I was impacted yesterday by the thought of dying to self.
It happened innocently enough at work - doing some minor work on some document, essentially word processing, when the thought drifted through my head about checking something out online for just a second. No, I decided, I needed to finish this, even though it was mind numbingly dull.
And then the thought plastered itself on my mind: this is what it means to die to self.
We tend to think of dying to self in big ways, grand deeds, giving up things - and yes, this is part of it, but perhaps not the core of it. It is relatively simple (I won't say easy, as it often is not) to give up a big thing, get support for it, and move on from it. But it occurs to me that when Christ says "Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me" it's not only the big areas but also the smaller ones.
And the smaller ones are more difficult. Why? Because they are often much more things that we only know about, the small and secret things of our lives that it does not feel like doing them or not doing them makes a difference to anyone. It makes no significant difference to anyone else if I choosing to work on a document for another five minutes and complete it rather than do my impulse of looking up something online - but it does impact my both my slothfulness and denial of self, and so is important to God.
If I then apply this standard to my life retrospectively (never a fun task, handle with caution) I realize that much of what I could have done, for Christ or in terms of goals, was constantly set aside for the goal of pleasing myself right now. In particular I think of one girl I dated after college (foolishly, she live halfway across the country) - I could never understand how the goals she had set for herself trumped a dating relationship - after all, this was love! But now, I see that in fact the pleasure of satisfying self (shall we call it the ugly term self gratification) was secondary to the achievement of the things that to her really mattered.
In other words, our selfishness prevents us from truly focusing on what is important. This is part of what Christ is trying to protect us from when He calls on us to deny ourselves.
Think of it - God has given us the opportunity, through saving faith in His son, to live with Him eternally in a place far beyond anything we can possible imagine. Furthermore, He has given us the capability of doing good deeds not that save us but for which He will reward us - and yet, we are far more concerned about making ourselves happy now.
In that sense, death to self can mean not necessarily the drastic "I must die to everything" but the far more insidious "I must die to pleasing myself right now."
For me, it will have to start small - even as small as five minute intervals or denying myself one more small thing - but every stronghold that I hold onto, every right I cling to as mine, everything that is directed toward pleasing myself right now is one more thing that neither brings glory to God nor will be rewarded in eternity.