Have you ever heard the saying, “He pulled himself up by his bootstraps?” This is a reference to someone who did it himself. He was the captain of his own fate. He worked hard and accomplished goals. It is the story of the infamous Frank Sinatra song, “I Did It My Way.” At first blush, it might seem like an admirable thing to do, a person you may want to be: one who climbed to the top of the heap and made a success of himself. But it reminds me of the Bob Mumford story about the man who went to heaven and proclaimed, “I’m a Self-Made Man.” And Jesus said in return, “You look it.” 

In this poignant passage in Mark we are invited to take a closer look at the choices we have made in life. Do we live by “self-denial” or by “denial of self”? To a casual observer, they may seem like the same thing, just worded differently. But they are the opposite. When we live in self-denial, the power comes from within ourselves. We are in control and totally dependent on our will-power and inner (self-generated) strength. In any bookstore (remember them?) we could go to the “Self Help” section and find rows and rows of books and CDs telling us how we can improve our lives … by ourselves, on our own. However, denial of self is quite different. We tend to embrace and protect our “self” at all costs. We will nurture it, coddle it and do anything but deny its needs. On one hand, this can be good. We want our souls, our “self” to be full and satisfied. And things seem to go well until the Holy Spirit begins to direct our path toward denial, which may, in the short-term, bring discomfort or a feeling of being left out or denied something we “felt” we needed or deserved. Then the battle begins. 

Denial of our self means we do not get our way. We are called to submit to the will of another. God’s will. Ultimately, following His will can bring us to total fulfilment and growth. Our part is simple, yet sometimes painful: obedience. Our will wants what it wants, and it wants it now. In denial of self, we are asked by the Holy Spirit to let go of certain dreams and plans in order to follow a higher calling, a godly calling. 

The next time you are tempted to do it yourself in your own strength, pause and ask the Lord how you should proceed. He will guide you in His strength and power, and you won’t have to use your own “bootstraps.”

By Chip Whitman
Pastor of Care & Counseling

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