by Ted Kyle
There have been times when I wished that our Lord never said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23).
There have been other times-way too many of them!-when I conveniently lost total track of that verse and others like it. But they won't go away. They're solidly locked into God's Word, and they confront me, they challenge me, every time I let them. (Have you found it that way, too?)
I find two great problems surfacing in this text: First, Jesus laid it down as an absolute necessity. If we wish to follow Him-and isn't that the bare-knuckle definition of being a Christian?-then we have to do it. Our Lord didn't cut us any slack at all. It's as if He is saying, "Do this, or forget it." We are not allowed to pretend to be followers, if we don't take up our crosses every day.
Wrestling with Our Intimate Enemy
The second great problem inherent in Jesus' words centers on "Self"-myself, my old nature, your old nature. Self is vicious, our deadly enemy, and it is the nature we were born with. How hard it is to wrestle with Self, and win! I have noticed repeatedly that my own old nature dies hard! It's like a cat, with nine lives. Or like a weasel, which may slither away and hide when boldly attacked, or come on fiercely if it finds the least opportunity. Unfortunately, such opportunities tend to occur when I'm not praising God, when I'm not filled with gratitude for His marvelous grace, and when, to the contrary, my mind is absorbed with worldly problems or worldly desires. (Don't try to tell me your experience is so different-I'll think you're trying to con me!)
This is either the hardest stipulation our Lord ever laid down, or it is the sweetest. And sometimes it's one, and sometimes it's the other! Jesus' command is tough news to our old natures; it is received sweetly by our new natures.
So, what do we need to do? At the risk of being repetitious, here is what will not work: We can't kill this old nature in our own strength. This is our Father's task, and only He can accomplish it. He calls us to the battle, but the battle is not ours. Our part is prayer, faith, and patience. In one sense, we are to be vitally interested spectators, as the Israelites were spectators when they were pinned helplessly against the impassible barrier of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:13-14); and again when the Israelite army faced overwhelming odds in the looming battle with the combined armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mt. Seir (2 Chron. 20).
Not an Occasional Obligation
Next, taking up our crosses is to be a daily experience. I'm convinced this means we are to daily acknowledge first, our great need for divine grace, and gratefully pray for its outpouring into our souls. Every day we need a fresh supply. We cannot function as Spirit-filled men and women without it.
I am reminded of George Mueller's discovery of an excellent way to start each day: He said that many meritorious priorities clamored for attention each morning, but "the first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, but how I might get my soul into a happy state and how my inner man might be nourished." This, he said, he found to be more important than praying (with which he had started each day for the previous ten years). He found that very often he encountered a struggle-sometimes lasting as much as half an hour-getting into a spirit of prayer. Eventually he hit upon giving himself to reading in the New Testament, "searching...into every verse to get a blessing out of it.... The result (of this approach) almost invariably has led to confession, to intercession, to thanksgiving, or to supplication, so that although I did not give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately, more or less, into prayer.
"I scarcely ever suffer now (from wandering of mind). For my heart, being nourished by the truth, is brought into [experiential] fellowship with God. I speak to my Father and to my Friend (vile though I am and unworthy of it) about the things that He has brought before me in His precious Word."*
(to be continued)
*Brother Mueller's quotation found in a tract supplied by the Osterhus Publishing House, Minneapolis MN.
Ted Kyle served as managing editor of Pulpit Helps from 1993-2008.