Self-denial. Delayed gratification.
I know, not exactly the best thoughts to draw readers in.
How’s this, then? Success! The way to prosperity!
Trouble is, most people think the two concepts are diametrically opposed to one another: self-denial and success. And that’s why success is a fleeting prospect for so many people. In reality, the two are inseparable. There is no success without sacrifice….in any aspect of life! Many people never succeed in areas of life that matter to them because they are unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices.
But self-denial is not easy….hence the word, “denial.” It doesn’t seem to to make sense that the only way to get things is by denying yourself things, but it is.
For example…. Several years ago I looked at a picture of myself and saw the embarrassing aftermath of gaining about two pounds a year over the previous fifteen years. I decided to lose weight. The first month––nothing. The second month––nothing. Then I realized that this was really going to take some work. I had to stop eating at lunch and dinner while I was still hungry. I had to stop snacking all-together (which was a KILLER!). I quit ice cream and sweets in general. I had to start working out. Believe me, as simple as it sounds, there were twenty years of habit to overcome and it felt like some pretty serious denial for a couple months. But then the pounds started dropping off and it actually became fun. In about six month, I lost the 25 pounds I needed to lose, and I kept if off for the next year. Now in the last nine years, I put a lot of it back on, and now I’m back to some self-denial again.
But like everything important in life, getting our bodies in shape takes sacrifice. Becoming a skilled musician takes self-denial (if you practice only when you feel like it, you’ll never be good). Becoming an athlete who excels takes self-denial. Achieving excellence at work takes self-denial (denying yourself the office gossip around the water cooler, the urge to procrastinate, the snooze button to get in early, etc.). If you want financial independence, you’re going to have to say “no” to a lot of things (like cars, toys, too much house, the latest of whatever, etc.). Success in any venture takes sacrifice.
But we live in a day when instant gratification is at our disposal. You don’t have to wait to get new furniture, you can just put it on your Visa. You don’t have to wait to get married for sex, it’s now ok to just do it with your girlfriend. You don’t have to save for a nice car, if you know how to breathe, you can get a car loan. But all that instant gratification has a price tag: spoiled relationships or years of debt and thousands of dollars in interest.
What do you want to succeed at? Where do you need to start sacrificing?
Jesus taught us that the ultimate success in our existence depends on our willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice––our lives! He said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34, NIV). He also said, “If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life” (Mark 16:25, NLT). Jesus taught that to achieve the ultimate in life, intimacy with God, it’s going to take some serious self-denial.
Maybe that’s why Paul used the analogy of an athlete working out in the gym to prepare for competition with spiritual growth. He said, “Exercise yourself toward godliness….” and then explained, “Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next” (1 Timothy 4:7, 8).
It takes sacrifice to develop your relationship with God. Yep. Lots of it. But Paul was right, the results are eternally worth it!