Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Matthew 16:24-26 ESV
Do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.
Romans 12:16 ESV
It’s been a couple of years since I decided to participate in a Lenten fast. I’m a huge proponent of fasting and practice it nearly weekly in one way or another, during all seasons, but Lent is 40 days, and that’s a long time to commit to abstaining from something. Especially something that you love/crave/enjoy/indulge in. A fast is the practice of self-denial. It is an intentional withholding, in order to help focus our hearts on Jesus. Fasting takes effort and intention. Sometimes, it can take extensive planning and preparation, depending on what we have chosen to fast from. It’s work. It’s difficult. It exposes our longings and strongholds. It reveals the often-hidden underbelly of our souls. It reminds us of how human we are, how prone to wander we can be. How so often, we choose to fill our voids with the temporal instead of the eternal.
In words reflecting Jesus’ own in Matthew 16: 24, Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously wrote, “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Fasting calls us to surrender our own wants and ways to the ways of Jesus. To the way of the cross, which is to say, to fast is to practice dying. Culturally, this is not a popular topic. In a recent conversation that I had with a fellow Christian, about the topic of surrender, they pointed out how unmarketable this topic is. Even believers struggle to embrace it, because this kind of “dying to live” lacks the shiny appeal of the ra-ra-live-the-life-you’ve-always-wanted self-help theology that pervades bookstores and blogs.
Jesus’ words to his disciples no doubt settled on them like a sobering shroud. I can picture them all, standing around him, blinking at him, with their mouths slack in confusion and dismay. Is there no other way? They must have wondered. And we do to. Really?—this is what is required? But Bonhoeffer was right—”the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing happy life.” Bonhoeffer says that this surrender is the “beginning of our communion with Christ”. Death as a doorway. Surrender, an unexpected invitation into a different way of living.
Matthew 10:39 says that it’s in clinging to our life that we lose it. In surrender, in giving up our life for Christ’s sake is where we find it.
My own surrender has been an imperfect one this Lenten season. On one occasion, I actually forgot that I was fasting and indulged without restraint in the very thing I had decided to let go of. Another time I justified my indulgence with a flimsy excuse.
Fasting is hard. Surrender is painful. It feels like dying. Surrender isn’t sexy but it is sanctifying. It’s the only path to really living.
Resurrection only comes after the dying.
Sharing in community with Mary Brack for her Lent Word 2018 series.