Quotes: Deny Yourself

Quotefancy-217426-3840x2160Matthew 16:24-26, Mark 8:34-37, and Luke 9:23-25 (NRSV)
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Self-denial is not a mask for self-contempt, but the necessary means for achieving self-mastery; for self-mastery makes possible our self-giving and self-fulfillment. Sin is not wanting too much, but settling for too little. It’s settling for self-gratification rather than self-fulfillment. -Scott Hahn

You will soon be asked to let go of some part of your false self, which you foolishly thought was permanent, important, and essential! You know God is doing this in you and with you when you can somehow smile and trust that what you lost was something you did not need anyway. In fact, it got in the way of what was real. – Richard Rohr 

Follow me. One of the most compelling sentences in the Bible. Two words, when spoken by Jesus, create a sense of power and mystery and awe. To follow is to enter into the unknown, to give your life over to another. We rarely want to do this. Yet at the same time it is exactly what we desire: to be led into a better place, a better world, a better life. – Daniel Wolpert, Leading a Life with God

Following Jesus does not mean imitating Jesus, copying his way of doing things. If we imitate someone, we are not developing an intimate relationship with that person. Instead, following Jesus means to give our own unique form, our own unique incarnation, to God’s love. To follow Jesus means to live our lives as authentically as he lived his. It means to give away our ego and follow the God of love as Jesus shows us how to do it. – Henri J. M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Homecoming

The point of following Jesus isn’t simply so that we can be sure of going to a better place than this after we die. Our future beyond death is extremely important, but the nature of the Christian hope is such that it plays back into the present life.
~ N. T. Wright, Simply Christian

Lord, spare me from my wishes, that I may be free for you.
Spare me from my little self, that I may be my divine self.
Spare me from my life, that, dying, I may become yours.
– Excerpt of a prayer entitled Spare Me by Steve Garnaas-Holmes. For more on the ideas of denying our “little self”, ego, and false-self click over to another reflection by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled Deny Yourself

“Denying yourself” in its Jewish context means resting in the righteousness of Jesus and denying yourself of the righteousness that comes from performance of the law.
– Simon Yap, What is the meaning of “denying yourself”? 

Yap invites us to consider Leviticus 16:29; Numbers 29:7; Leviticus 23:32; Leviticus 23:27; Leviticus 16:31.

What we are all searching for is Someone to surrender to, something we can prefer to life itself. Well here is the wonderful surprise: God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves! The irony is that we actually find ourselves, but now in a whole new and much larger field of meaning. – Richard Rohr

In the spiritual life, the word ‘discipline’ means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act’. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied… to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on. -Henri Nouwen

Extended Quote from Steve Garnaas Holmes
To deny yourself is not to punish yourself, or to take on misery. It’s not to live in denial, to turn your back on who you are, but the opposite. We falsely see ourselves as finite, discreet individuals, separate from the world, in danger at any moment of disappearing back into the abyss. It’s not the real truth, but an image of our “self” that the ego uses to manage our consciousness. And we believe it. We spend our lives—mostly unconsciously— protecting that little “self,” and in particular its power, security and esteem. (Hence Jesus’ temptations in the desert.) It’s what St. Paul calls “the flesh.” He doesn’t mean our body; he means something even smaller, contained within our body, limited by our fears and appetites.

But we aren’t such little “selves.” We are part of something infinite. By the life of Holy Spirit in us we are members of the infinite Body of God, who dwells in us and we in God. We are sustained not by our own protection of our little lives but by the life-giving fountain of grace welling up within us to eternal life, flowing with perfect, infinite compassion.

To “deny ourselves” is to deny whatever fears keep us from loving fully. It is let go of our self-centeredness, to say no the illusion, to transcend our ego, to abandon our little skull-caged, death-leashed bit of fear and desire and instead become the infinitely alive and loving children of God we truly are. As those who embody God’s love we give of our lives for love; we are not afraid even of death, because we trust that with love and grace God overabundantly renews life in us. So we follow Jesus out of our selves and into infinite life: without fear we take up our cross, practice compassionate self-giving and join Jesus in loving the world into its newness. You are love; you are Beloved. Deny anything less, and love without limit.

