"Then He said to them all, 'If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it."
Luke 9: 23-24
When Jesus calls us to take up our cross, He is doing much more than calling us to endure the daily, circumstantial troubles of life. The people in Jesus' day were very familiar with the cross. Having witnessed crucifixion, they understood the commitment and sacrifice of taking up a cross.
It is a call to radical faith.
Jesus is calling us to be willing to suffer anything and forsake everything for the sake of the gospel. His call is to love those who have cheated us in business; those who have spread nasty rumors about us; those who would kill us if they could; those who disagree with us politically, practically, and fundamentally. His call is to consider everything a loss for His sake. His call is for total surrender. He calls us to give up all that we have, to give even to the point of offering up our lives as a living sacrifice. His call means realizing that His power is made perfect in our weakness, that when we are weak we are also strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10)Many times, I want a different cross.
Sometimes, I fall under the weight of my own cross and have a pity party. "Lord, if You ask me to give up all my earthly possessions and move to the mission field, I believe I'd go...with a spring in my step, even! But this cross I have been given to carry is too heavy, too binding, too unfair."
When rejected, I must pick up this cross and offer loving acceptance.
When neglected, I must pick up this cross and offer loving attention.
When misunderstood, I must pick up this cross and offer unconditional love.
Oh, but my flesh fights it with fury. Temper flares, and stubborn heels dig into the ground. Every cell in my being cries, "This is truly not fair or right! This cross is all too confining!"
Jesus is calling us to be willing to suffer anything and forsake everything for the sake of the gospel.
This part has confused me. Perhaps THAT is why I'm willing to sell everything and move to the mission field. Because I can see how that sacrifice is indeed for the sake of the gospel. Hence, no matter how very difficult it is, the exchange is worth it because it is for the sake of the gospel. But what if that isn't the cross I'm allowed to carry? What if my cross this week, this year looks different? And the question that absolutely stops me in my tracks: What if my cross doesn't seem to me to be for the sake of the gospel?
For example, what if my cross is to be mistreated by an old friend...or to offer forgiveness to someone who has deeply hurt someone dear to me...or to be pushed aside by someone I love? I've struggled with this: How are these things "for the sake of the gospel?"
Oh how I have begged for a different cross! I scream, "I'm made for more! Send me!! Let me go to the ends of the world to further Your gospel!" And I believe it's RIGHT to offer ourselves like that...to be WILLING...to volunteer to be sent. So many people stay in their safe little boxes their whole lives, never risking anything, never experiencing anything beyond their own safe world, their own country. I have a different take on life, mainly because of my wide experiences: living in 10 different states, traveling through many more states in the U.S., traveling to 7 different countries. Every place, every person encountered, every food, every language barrier, every different experience has molded me into someone who is willing to live on the edge for His Kingdom work. I crave it.
Many times, I want my cross to look similar to Mary Slessor's or Gladys Alyward's or Hudson Taylor's...KNOWING that they carried very very difficult crosses...but that they lived on the edge for His Kingdom work. They did what few have the courage to do. It is easy to see how their crosses were indeed for the sake of the gospel. The sacrifice is worth it when it's for the sake of the gospel.
The struggle inside me intensified... And after all the crying, complaining and wishing, I came full circle:
"Then He said to them all, 'If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will save it."
I have to deny myself. DENY MYSELF. I have to take up my cross. MY CROSS. So, albeit unattractive, I must take up my cross. Today that may mean offering forgiveness for being accused wrongfully or loving someone who has not loved me.
And how is taking up my particular cross "for the sake of the gospel"? I believe it's because it reflects Him. He forgave those who mistreated Him. He washed the feet of those who would betray Him. He suffered rejection at the hands of men, and He loved in return. That was Him...His ministry, His life message. Can I not pick up this undesirable cross and follow Him in those very things He Himself experienced?
Sometimes I can get too focused on wanting to know His Will for my life and wanting to do necessary work to further His Kingdom that I neglect and altogether forget the moment-by-moment following of Him. I'd rather pack a bag to move to a primitive hut to spread His gospel than to look an offender in the eye and forgive sincerely. I believe He wants us to be willing to follow Him to that hut...I really do. But THIS moment, right here, right now...He wants me to follow Him in the very next step on this road. If that means forgiving or loving or suffering, then THAT is His Will for that step. And it reflects Him and furthers His gospel to those in my path if I am doing as He does, loving as He loves. Step by step. And whether that path meanders beside a primitive hut somewhere, that is for Him to decide...and for me to simply follow.