Is there anything in this world that calls us to deny ourselves?
We buy what we want, fight for what we don’t have, and clamor to make it to the top. The more we have, the happier we will be, right? Doesn’t true contentment come with the fulfillment of our desires?
The problem is, our desires are insatiable. And we exhaust ourselves trying to fill up on them.
I have struggled with my weight my entire life. I have never been thin, and have cycled between overweight and average-sized as I have walked through different seasons. When I have been on the larger side of that spectrum, I have looked at pictures of the smaller me and been filled with “if only” thoughts. If only I could be that size again I would be so much happier.
But when I was that size did I actually feel happier? No. I wanted to be smaller.
When we achieve what we desire, we only become more aware of the next lurking hunger. Contentment often waits just outside our grasp, taunting us to reach further in order to find it.
The story is told that when John D. Rockefeller, one of the wealthiest men that ever lived, was asked how much money was enough, he replied: "A little bit more."
Enter the words of Jesus,
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” – Matthew 16:24
In the context of our me-centric world, this call sounds so radical. And it brings with it a question:
Is it worth it?
What if following Jesus makes our lives miserable? His demands are too high. It seems like too much.
But then I think of something else Jesus said.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." -Matthew 11:28
What if we intertwined these verses? This call to come and this call to follow? Would we see the give and take a little differently?
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
– Matthew 11:28-30 and Matthew 16:24-26
Our souls are lost. Drifting and weary from the burden of looking out for ourselves.
There is a peace found in the confidence of letting go. When we trust in a God who became one of us in order to demonstrate the depth of His love.
We are loved. We can rest in that and focus our energy on loving others.
When we follow Jesus, we can deny ourselves not because we should, but because we want to.
Counter-intuitively, the burden of living for Jesus is lighter than the burden of living for ourselves. This light burden does not mean our life will always be easy. This is not a promise of happiness, but of peace.
It is possible to find rest for our souls.