Extended Quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber
Sermon on Losing Your Life and How Jesus Isn’t Your Magical Puppy

This saying of Jesus that we are to deny the self and lose our life to gain it has been abused and perverted. Perverted into messages like “If you want to be a follower of Jesus you must deny your Queerness, pick up your cross of heterosexuality and follow him.” Or “deny your dignity and pick up your cross of continued domestic abuse and follow him.” Or “deny your experience and pick up your cross of trusting religious authorities to tell you what to believe.”

I wanted to convince you that when Jesus says deny yourself, that maybe it’s really denying the self that wants to see itself as separate from God and others. Deny the self that believes that spirituality is a suffering avoidance program. Deny the self that does not feel worthy of God’s love. Deny the self that thinks it is more worthy of God’s love than it’s enemy is. Deny the self that thinks it can do itself. Deny the self that is turned in on the self.

Because I really want you to know that dying to that false self no matter how painful, will bring you real life.

Click here for another incredibly honest and faithful sermon on the “deny yourself, take up your cross” passage by Nadia Bolz-Weber, entitled “A Sermon on Addiction and the Problem with our Me-based Solutions.”

Click here for a reflection on how denying yourself intersects with social justice by Steve Garnaas Holmes.

For quotes on “taking up your cross”, click here

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this post in other settings, please leave a comment


Gratitude by Donna Betts

Psalm 118:28-29
You are my God, and I will praise you;
You are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
His love endures forever.

Thou hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, – a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.
~George Herbert

What does the Lord require of followers? The Lord requires gratitude. And for those of us in the Christian tradition, Jesus wants our gratitude to increase more and more until, like a holy flame, it burns within us and we burst into songs and deeds of thankfulness to God and neighbor. To express genuine gratitude to God, our deeds must demonstrate our love, trust, and service.
– Beauty Maenzanise

When you sit down to eat, pray. When you eat bread, do so thanking God for being so generous to you. If you drink wine (or coffee), be mindful of God who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness. When you dress, thank God for His kindness in providing you with clothes. When you look at the sky and the beauty of the stars, throw yourself at God’s feet and adore Him who ordered things this way. When the sun goes down and when it rises, when you are asleep or awake, give thanks to God, who created and arranged all things for your benefit, to have you know, love and praise their Creator. – Basil the Great

Resentment indicates we are still trying to fill the emptiness with something we think we deserve. Gratitude is the sign that God has filled the hole; indeed, that God has become the Whole in Whom we live, move, and have our being. – Steve Harper

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. -John F. Kennedy

It is literally true, as the thankless say, that they have nothing to be thankful for. He who sits by the fire, thankless for the fire, is just as if he had no fire. Nothing is possessed save in appreciation, of which thankfulness is the indispensable ingredient.
~W.J. Cameron

Jesus calls us to gratitude. He calls us to recognize that gladness and sadness are never separate, that joy and sorrow really belong together, and that mourning and dancing are part of the same movement. That is why Jesus calls us to be grateful for every moment that we have lived and to claim our unique journey as God’s way to mold our hearts to greater conformity with God’s own. The cross is the main symbol of our faith, and it invites us to find hope where we see pain and to reaffirm the resurrection where we see death. The call to be grateful is a call to trust that every moment of our life can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads us to new life.
– Henri J. M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Living

Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all. ~William Faulkner

Grateful living: an alchemic operation of converting “disgraceful” things into grateful events. ~ Raimundo Panikkar

How to practice gratitude? Research shows that those who keep a simple gratitude journal felt happier, more optimistic, and even slept better at night. Renowned psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman guarantees that if you (a) write a 300-word letter to someone who changed your life for the better, (b) hand-deliver it to the recipient, (c) read it out loud to them, then “You will be happier and less depressed one month from now.” – reposted from Daily Good

In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give,
and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. – Deitrich Bonhoeffer

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.
~Marcus Tullius Cicero

Be sure to check out Nadia Bolz Weber’s sermon, Thank You (a sermon), on the classic gratitude text, Luke 17:11-19, Jesus healing ten lepers.

