In my last post I talked about fear. Specifically I talked about letting go of that fear to find peace. I think this verse fits that concept perfectly.
I, like many, have spent a lot of time focusing on the second part of this verse, the "pick up your cross" part. But that's not the part that stood out to me the other day. For the first time, my eyes were drawn to "deny yourself," and I began thinking about what exactly that looks like. At first, I thought of what I described in In the Face Of Fear, about how we must turn our fear over to Jesus. But how exactly does that go hand in hand with denying ourselves?
Fear comes from a lot of things. We fear change, we fear death, we fear loss, but largely I think a lot of fear comes from feeling like we no longer have control. Fear comes when something big is happening, something that could mean we have to change the way we live, act, or view the world. Fear comes when something happens that we really have no power to change. So, by surrendering that fear, we are denying ourselves in a sense.
But denying ourselves goes deeper than that. It's not just admitting to God we're afraid so He can eradicate that fear. It's denying ourselves the right we think we have to hang onto any negative and destructive habits and mindsets that we continue to cling to. Things like worry, doubt, anger, and judgment. But really all four of those boil down to fear--fear for ourselves, our loved ones, our comfort. But mostly we fear our loss of control. A dear friend of mine recently put it this way, "Fear makes us choose the easy route, the predictable route. But fear is never a solid foundation. Fear only breeds more fear. We think we're in control until the inevitable storms tear the notion from our hands and we discover we have absolutely no control. Hence, more fear."
When we deny ourselves, we say no to our desire to control our situation and give it back over to the only One who has control in the first place.
Recently I got to first hand experience what denying yourself is really like when God convicted me of holding onto something I knew wasn't mine.
You see, my boyfriend has been going through some health issues recently, and I have this bad habit of taking the pain of others onto myself. I mean, don't get me wrong, being able to empathize or even just sympathize with others is great, but I've always been good at taking everything a step farther than needed. I end up worrying and stressing over a problem in another's life as if it were my own problem. I would work myself into these knots where I could no longer feel God's presence, even though I knew He was there.
Now these aren't life threatening health issues or anything like that, just something that will require him to change the way he does certain things and even maybe give up some stuff neither of us expected he would have to quit this soon. Regardless of whether it's life threatening or not, I know how much pain he's in physically, as well as emotionally and spiritually, I can imagine. Having to face changes like this is never easy, and while I should be trying to offer some peace to him during this, I found myself as threatened by the storm as he was.
It was on a Sunday morning shortly after this all began that God brought to mind a prayer I had said several months before when facing something else that was out of my control.
"Lord," I had said. "I don't really know what to do with this situation, and there's not really anything I can do, so I'm sorry for trying to take over. You're in control, I know you are. So, here, you can have him back. Thanks for letting me have him in my life, but he's not mine anyways. So you do your thing, and if you would still have me be a part of this plan of yours, I would very much like to see how it unfolds."
Sitting there remembering that prayer, I gave this heavy sigh and said, "I know I've said this already, but I'm holding on again, and I shouldn't be because he's not mine anyway. Thanks for letting me borrow him for a while, but ultimately he is yours, and you know what you're doing. So here, you can have him back."
It wasn't until I denied my flesh the right it thought it had to worry and stress over what to do with this storm was I able to understand what to do with my situation. It's truly amazing how the Spirit works, bringing not only the fruit of the Spirit with which you longed for, peace in my case, but also those that will go hand in hand it help you face what is up ahead. For with the peace came a joy that made the clouds less scary and a courage to face the next road blocks.Also came patience to wait out this storm no matter how long it would take and strength to allow the one who's facing the storm to lean on me whenever he has trouble seeing Jesus, who I lean on, at the stern of the boat.
But along with equipping you, the Spirit also brings this inexplicable level of understanding. For when my peace came, so also came this understanding that though I may not know how long this will take or how painful it may be, we would come out of it and there would be something awesome at the end. I knew it like I knew I still breathed, like I knew the earth was still turning and my heart still beating. How I knew, I don't know, but I can't shake this knowing that goes beyond my understanding. Something good is coming, even if we can't see it yet.
But the same way we cannot ignore the first part of Mark 8:34, we shouldn't ignore the other half to focus on it. "Take up your cross daily and follow me."
Daily we must practice this denying our desire for control to follow the only One who knew true peace. Do not get discouraged when you find you've picked back up fears and insecurities that you've already surrendered in the past. Instead, keep in mind a prayer my sister shared with me several years back when she was facing her own storms and fighting her own demons, "I'm sorry, Lord, that I have picked back up what I already laid at your cross."
It is never too late to turn to the Lord and release the white-knuckled hold you have on your need to control that which is out of your grasp.