Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’
I can honestly say I never recognized the meaning of this statement until the last few days. God’s vision of what it means to take up the my cross and follow Him was not the same as my vision. My vision had more of a flippant view. It was more… “Hey, I have some extra time on my hands, why don’t I help out someone.” Or ” Maybe today I will go help out at the food bank.”
I wasn’t sacrificing anything to do the things I thought were good. I wasn’t going out of my comfort zone to volunteer to do God’s work. It was easy. Actually, it was too easy.
When Jesus called us to do take up our cross (which by the way you can always say no to- and many did), He called us to an eternal life with Him knowing that it would be hard work. It was going to take sacrifice and sweat. It wasn’t just a workout. The intensity of taking up a cross is one that most people would say, “No thanks, no way, and now how.” Denying who I am, means walking away from it all – for Christ. Giving up all those things that seem to mean so much to me – for Christ. Giving up my opinion of how things should be, and accepting God’s vision; in other words, taking up my cross and following Him.
Being a disciple who denies himself:
- Letting go of your money bags – no more holding on to the “things” of this world that you think mean a lot but really are holding you back from God. This can be a lot of different things – money, family, friends, career, beautiful home, etc.
- Pride has to go out the window – the opposite of pride, humility, is a good thing. It brings us back to reality, and reminds us we are vulnerable. We need to realize we are vulnerable in order for God to mold us into a new person.
- Crush the control – everyone likes to be in control. Come on, we all want our world to be “normal” and “scheduled.” Surprises can throw a wrench in our plans, right? Some of us dwell on this more than others, but you cannot deny yourself if you keep trying to control every little thing in your life. Plus it will make you miserable if you try.
- Relinquish reactions to the Spirit of Love. This is my favorite – because I am a work-in-progress at this one. Basically to deny yourself is to allow God to take over in your heart. When we respond with love and compassion, we allow God to help us forgive, talk kindly to others, make decisions that are right, and that is exactly what He wants us to do. It’s called Grace.
Take up your cross and follow me:
- Accept struggles as blessings. This is one of the hardest for me. Struggles cause anxiety for me. They throw me out of sync with life. I get stressed out and angry (usually because I haven’t done one of those bullet points above). Yet struggles are ways for God to transform me into a better version of me. They are ways for me to allow God to take over in my heart and show me that there is an end to this. I know when I allow God to take over, I have great peace and joy – even during the suffering. But when I don’t, my suffering tends to get worse and worse – because I am controlling it – not God.
- Take time by yourself. When we take up a big, old, heavy cross, remember that God is doing it to transform us. So take time and pray about it. Take time away in a quiet place to think about what God needs you to do. Take time to recognize that He wants to help you, but you have to deny yourself first. And by the way, this is essential. You cannot possibly understand God if you don’t spend time talking to Him. Multi-tasking this is not an option. It needs to be done with complete attention to God.
- God did not call us to be comfortable. He says that very clearly in Matthew 16:24 that I wrote above! Unfortunately, a comfortable life means you are not being transformed. When you aren’t being transformed, then you aren’t going through the process that you need for eternal life with God. That is not something that people like to hear, but it is absolutely true. We are humans and sinners. We are a work in progress. There is not one of us that doesn’t need to change.
Going through the process of struggle can seem like torture to so many. I know it did (and still does) for me. The constant feeling of going one step forward and three steps back can be exhausting. Yet when I take time for myself, I realize that going through this process with the spirit of love in my heart (which is called Grace) changes the whole ballgame. Remember responding with love can make a horrendous struggle into a transformative blessing.