Tuesday, October 8, 2013
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Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?" (Matt. 16:24-26, RSV).
We all begin life totally self-centered. With time and experience, most of us become less so, more invested in others. But the transition is neither automatic nor easy. Throughout our lives, our culture pushes us toward self-centeredness … and, that is no way for adults to live. In fact, it is opposed to life as God intends it.
Contrary to cultural pressure, Jesus calls us into life centered totally in Christ. In Matthew 16:24-26, Jesus issues three interlocking demands. When obeyed, these mandates lead us out of self-centeredness into life in joyful service to others.
First, deny yourself. This means saying no once and for all to self-interest, which constricts and destroys our true selves, others, and our environment. Jesus knows we are created for something grand. But until we repudiate all that fosters self-preoccupation, we will never participate in anything of lasting value.
Second, take up his cross. Life in him includes suffering, ridicule, even death. Our culture supports a privatized Jesus and public religious behavior as long as it never offends, challenges, or opposes worldly principalities. Christ-centered living daily accepts the occasions God places in front of us to serve and sacrifice in the name and power of Jesus. Thus, we take up our cross daily; but the world is hostile to such selfless freedom.
Third, follow him. Through the power of Christ's presence in the center of our will, Jesus transforms us from the inside out, lifting us from the sludge of self-centeredness to the freedom of centered selves in sacrificial service to others. Such is the way to secure whole, centered, and abundant life that endures forever.
Don Murdock served as executive director of Laity Lodge and spent 25 years as a pastoral counselor and as a supervisor in clinical pastoral education and pastoral counseling residency programs in health care systems. Don passed away in 2006 after a two-year battle with cancer. His article is adapted with permission from his original article "Self-Centered Beginnings and Centered-Self Endings" at TheHighCalling.org. All rights reserved.
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