Learning to Die: What does it mean to take up your cross?

A talk in church challenged us about “enlargement” from Isaiah 54. The talk left me with one key question:

What, actually, do I desire?

Until I can answer that one, all the others (such as “What steps do I need to take?” or “What’s getting in the way of doing this?”) are academic. The Bible says that if I “delight myself in the Lord” He’ll give me what I want. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that much of what I desire is more about delighting myself in me rather than in Him. Oops.

Beyond that, the talk urged us to consider our priorities, stop making excuses, stretch ourselves, and more. (Go to www.newsprings.org.uk to download the full talk.) But I need to get past that first base of desiring stuff that delights Him, rather than me, before those things become relevant.

I had a bit of a thinking / praying / writing session about this and scribbled all sorts of things about various aspects of life, the universe and everything. At the bottom of the page I wrote “Mark 8:34 – I haven’t done this”. The verse is something Jesus said:

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.”

You’d think that after 29 years as a follower of Christ I’d have done this / grasped it / worked it out. But no. Not really. Not if I’m honest.

To delve a bit further into what Jesus meant I looked at the New English Translation notes. They say this:

To bear the cross means to accept the rejection of the world for turning to Jesus and following him. Discipleship involves a death that is like a crucifixion; see Gal 6:14.

And Galatians 6:14, in turn, says:

As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.

Ouch. Double ouch. Triple, even. The NET notes go on to say this about Mark 8:35:

The point of the saying “whoever wants to save his life will lose it” is that if one comes to Jesus then rejection by many will certainly follow. If self-protection is a key motivation, then one will not respond to Jesus and will not be saved. One who is willing to risk rejection will respond and find true life.

See, here’s the thing. I know I’m saved. And when I was saved I never gave a moment’s thought to the fact that I might be risking rejection. So in that regard I kind of have to disagree with the commentator. But they do use a key phrase that resonates with me:

Self-protection.

‘Tis me all over. So I think I have a choice to make. Am I going to keep the mindset of “thus far and no further”, or decide to embrace discipleship that “involves a death that is like a crucifixion”? I know the choice I ought to make, of course, though I’m uncertain as to exactly what I do about it – other than telling God that’s what I’m doing. I’m afraid of empty declarations, responding to altar calls and suchlike. There needs to be, as they say, a paradigm shift – one that only the Holy Spirit can bring about.

So here I am, Lord. I know it’s a no-brainer really. Help me make that choice.

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