The last few months have been an opportunity to learn a lot about suffering for Jesus and denying myself. If you know the Bible, you know that, in Luke 9:23, Jesus lays out that to follow Him means “you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (NLT). That sounds simple enough, but let’s break it down.
Jesus tells us to give up our own way. So, it’s no longer about what I think is best, how I think something should be done, nor is it about when I think He should do something, where, nor why. It’s about letting go of all of that and letting Him be God!
Then, I’m to take up my cross daily. A cross was not a pretty image, nor was it some lovely jewelry or artistic ornament. Rather, a cross was a clear implement of death! Taking up my cross means my flesh gets put on that cross every day! When I get up in the morning, my flesh knows it’s going to be dying that day.
The last part is following Him. If you can get through those first two, this last one is easy! But the focus of this post is mostly that second one. My flesh needs to die!
Let me take a moment and say something that I amNOT talking about: suicide! Suicide is another lashing out of my flesh, but I am also NOT condemning those who have been overcome by the demons in this world and made that choice. What I AM SAYING is that no one should read this post as an excuse nor an endorsement for such an offense. Your life, no matter how you see it, is VALUABLE! You are here because Jesus has purpose for you; don’t turn your back on that purpose!
Now, back to my flesh being put to death. Jesus carried a cross; He hung on a cross, too! He calls us, as disciples of Him, to follow in those footsteps. And that often takes place through suffering. This may be extreme suffering under persecution or just supernatural suffering brought on by family, friends, jobs, or children. Be it persecution, a difficult or troubled child, or a physical challenge due to birth, accident, or even a bad choice, if you follow Jesus, you will experience suffering.
“Wow! Great marketing, man! I bet everyone will want to follow Jesus, now!”
No. It’s not marketing; it’s the truth. And if you choose to follow Jesus or choose to deny Him, I’d rather give you the truth and let you decide based off honest truth/facts rather than lies and emotions. But that suffering you’ll endure, it’s not without cause nor without purpose.
“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not drive to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jess may also be seen in our bodies.”2 Corinthians 4:8-10
As God has settled my family into a new (to us) home, and as He begins a process of restoration, I’ve become keenly aware of my own sufferings. I literally have therapists telling me how I need to engage in more “self-care” (their term for taking a lunch out, massage, or other things to help de-stress). And while I respect these therapists’ opinions, I seek to honor Christ above all else. That doesn’t mean I can’t get a massage, nor does it mean that I should stress and have a heart attack! What it means is that my de-stressing should be, first, by casting my cares upon Him. Second, I should let Him guide me to the things I need to do. Some years ago, a friend gave me a gift certificate for a massage, and I learned how amazingly loose a massage can make me, restoring a good deal of energy/flexibility. But even in this, it wasn’t something I sought out in place of the Lord, but rather, it was something I received while walking with Him.
Suffering sucks! I will readily admit that! No one seeks out suffering, and no one should. But when faced with a choice to feed my flesh, my desires and pleasures, or to accept some pain or suffering, one should first press into Jesus, and then accept the road of pain/suffering over the road which would encourage one’s flesh. One’s spirit will always be encouraged and uplifted by spending time in the Bible and in worship of the Almighty and Jesus. When Believers place themselves into the hands of the Almighty, by the aforementioned time in the Bible, in worship, and also in prayer, then pain and suffering no longer hold the potency they once did, and we can step into pain/suffering with the knowledge that God has a purpose and is using it for His glory.
When we get to Heaven and enter into the glory of the Lord, what a sight that will be! Many of us believers have no idea how much the Lord has done through us and our pains. Equally so, I suspect that many of us will find ourselves marveling that He used us even in our worst moments. This does not excuse us; we are to be in communion with Jesus, every day. We need to be constantly connected with Him, letting Him flow through us and into our interactions, activities, and thoughts. But even when we fail, He is faithful. Even when we think we have lost it, He is the one holding it all together, making it work for the best.
What an amazing God! What a glorious Father, we serve, then! He has given us everything, taking from us the worst of our refuse, and suffering, in our place, on the cross, and rising again because He is that powerful! Death could not hold Him! The cross could not fell Him! And my worst days are not a surprise to Him! He uses them! Praise God!
I can’t close this any better than Jude closed his letter, and so, with the words of Jude, I close this blog…
“Now, all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and bring you with great joy into His glorious Presence without a single fault. All glory to Him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are His before time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.”Jude 24-25
Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10