Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple." Luke 14:27
An irrefutable, indisputable, undeniable characteristic of being his disciple is carrying a cross. And not just any old cross...one that God has specifically designed and ordained just for me, and me only, to carry. And if we look further into the topic, we find the Lord Jesus amplifying on the thought by saying I get to do it daily. (Interestingly enough there is no mention of a Sabbath rest from cross-carrying...oh well!)
So to be his disciple I am supposed to daily lug around a painful, shameful, weight of grief and woe that will ultimately be the death of me...
WOW, now that's what I call a powerful call to discipleship!! Makes me want to run out and follow Jesus!
Is it any wonder that we soft pedal the cost of discipleship when we preach the gospel? We tell people about the joy of sins forgiven and the promise of heaven to come, but we are conspicously silent about how serious a commitment they are making if they want to be a true Jesus follower. We stay silent even though Jesus had no reservations about putting it out there so that people made an informed decision about what they were getting into.
Maybe our silence is because we harbor a certain amount of animosity toward God for the cross that we are called to bear. (And when I use the word 'cross' here, I am using it in the context that most evangelicals put it in...some sorrow, grief, trial, tribulation, weakness, infirmity, etc that must be endured.) Could it be that we blame God for our situation in life and feel that it is horribly unfair and if he truly loved us everything would be cotton candy and unicorns?
Because we all know that my cross is the heaviest and the most painful one to bear!
What is interesting to me is that it seems that those who whine and complain the most about the 'horrible burden' they bear, actually have the lightest load. I know, because I have a tendency to be one of those people. My internal struggles with depression, insecurity and fear are a lead-heavy swarm of tormenting stings to me...and I to often am not shy about letting others know about it!
But those who really are under the almost crushing weight of a life-threatening trial or affliction, seem to be strangely silent about the pressure of it. They would much rather talk about the privilege of suffering for Jesus, the joy of hazarding their life for the gospel, or of how God is touching the lives of others through their situation.
One little example...
A friend of mine told me about one of the women in their house church that had a very aggressive form of cancer. When the group found out about it, they were very exercised to pray for her. Meeting after meeting, and in their personal times of prayer, they faithfully upheld her for healing. And nothing happened...
Then one day she said to them, "I really appreciate you praying for me. And it would be wonderful if God healed me. But I just have to let you know that I think your prayers are really resulting in the healing of those that I have been able to talk to during this whole thing."She then went on to recount how she was able to speak into the lives of so many family members, doctors, nurses, other cancer patients, etc., and give testimony of how God was moving mightily in so many of those lives.
So what if the 'cross' I'm called to bear was not made of lead and covered with fire ants? What if it was God's instrument of formation in me and method for witness and blessing to the world around me?
James put it this way in James 1:4:
" Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
And Paul had this perspective on his cross in II Cor. 4:17:
"For our light, momentary affliction (this slight distress of the passing hour) is ever more and more abundantly preparing and producing and achieving for us an everlasting weight of glory [beyond all measure, excessively surpassing all comparisons and all calculations, a vast and transcendent glory and blessedness never to cease!]" (You've just got to love the Amplified version!)
So what does it really mean to be a true disciple of Jesus? To take up my cross daily and follow him?
It means that every day he is going to put me in situations where I can be formed into that mature, complete follower of Jesus who lacks nothing and at the same time is powerfully affecting those around me, all the while storing up an ever-increasing eternal weight of glory that makes all the grief and hassle, "light and momentary."
Now that sounds like a pretty compelling recruiting statement for the next time someone asks what it means to be a Jesus follower, don't you think?