The last thing any adventurer wants to prepare for is when things get tough. Survival guides are read in hopes their indwelling knowledge will never be put to use. Yet, every adventurer knows it’s a must to read them through and through. Fears of all the potential outcomes can lead to some hesitation about whether or not the adventure is worth it, but it always is.
Adventures cost something. And for many adventurers, that cost is literally everything.
Meet the disciples. Ordinary men, hand selected for the most extraordinary journey. Each of them answered the invitation to follow Jesus with a resounding yes, which meant leaving behind their jobs, their families, and lives in order to experience the adventure of a lifetime. The stakes were at an all-time high. Giving up everything in order to accept the invitation. Think of all the thoughts that must have entered the minds of these normal guys stepping out in faith just because Christ asked them to.
Jesus spelled it out clearly how much this adventure would cost them:
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” [Mark 8:34-38]
The invitation leads to an exchange: a life lost in order that it may be saved. Your soul for the whole world. Your self for Jesus.
Put down [your life], Pick up [your cross] and FOLLOW [Jesus]. It seems so simply put. But simple rarely equates to easy.
Elisabeth Elliott once said, “Let’s never confuse simple and easy. There are a whole lot of things that are very hard to do, but they are perfectly simple because God is telling you, ‘This is what I want you to do.’”
For the twelve disciples, they learned rather quickly that simple did not mean easy. God told them to go and make disciples and that simple command was the complete opposite of easy. In fact, that directive resulted in a very literal and violent loss of their lives for 10 of the 11 true followers of Christ. Five were crucified, two were beheaded, two were stabbed, and one was beaten to death with a club. The very first followers recognized how serious Jesus was about the denial of their selves. Yet for us, it is often the one thing holding us back the most from accepting the invitation in the first place.
Because let’s admit it, we don’t always want to deny our self. The cost to the 1st century disciples seems astronomical. For the most part, 21st Century American Christians will never be faced with denial of self in the form of our actual death. Instead, we must face a daily, minute by minute, death.
It comes when we choose to be slighted on Facebook instead of starting a thread of contention. It comes when we overlook an offense by a family member and blanket it with love and forgiveness instead of giving them a piece of our mind. It comes when we wake up…again, in the middle of the night to answer the whines of a toddler for yet another sip of water. It comes when we allow our spouse the last word on a “discussion” and give up our desire to be right in order to preserve the most sacred union. It comes when we redo that work project we have already completed without grumbling because our boss’ unrealistic expectations seem to demand more. It comes in all the small moments of every day when we want to do exactly that which leads to the path of least resistance and gives us comfort over character. Never easy, but always simple.
Jesus laid it out simply: deny yourself and pick up your cross. Your cross will always be that hard act of endurance that leads to His glory. Perhaps for you that means forgiving someone who it is hard to forgive or being patient with one who tests you in ways you never knew possible. But when we lay down all our rights—to comfort, to pride, to self-preservation—and pick up the thing that seems to be cumbersome and uncomfortable, we get the ultimate goal of this adventure: Jesus. Before we can ever step foot in His direction, we always have to lay down and pick up as our first act of obedience on what will undoubtedly prove to be an adventure of a lifetime.
Think on it: How is God asking you to deny yourself right now? What cross has He given you to bear?
Pray: Lord, show me how to truly follow after you. Show me the things you desire me to deny myself and how I am to pick up my cross in order to follow wholeheartedly after you. Amen.