Take Up Your Cross & Follow Me
Recently I’ve been thinking about the call of Jesus to take up our cross and follow Him. Truthfully, I don’t like that verse — probably not many of us do. But I don’t think I really understood it. And honestly, I probably have never spent enough time thinking about it to understand it.
However, you can’t get away from the fact that the Gospel of Jesus is self-denial, but the gospel of Kevin (and this culture) is self-fulfillment and entitlement — comfort.
Self Denial or Oppression
For most of us, it seems the closest we come to denying ourselves is a diet. In our Burger King culture, we’ve gotten used to “wanting it our way” — on our terms. We are terrified that if we are denied anything — our dreams, our soapbox, or even the person we want to sleep with — we are somehow less human, less authentic. Nearly everything in the post-Christian culture says self-denial is oppression. That self-fulfillment is the only way to authentic happiness.
And yet Jesus says, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. That’s His simple yet terrifying call.
In his book Renovation Of The Heart, Dallas Willard says it this way, “Spiritual formation in Christ is the process by which one moves and is moved from self-worship to Christ-centered self-denial as a general condition of life in God’s present and eternal kingdom.”
Is This Too Big of An Ask?
This call of Jesus is massive. To take up my cross, deny my self (flesh), and follow Him is a huge ask. (Maybe that’s why he says to count the cost of discipleship). So you might be asking yourself, how can Jesus ask such a high call of us? Let me give you two answers.
- Imagine one day you were taking a walk in a field, and you discover gold. Enough gold for generations of your family. Would you be sad if you went home, sold all your possessions to buy the land? (Matt 13:44) That’s what Jesus is inviting us into. There is a sacrifice involved; I don’t want to make light of it. What lies before you could be extremely difficult and painful. However, Jesus promises that what is waiting on the other side is so much greater. It’s a life & eternity of fulfillment and joy. It’s a life with Him.
- Jesus has already set the example of a life of self-denial. Think about it. At His birth, as the King of Kings, He humbled Himself to be born a baby. To His parents, whom He obediently submitted himself to, even though He formed them in their mother’s womb. Every time the Pharisees looked down their nose at Him, and he didn’t call down a legion of angels to slap them in their smug faces. (I guess you know what I would have done). When betrayed by a close friend. In the garden, when He sweat drops of blood in anguish over the painful road ahead. As He accepted the cross, its humiliation and agonizing death. Jesus’ life of self-denial is our example of how to live this life He has called us into.
What Might God Be Speaking To You
Ok…so He has already set a precedent for a life of self-denial. What now? What might God be calling you into, specifically? Where do you feel the tug of the Spirit?
God spoke to me about accepting people, faults and all, and judging them less.
Let me throw out a few ideas and see if any resonate with you. How about being a servant — especially a servant-leader. Having more compassion & empathy. Releasing desires of sensual or material lust. Greed. Selfishness. Identity issues. Forgiving others. These are just a few examples. Maybe something else came to your mind.
How Do You Deny Your Self
The practice of denying oneself is not achieved by grit and personal strength. You cannot merely will it to be, no matter how disciplined an individual you are. Though it seems counterintuitive, it’s achieved by surrender and allowing your heart to let go.
Surrender in this sense is not closing our eyes and waiting for something to happen. It’s about relinquishing control while leaning into our relationship with God. And, in a relationship, both parties have to show up. We have our part, and God has His part. Our part is to surrender and abide. God’s part is to bring the work of transformation and healing. This could happen quickly or slowly — depending on God and the way in which we show up to the relationship.
For my part, I slow my life down. I keep to a pace that allows my heart to notice God. I practice gratitude. I pray. Read. Ask questions. Make comments. I’m quiet. I listen. And when I fail, and I do, I thank God for his grace and love. And start again.
This is what showing up looks like. This is abiding.
And God’s part. See if this sounds good to you:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matt 11:28-30
Tags: Spiritual Formation
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