"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” –Matthew 16:24
This month marks the beginning of Lent. This is the season the Church has historically practiced self-denial. Why is it that the Church has set aside the time before Good Friday and Easter for self-denial? Because discipleship to Jesus is taking up a cross-shaped life.
Why is self-denial essential to a genuine Christian life? Because self-denial for Jesus leads to resurrection life. Jesus wants each of us to experience resurrection life here and now and he knows taking up our cross is the only way we can experience it. So how do we take up our cross?
First: Identify something in your life that needs to die. It may be an addiction to money, possessions, attention, professional success, habitual anger, or contempt. It may be an ungodly attitude or an ungodly character trait.
Second:Put a plan in place to put to death whatever you have identified. It is very important that the plan be concrete and specific enough that you can clearly tell whether or not your plan was followed. For example, say you struggle with an inordinate desire for status, especially to have the status of being a very good person. Your plan may be to help two people in a significant way each week in a way that no one could possibly know it was you and give you credit. If you notice you have envy in your heart towards someone you could make it your plan to pray for their success every morning for a month.
Third:After you have followed your plan, evaluate it to see if it worked. One of the best ways to know if you are experiencing the resurrection life of Jesus is that what you once struggled with has become natural and easy to you. You naturally help others without a desire for credit or genuinely from the heart, and wish the best for the person you once envied. It is in this way that in one area of our lives after another, we experience the resurrection life of Jesus.