It’s rather simple, just one word: inconvenience!
That’s absolutely correct, there is no way for us to be in the will of God and not, at times, find ourselves having to give up our private and personal choice of our time and even personal wealth. The will of God will always, from a human standpoint, cost us but with no apology offered.
Just as simply, Jesus called it cross bearing! He said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) — But the word “will” means “desire to.” If you desire to follow Me, He was saying. We choose to do it—not forced to do it, and we should emphasize that again and again.
Yes, let’s admit that Chuck Swindoll’s comment is correct, “God’s heavenly plan doesn’t always make earthly sense.” Yet, the host of heaven is waiting to come to help those who discover God’s will and obediently do it. What is a godly person? In one sentence I can tell you. It is the one who has no will but God’s will. And don’t worry about finding God’s will, God by His Spirit is fully ready to reveal His will to anyone with a will to do it. And Amy Carmichael, the faithful missionary, admitted that she started doing God’s will with a grim sigh and ended it with a glorious song.
Without apology He adds, if lifestyle convenience is our attitude and spirit—forget it, we cannot be and will not be His disciples. The Christian life is preeminently to follow a person—Jesus! To follow Him closely means to be in “intimate communion” with Him. And, we know we cannot embrace ourselves and Christ simultaneously.
Here is more, this special group of His disciples is pictured, “… These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth …” (Revelation 14:4) This cannot be following halfheartedly, occasionally, and spasmodically; no, it’s faithful following. In the Old Testament we find Caleb who followed the Lord “fully,” meaning faithfully. The Christ life is then not a code of conduct or routine of religious behavior—it is a person, following The Person! It is to experience fellowship with Him, with the Lord Jesus Himself, moment by moment. Let’s ask, can we find Jesus ever not in a spirit of self-denial, doing just what He wanted to do? We know that His days were spent in selfless love, yet always in endless fellowship with His Father. The same for us can be true too!
Here it is: taking up the cross is “the sweet burden that ever I bare: it is such a burden as wings are to a bird, and sails are to a ship …” Samuel Rutherford wrote this about his days in a dark prison cell. These are His words, “whosoever doth not bear his cross”—meaning we have a choice to make. The question becomes, “Is my life to be lived as a passive luxury or a purposeful undertaking?”
Jesus reached the Father’s throne, to sit in great honor, by the cross of sacrifice. (read Philippians 2:8-9) Of course, it was not by self-shielding or self-seeking. Even humanly, we do not honor people for what they earn but for what they share and give. Now, admittedly His cross stands alone and totally unique—but our cross is to follow Him in a willingness to be “broken and poured out.”
But wait! — Yes, wait for a moment! Think with me, Hebrews says, “for the joy that was set before him” (read it, Hebrews 12:2). Joy! Yes, joy! Joy beyond the cross! We must not think of our cross being as disagreeable duties that we do with a begrudging attitude. No, it is not that, it is not to be thought of as something that is reluctantly discharged with full misery as we are harshly prodded on by God in continual agony; rather, it is the way to joy forever.
No! Heavens no! Let’s not think negatively about bearing our cross; such an idea is totally deplorable and it is a very unscriptural concept of what bearing our cross means for us. It is not continuous trial and trouble that may be laid on us by God, sent to rob us from life. No! It is not that God loves to continually disturb our relaxation and get us up out of our “Lazy-Boy” as we watch TV. God does not come to rob us of our peace and to irritate us constantly; that’s not it at all!
Bible scholars point out that the cross in the teaching of Jesus is never plural, it is “a cross,” it is linked to a verb in the active voice. It is never passive. It is not misery laid upon us. For emphasis, notice, we “take up”—we freely choose to do it! It is not an undesired burden of life put on us by God (poor me!)—that is not His cross. No one becomes a cross bearer except the person who thinks that that world (God’s world to come) means far more than passing pleasures in this world. It’s trading trash for treasures. And if you think like that, do not be at all surprised if people think you are a bit crazy! Paul said, live “without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.” (Philippians 1:28) It will do us all good to remember when Jesus spoke of going to Jerusalem to “suffer many things … and be killed” (Matthew 16:21-13), please notice, “Peter took him, and began to rebuke him …” Peter dared to rebuke Jesus Christ for speaking of His faithfulness to His cross! The point is, if we are to carry our cross faithfully, some will think we are taking it too far and others will remain silent, shake their heads, and think we are crazy! That’s the way our world thinks about the cross. I fear the average Christian is more geared to react in that way than we would ever imagine. The word “hatred” seems too strong, but it’s not. The world hated Christ and His cross; it became an absolute scandal. (read Galatians 5:11) Yet, Paul said, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). People are offended by people who live with a “not I but Christ” attitude.
However, be guarded against turning the cross into what A. W. Pink called a “weapon.” He said that we must not use our devotion to assail people of a lesser commitment. Such people, Pink said, “parade their self-denial and go around insisting that others should follow them.” This kind of thinking is pharisaical and nothing like the Lord Jesus. So, we must mind our own business and make sure we are faithful without harshly judging others and somehow inferring we are superior to them. Humility will control our tongue and attitude.
The cross is to us a principle of life—the cross today and a crown tomorrow; that alone should drive us on. Humility should characterize the spirit of a cross-bearer. If His will for us never brought present joy and eternal rewards, a true crucified Christian would still praise Him and desire to follow faithfully. We will not just desire the celebration in His kingdom while we deny the humiliation in His cross.
Please read slowly and thoughtfully—bearing the cross is a mission God gives us in life. It brings to us far more thoughts of joy than any brooding from sacrifice! The cross is a totally voluntary surrender to God—because we desire to do it! — Want to, it’s never have to! God does not browbeat us. Is there joy? Yes, much joy. But is there pain? Very often there is pain! There was pain in the cross of Jesus, and there will be in ours. John Flavel said, “no man has a velvet cross.” We may sob and cry as we take up our cross—yet there is joy!
Yes, joy unspeakable as we live in obedience, but again, it is voluntary, not compulsory. It is chosen, continuous faithfulness, without reserve. In the end—you would rather do it than anything else in the world! To mature in Christ is to love bearing the cross.
Jesus said, “If you save (self-centeredness) your life, you lose it (the full meaning of it).” Self-centeredness is the short road to misery and ultimately boredom. It is centered in this world and what it can give to us, this world only! “… he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (I John 3:16) This secret, “he laid down his life,” said William Sangster, “makes us invincible,” and it is also the secret to strange vitality; we have the strength to go on and on. In the end we have one or the other, a strong will or sentimental wishes.
There can be no faith in a person unless there is faithfulness, and it must be seen as an everyday lifestyle. “I know of nothing which I would choose to have as the subject of my ambition for life,” said Spurgeon, “than to be kept faithful to my God till death.”
And finally—it is always shared; that is, we are doing it with Him and His other disciples. He is with us in it and we are with Him as we do His will in taking up our cross and following. And that is life in its fullness, He promises that to us. The cross leads to life in its fullness, after it has led to death to self.