In the Gospel According to Mark, Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow me.” He then says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
I wonder about the effect of these words of Jesus when the disciples first heard them. My guess is the disciples were often confused about much of what Jesus said and taught. And my guess is that more than once the end of the day found them scratching their heads over some thing or another that Jesus had said during the day that needed further explanation.
No doubt the early followers of Jesus would endure great hardship, suffering and death because of their faith in Jesus. So for them – as well as for other Christians down through the ages, including many Christians throughout the world today – there was a great cost of discipleship, which in a very real and literal sense, meant denying themselves and losing their very lives.
For us, however, the story’s a little different. Few of us live with the threat of losing our lives because of our faith. So, what do these words from Mark have to say to us? Well, I think it’s a reminder to us to have our priorities in order. And that is to say that the most important thing in our lives is our relationship with God. Not our jobs, money, partners, or even our children. Our number one priority is our relationship with God.
And that’s why Jesus calls us to deny ourselves – deny ourselves of the self-centered philosophies so prevalent in our society and adopt instead a focus on God and God’s will for our lives.
Losing our life and denying ourselves is about abandoning our self-centeredness and shifting the focus of our lives from us to God. Once we’ve done that – put God and God’s will first in our lives – we have put our priorities in order and everything else will follow and flow.