Packs and pills and the way we live

Just A Thought...
Last week my wife and I joined two friends for a backpacking adventure in the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas. We left early Thursday morning and were on the trails with our packs by 1:30 PM. Our goal: 26.5 miles over 6 mountains in 48 hours with 20-something pound backpacks.
The first day wasn't too bad, just 7 miles. As we started our trek our conversations were fun and light-hearted while the trail was fairly mild and no mountains to climb. The trails maneuvered through the tall trees which provided great shade from the sun, a brief rain cooled us off before we got to a waterfall and spent some time relaxing in the river. We capped off the first time by setting up camp next to the river under the trees.
Day two began a little different. Before I could even step out of my tent I could feel the soreness of day one in my muscles. Day two was also the day of the mountains. The winding trails of day one turned into straight lines up one side and down the other. The soreness of day one turned into cramping muscles with each new step. We'd take a break at the top, and another at the bottom, setting our backpacks down for a few minutes. Of course for every time you set your backpack down, it meant you had to pick it up again, an act in which your muscles reminded you how much they hated you at the moment. But alas, after 12 hours we arrived at our campsite by the river for night number two.
Our final day was much like the first, but with the soreness of day two. Each step was a reminder of how close we were to the end and the reminder of what had already been accomplished. And as we arrived at our car and set our packs down for the final time, the satisfaction of accomplishing something that sounded good in words, but was challenging in action. And if asked if I'd do it again, the answer would be Absolutely! Just not today though.

Jesus gives us pretty clear instructions on what it means to follow Him:
"Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me."
Let's be honest, that's a hard pill to swallow. And not just the denying part, or the just the take up the cross part, or even just the follow Me part, but knowing this is not just one moment of our lives, but all these things, everyday of our lives. It's even more difficult to do so in a world consumed with the elevation of self. It's not that everything surrounding one's self is a bad thing. After all, we should take time for things like self-care and self-awareness. But what we must carefully consider is the fine line between the denial of self which Jesus calls us to, and self-denial which the world would call us to.
To understand the differences we have to differentiate between the two. In it's simplest form, the outcome of self-denial is for the benefit of one's self. Think of it this way. If a person wanted to lose weight, the deny themselves of specific foods or beverages. The goal is to change their exterior appearance or their overall health. Neither of these is bad, but the emphasis can be placed on the individual's own ability to create the desired outcome. On the other hand, to deny one's self is to glorify God in one's life. One way of thinking about this is to consider if you've ever wanted more hours in the day in order that you can have time to spend one-on-one with God, or if your day is built around your time with Him. Meaning, denying self means everything about who we are and what we do revolves around our intimacy with God. Another way of thinking about this is to consider what are the negotiable and non-negotiable moments of your every day. Not just considering which list you would place God on, but also would you be willing to let go of your non-negotiables for the sake of Christ.
Charles Spurgeon, a Baptist preacher from the 1800's, once wrote:
"The greatest enemy to human souls is the self-righteous spirit which makes men look to themselves for salvation."
If self-denial is an act of self-glorification, then in doing so we make our self not only the recipient, but also the source of any transformation which might take place. If denying self is an act of God-glorification, then we acknowledge that transformation which takes place can only be experienced through God, and not only do we become the recipient, but also the participant. Self-denial leads to a me-centered mentality, denying self leads to a God-centered heart.
Not only are Jesus' instructions to deny oneself a hard pill to swallow, but learning to do this on a daily basis can be just as difficult. Taking care of oneself can be very healthy and holy, but we must be very mindful not to elevate oneself in the process.

Grace & peace,

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