I used to see self-denial as a bummer. A cruddy way to do life, but necessary none the less if I wanted to "make it" to heaven. Today, while the "way of the cross" is sometimes tough and requires sacrifice and discipline, I often find myself wanting to laugh my way toward Jerusalem.
For me, "self-denial" has always meant guilt about any personal gain or joy; it has looked like side-stepping pleasures and sins so that Icould end up in Heaven. Here is what that formula looks like:
The "cross way" of living=misery and self-denial now, in order to know pleasure someday.
(Just how far is that from the suicide-bomber's promise of virgins in paradise? And in our culture, which view of paradise wins?)
But for Jesus, the cross was always about liberation for OTHERS. Or:
The "cross way" of living = self denial in order to rescue and offer life to others.
And for Jesus, the Kingdom was present now, and later it would be an eternal blessing. Remember how he taught us to pray: Your (God's) Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
How do these two views of self-denial play themselves in light of his Kingdom? A few examples:
I used to see littering as "bad." Now I long to see God's creation made pure and beautiful as my King wants it...the way God called it "good."
I used to see an "alcoholic" as disgusting; now I see a broken person needing loving rescue.
I used to avoid some movies because they might tempt me to be bad, or warp my sensitivities. Now I watch some darkness to understand the distance we've traveled from God's plan and hopes for us. And when I'm tempted by evil, I tell God, and ask for the strength to bring about God's loving reign with my living.
I usually thought of adultery as tempting, yet bad because it would damn me. Now I see the carnage it brings into the lives of husband and wife, children, and all who know and love them. Adultery is bad for the planet--the cosmos. It deals a blow to the Kingdom of God's love.
Church attendance used to be "have-to" thing in order to keep me preserved for heaven. Now, I recognize that God has designed his loving kingdom to restore all humanity and all creation, and that Kingdom renews creation only as God's people come together and then go to give and serve as "the person and presence of Jesus."
Devotions used to be something I did in order to stay good. Now, my devotion is to be the person and presence of Jesus in order to bring in his reign.
Denying myself now means sacrificing my own dominance, in order to join and facilitate the loving reign of Jesus the healer of all creation. His cross is my joy to carry, and sometimes suffer under. Today, my vision for the future is bigger than my own mansion in "glory." I dream of a world where my grandaughter's generation will know peace, wholeness and healing. Someone else finding their significance in God's present love and real world changing reign is a bigger deal to me.