Parable of the Talents: Fearless or Fearful? (Matthew 25.14-30)

Parable of the Talents: Matthew 25:14-30

John of the Cross wrote that “In the evening of life we will be judged on love alone.” The two servants, probably more experienced in loving, fearlessly invest their portions of love. Heedless of sheer foolhardiness, they risk ego, rejection, derision, even death, adventurously increasing the master’s wealth of love in the world. The last servant misses the point, and like sinning against the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:32) the poor clueless man finds himself in the outer darkness for clinging to the supposed safety of burying his love in the ground. John Wesley comments, “So mere harmlessness, on which many build their hope of salvation, was the cause of his damnation.”
– Suzanne Guthrie, The Edge of the Enclosure

The Lord challenges us to suffer persecutions and to confess him. He wants those who belong to him to be brave and fearless. He himself shows how weakness of the flesh is overcome by courage of the Spirit. This is the testimony of the apostles and in particular of the representative, administrating Spirit. A Christian is fearless. –Tertullian

Cowards die many times before their deaths,
The valiant never taste of death but once.
– William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (II, ii, 32-37)

Only those who risk going too far will ever know how far they can go.
– T.S. Eliot

Whatever you do you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you into believing your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories but it takes brave men and women to win them. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Moving ahead requires us to face the present with its hardships and afflictions, knowing that these, too, are part of the way. To do this requires a measure of courage, that word formed from the Latin cor, or heart. In such circumstances, the challenge before us is not simply to avoid losing our heart. Rather, it is that of finding our heart, of living “heartfully.” – Mark S. Burrows and John H. Ohlson, Love is a Direction from Weavings, Aug/Sept/Oct 2012

Click here and here and here for three thoughtful reflections on this passage by Steve Garnaas Holmes

Zephaniah 1:12
At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, “The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.”

Philippians 4:13 (NRSV)
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Dear God,
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
… and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.
And what you want to give me is love,
unconditional, everlasting love. Amen.
– Henri Nouwen

For more information on the use of the scripture translation, art and this resource in other settings, please leave a message in the comments.

Prayer of a Minor Prophet by AW Tozer

will of god aw tozerFrom A Passion For God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer by Lyle Dorsett (Chicago, IL; Moody, 2008), pp. 65-68.

This is the prayer of a man called to be a witness to the nations. This is what he said to his Lord on the day of his ordination. After the elders and ministers had prayed and laid their hands on him he withdrew to meet his Savior in the secret place and in the silence, farther in than his well-meaning brethren could take him. And he said:

O Lord, I have heard Thy voice and was afraid. Thou hast called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour. Thou are about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. O Lord, our Lord, Thou has stopped to honor me to be Thy servant. No man takes this honor upon himself save he that is called of God as was Aaron. Thou has ordained me Thy messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and hard of hearing. They have rejected Thee, the Master, and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.

My God, I shall not waste time deploring my weakness nor my unfittedness for the work. The responsibility is not mine but Thine. Thou hast said, “I knew thee—I ordained thee—I sanctified thee,” and Thou has also said, “Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.” Who am I to argue with Thee or to call into question Thy sovereign choice? The decision is not mine but Thine. So be it, Lord. Thy will, not mine, be done.

Well do I know, Thou God of the prophets and the apostles, that as long as I honor Thee Thou wilt honor me. Help me therefore to take this solemn vow to honor Thee in all my future life and labors, whether by gain or by loss, by life or by death, and then to keep that vow unbroken while I live.

