I went to summer camp every year in junior high and high school. It was always my favorite week of the year and, even during my years as a youth pastor, I still loved camp. Obviously, I loved hanging out with my friends, playing games, having fun and trying to talk to girls. Looking back, though, my fondness for camp has more to do with how it stretched my faith than the fun I had.
Camp was filled with opportunities for my faith to grow. We had chapel twice a day, sung worship songs, met for small groups and had time set aside every day for some chair time. Every year at camp we would get a little devotional book to use during our chair time and every year Thursday’s chair time was devoted to the same passage: Mark 8:34-35.
Then [Jesus] called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
If you were in worship service this past weekend, you’ll remember that this is also the passage from which Pastor Rob preached. As a high school student, I read that passage every year at summer camp and every year it pretty much went in one ear and out the other. My junior year, though, that verse actually began to sink in and it started to transform my life.
In that passage, Jesus lays out what it really means to be his disciple. Being Jesus’ disciple isn’t about church attendance, being good or even giving money. Sure, being Jesus’ disciple can include those things, but there’s so much more to it than that. As a junior in high school I began to realize that really following Jesus meant choosing him every day. It wasn’t enough that I chose him when I was five years old, but I needed to keep choosing him and keep denying myself.
This understanding of being Jesus’ disciples asks a lot more of us than simply going to church and trying to be good. This understanding of being Jesus disciples’ means that, every day, we’re looking for ways to deny ourselves and take up the cross. This understanding means that every day, in every situation, we’re asking ourselves, “Is this what I want or is this what Jesus wants?” and then choosing what Jesus wants.
And a lot of times denying ourselves and choosing what Jesus wants has really practical meaning for our lives.
What about denying ourselves the pleasure of hitting the snooze button 12 times and actually getting out of bed in order to spend time with Jesus before we start our days?
When I want to watch basketball or play video games, what’s it look like to deny myself and get down on the floor to play with Clara?
For those of us who are married, what’s it look like to deny ourselves and look to the needs of our spouses even if we don’t want to take out the dog or the trash?
What’s it look like to deny ourselves and volunteer time at our church?
What’s it look like to deny ourselves and not do whatever it takes to get ahead at work?
What’s it look like to deny ourselves and take steps, literal or figurative, to take care of our bodies?
Now all of those things, to varying degrees, can be connected to Jesus’ call to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him. There could be different areas in which Jesus is calling us to deny ourselves, but we can’t truly be his disciples unless we are listening for and responding to that call every day.