits and evil thoughts – most of us understand this. But it also means that we will have to decline some good things, when they come at the wrong time, don’t fit God’s plan for our lives, or are simply distractions.
To an outside observer, such commitment (the death of things) will seem strange, especially when our hands, emptied by self-denial, take up a cross instead. What bystanders can’t see, or experience, is the deep satisfaction that comes to us when we do this.
Jesus once said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). As food is to the body, so our obedience is to the soul. Working for God nourishes, energizes, strengthens, and enlightens - bringing us even more satisfaction than doing those things we typically think of as pleasures.
Now listen, I recognize, that self-denial can be difficult, and even hurts at times, but obeying God brings joy - joy unspeakable.
Here’s the deal, contentment, true satisfaction, the stuff we all really want down deep, is only found in drawing close to the Lord, sensing His approval, and looking forward to hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21).