It is time, O God, for Thee to work, for the enemy has entered into Thy pastures and the sheep are torn and scattered. And false shepherds abound who deny the danger and laugh at the perils which surround Thy flock. The sheep are deceived by these hirelings and follow them with touching loyalty while the wolf closes in to kill and destroy. I beseech Thee, give me sharp eyes to detect the presence of the enemy; give me understanding to distinguish the false friend from the true. Give me vision to see and courage to report what I see faithfully. Make my voice so like Thine own that even the sick sheep will recognize it and follow Thee.

Lord Jesus, I come to Thee for spiritual preparation. Lay Thy hand upon me. Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet. Forbid that I should become a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling. Save me from the curse that lies dark across the face of the modern clergy, the curse of compromise, of imitation, of professionalism. Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering. Help me to remember that I am a prophet; not a promoter, not a religious manager—but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from the bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping. Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

I accept hard work and small rewards in this life. I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that I could make my life easier. If others seek the smoother path I shall try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly. I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes. Or if, as sometimes it falleth out to Thy servants, I shall have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Thy kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows. Teach me to use whatever I receive in such manner that it will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power. And if in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.

And now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Thy servant to do Thy will, and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven. Though I am chosen of Thee and honored by a high and holy calling, let me never forget that I am but a man of dust and ashes, a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men. I pray Thee therefore, my Lord and Redeemer, save me from myself and from all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others. Fill me with thy power by the Holy Spirit, and I will go in Thy strength and tell of Thy righteousness, even Thine only. I will spread abroad the message of redeeming love while my normal powers endure.

Then, dear Lord, when I am old and weary and too tired to go on, have a place ready for me above, and make me to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting. Amen.

Church as Healer and Redeemer

Healing Touch by Frank Ordaz

The church taught me that though racism steals, kills and destroys,
the church can partner with God to restore, resurrect and heal.
Christena Cleveland, Everything I Know About Reconciliation I Learned in the Church

At the time, I had nothing going for me. Well, I had killer abs, but that really was about it. I was an angry, hostile, but ultimately just kind of injured young woman. But for some reason, Suzanne Lynch saw more in me – something no one else (most especially myself) could see. She dared to think I was something more than the mess I was in the moment. She believed that I was not irredeemable – that I was more than the sum total of my mistakes. And in the end, that whole Suzanne taking in Nadia thing was like, I don’t know… emotional venture capitalism on her part.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, A Eulogy of Sorts…

I think Christians have yet to learn the pattern of redemption. It is evil undone much more than evil ever perfectly avoided. It is disorder reconfigured in our hearts and minds— much more than demanding any perfect order to our universe. Much of the Christian religion has largely become “holding on” instead of letting go. But God, it seems to me, does the holding on (to us!), and we must learn the letting go (of everything else).
– Richard Rohr

It’s worth any sacrifice
however great or costly,
to see eyes that were listless,
light up again;
to see someone smile
who seemed to have forgotten
how to smile;
to see trust reborn
in someone
who no longer believed
in anything
or Anyone.
-Dom Helder Camara

Matthew 10:1
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. … These twelve he sent out….

Apostle by Steve Garnaas Holmes
The word apostle means “sent.”

We are not given a mandate to judge
or an obligation to convert.
We are not required to argue religion.
We are given power to heal.

We need not muster up the strength.
We are given authority.
Christ is in us to heal.

May I be a healer today;
may I set free those who are bound
by spirits that diminish life.
May I cast out fear with love,
cast out greed with wisdom,
cast out anxiety with calm,
cast out anger and bitterness with deep listening,
cast out hate with forgiveness.

May I bear your spirit of peace,
the authority of blessing,
the power of love.
May I be a healer today.

