In Jesus' day, if you saw someone walking through the city carrying a cross, it meant one thing: that person was going to die.
So when Jesus said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24), it meant that we are to die to ourselves. We are to deny ourselves. The word "deny" means to say no to. It means to put God's will and desires above our own. Selfish people will find this outrageous, even offensive.
Maybe that is why the church is so weak and anemic today: we don't know that much about cross-bearing. Maybe if Christians stopped trying to be so much like the world, the world would start wanting to be more like us. Are we really carrying our cross today? Are we really dying to ourselves? This is what Jesus is calling us to do.
To deny ourselves and take up the cross means many things. It is as simple as reading your Bible when you get up in the morning. That is taking up the cross and denying to yourself. It means praying. It means bowing your head over a meal and giving God thanks, even in a public place. It means speaking up for Jesus Christ, even when it is uncomfortable or a bit awkward. It means being regularly involved in the church. It means giving of your finances to God. It means that in your marriage, you put the needs of your mate above your own. It means putting God first and yourself second.
Jesus said, "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 16:25). That is living life as it was meant to be lived.