And He said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23
I suspect very often Christians read this verse and feel it as a burdensome, worrying command. Yet it’s not meant to be. It’s meant to be a joyful invitation to encounter the beautiful power of God breaking into the world through your life.
If we think of Jesus, He didn’t come up with the idea of dying on the cross Himself. He followed the voice of His Father into a situation that was difficult beyond imagining for Him (see Luke 22: 29-46 and Hebrews 12:2). So much of what was human about Him fought against going to the cross. Yet ultimately He trusted the heart of His Father. He trusted that the heart of His Father is one of resurrection and restoration. And this is the key. Taking up your cross daily is not a matter of finding as many ways as possible to deny yourself and make life miserable. It’s not a task or a journey you make on your own. Taking up your cross involves following your heavenly Father’s voice, trusting in His heart and ways and commands in difficult situations that He calls you to. It can only be undertaken as a journey of intimacy.
If we are going to really follow after Jesus, He’s going to be yanking us into situations that require a strength that is not our own. People often say, “Jesus wants us to be dependent.” That’s true but here’s another way of saying that, “God longs to show Himself strong on our behalf. It’s just that there’s a time of weakness that must come before His strength intervenes.”
The heart of God is for resurrection and restoration unto His glory and power breaking out upon the earth. Yet if we don’t follow His voice into situations where we’re weak He finds it hard (because of the gift of free will) to show Himself strong because we don’t really need His strength. There is no resurrection without a cross. That is a truth written into the very fabric of creation.
Our God is a beautiful storyteller and His is the idea of the narrative arc where the key character finds himself in an impossible situation only for a beautiful resolution to eventuate. We love stories because every great story written by a human author takes its cues from God’s great story.
It always interests me that we love to watch movies like Lord of the Rings which depict deep trials for the characters involved. It’s like we enjoy watching other peoples’ trauma. Why? Because we also love watching their resurrection and redemption! Yet, when we find ourselves in an epic, difficult situation like that of Frodo and Sam, we complain bitterly about why God has allowed it to happen. It’s all about perspective. We need to get a clearer revelation of God’s heart toward us, His children. He is the God who is good. He is the God of epic stories that He invites His people to be part of. He is the God with a glorious ending in His heart and it is assured for us, His kids, whether on this side of the grave or the other.