Christians have done some well-intentioned but very silly things through the centuries in our efforts to do what Jesus said. Particularly in trying to apply Jesus' statement that anyone who wants to be his disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him, some percentage of our track record could be categorized as well-meaning adventures in missing the point. While my wife and I lived as missionaries in Guatemala, we visited a cathedral which was hundreds of years old, part of which was dedicated as a shrine to a local saint, Hermano Pedro. It appears that Pedro was certainly a good guy who did a lot of good things, but one of the relics in the museum dedicated to his memory stood out as a classic misguided example of self-denial in the name of Jesus: there, preserved since the mid 1600's, was a pair of Hermano Pedro's burlap underwear which he would wore as a method of self-denial.
I grew up on a pecan farm, where I sometimes had the job of moving 100 pound burlap sacks of pecans, and that limited experience with burlap was enough to convince me that Pedro's method wasn't for me. Plus, all due respect to Pedro, I'm pretty confident that burlap undies weren't what Jesus had in mind when he issued his call to discipleship.
However, even if some through Christian history have erred on the burlap underwear side of things, perhaps it's much more common for us today to make the opposite mistake and not take self-denial seriously enough in our lives with God. In fact, the founder of our Methodist tradition, John Wesley, claimed that whenever any of us is not growing in God's grace, whenever we are anything less than Christ's fully-devoted disciples, it is always due to a lack of self-denial.
As we follow Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, we will inevitably find–once we've decided to deny ourselves–eventually a cross awaits us. Over the next couple of days, we'll explore what "take up your cross" meant to Jesus' original disciples when he said it, then what it might mean to us as his disciples today.
But to help us take some steps along this road of self-denial throughout this year's season of Lent, perhaps questions like this might begin to point us in a helpful direction:
- How do I handle it when I don't get my way?
- Do I spend much mental effort on my own reputation?
- Which do I tend to value more: being right or being Christlike?
- Do I have any habits which help me intentionally practice self-control?
A Prayer for the Day:
O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
A Prayer for the Week:
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.*
*From The Book of Common Prayer
[This is part of 40 Days of Prayer: Daily Emails for Lent]