Two Reflections on Betrayal, Denial, and Forgiveness

peter judas betray deny

Extended Quote from Destination: Known, Readings for Holy Week in the Upper Room Disciplines (2012) by Thomas R. Steagald
Sometimes our familiarity and haste we bypass verses of scripture. Because we already know the story of who “betrayed” Jesus, our attention in this passage [John 13:21-32] jumps quickly ahead to the conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter, the piece of bread, and Judas’s leaving the meal to meet with the religious officials.

But what of verse 22: “The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking?” …

Could it be that each of the disciples is humble enough, uncertain enough, to know that given the right set of circumstances or stressors, any one of them has it within him to do what Judas would in fact do?…

For only those who love Jesus can betray him. His enemies might hate him; others might disregard or ignore him; but only those who sit at the table can get up and leave, and only those close enough to kiss him can give the kiss of death. That Judas is the one who guided the soldiers to Gethsemane on fresh-washed feet, his breath smelling of sacrament, is a particular instance of what is possible for all disciples.

It is unfortunate that we so quickly rush to blame Judas, so quickly leave him and this verse of scripture behind; for indeed, this Holy Week calls us to examine ourselves, to hear Jesus’ prediction, uncertain of whom else he might be speaking.

Forgive me, Lord, when I turn away from you and your purposes. Amen.

Matthew 26:21-35
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” … Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.

The Seat of Greatest Grace by Steve Garnaas Holmes
Jesus, my Friend,
my Beloved, my Person,
I love you, and I will falter.
I will deny you. I will betray you.
Three times ten thousand times
I will deny you.
The silver pieces lie in my pocket.
I have the nails.
And you, knowing, invite me to your table,
to the place of honor even,
this seat of greatest grace,
beside you,
to share your bread with me,
and lay down your body for me.
I can hardly look into the sun
of such forgiveness,
love’s empty tomb
that defeats me,
re-makes me.

I confess. I return.
Knowing, I follow,
drawn in your grace,
this burden that is light.

Be sure to also check out Denial, by Steve Garnaas Holmes

Two Reflections on Jesus Praying in Gethsemane

christ-in-gethsemane-pExtended quote from Max Lucado, The Upper Room Disciplines 2010
It is a stark scene. Jesus praying in Gethsemane, saying, “My heart is ready to break with grief. …” Does this look like the picture of a saintly Jesus resting in the palm of God? Hardly. We see an agonizing, straining, and struggling Jesus. We see a “man of sorrows.” We see a man struggling with fear, wrestling with commitments, and yearning for relief.

We see Jesus in the fog of a broken heart.

My, what a portrait! Jesus is in pain. Jesus is on the stage of fear. Jesus is cloaked, not in sainthood, but in humanity.

The next time the fog finds you, remember Jesus in the garden. The next time you think no one understands, reread the fourteenth chapter of Mark. The next time your self-pity convinces you that no one cares, pay a visit to Gethsemane. And the next time you wonder if God really perceives the pain that prevails on this dusty planet, listen to the pleading among the twisted trees.

Seeing God like this does wonders for our own suffering. God was never more human than at this hour. God was never nearer to us than when God hurt. The Incarnation was never so fulfilled as in the garden.

Jesus, may I watch with you in your pain and so come to understand that you watch me in mine. Amen.

Matthew 26:40-41
Could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

We must have faith during the period of our grief. We think that our afflictions will be greater than we can bear, but we do not know the strength of our own hearts, nor the power of God. – François Fenelon

Stay Awake by Steve Garnaas Holmes
I slip into sleep,
a deadness I seek,
a trance of avoidance,
distraction’s pleasant coma.
I am numb to your world, O Christ,
to your suffering, your love,
unconscious of you here.

Awaken me.
Breathe yourself into me
and rouse me
from my fearful distance.

Let even pain keep me awake,
attentive to your pain
in all who hurt,
your love keep me alert
to love in all your forms.

Grant me this simple gift,
all you ask:
that I may stay awake,
trusting I am not orphaned,
and pray with you,
so earnestly praying for me
and all the world.
just stay awake my little time
and pray with you.

Let all my waking hours
be wakeful hours.