“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25
The Cross was an instrument of death. On it our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was sacrificed, bearing the wrath for our sins. But what does it mean for us to take up our cross? In giving this command, our Lord is calling us to a less monumental task, but still difficult. I believe Paul may have been thinking of this command of Jesus when he wrote in Romans 12:1-2:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
I think taking up our cross can be compared to offering ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. Many of us have heard and read these words of Jesus and Paul dozens if not hundreds of times. But still, we’re confused as to what this looks like on the hectic Monday morning or the lazy Saturday afternoon. Perhaps we think on too grand a scale, conjuring up pictures of martyrs and missionaries. What does it look like to be a living sacrifice in the humdrum of daily life? That’s harder to get our heads around. But let me share a few things it’s meant for me lately.
I am not in charge of my life
Whether you’re facing cancer, like myself, or Covid, all of us have come face to face these past two years with the fact that we can’t control the diseases that quietly grow within us, and the viruses that float around in the air. Many have thought they’ve done everything right only to find themselves with a positive Covid test. I certainly never thought I’d have cancer. I was a healthy marathon runner with no family history.
Taking up my cross in this situation has meant accepting what the Lord has given, knowing he is good and confident that he is wiser than me and knows exactly what he’s doing. There’s been a death to my plans and my expectations. I can’t do the things I want to do.
I don’t know everything and it’s not wise for me to know everything.
When I was about to get my port placed for chemotherapy, I thought it would be good to do some research. As I peered over the black hole that is YouTube I quickly realized that wasn’t a good idea. It made me more anxious. So I’ve taken my doctor’s advice. I can do all the research and watch all the videos and talk to all the people I know who’ve had cancer, but in the end, I am an experiment of one and there’s no way of predicting how I will respond to chemo. Meredith will respond the way Meredith responds. Yes, being fit and healthy going into the process helps immensely, and talking to some people is good, but I’m learning, in this situation and many others, that more knowledge isn’t always good.
I have always been the kind of person who wants to be in the know about many things – just ask my husband about all the sports trivia that lives in my head! But dying to myself means that I need to accept my limitations and realize that more knowledge isn’t always good for me. I must trust the one who knows all.
I cannot control what people think of me.
There’s a little book by Tim Keller called The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. In it he takes a passage from 1 Corinthians 4 where Paul speaks about how futile it is for him to worry about what the Corinthians think of him and even what he thinks of himself. It is only God’s judgment that matters and because of Christ, he has already been judged righteous.
Ever since I was diagnosed with cancer, I’ve struggled with how to tell people, when to tell them, how much to share and many other things. I quickly realized though that each person processes their cancer differently. Some want to be private and only involve close friends and family while others join support groups or throw themselves into fundraising.
I am a chronic overthinker and one way I overthink is in thinking about what other people think of me and more importantly what I think of myself. My reputation can be the greatest idol I bow down to. But with God’s help I am experiencing more and more freedom from that kind of bondage. Dying to myself means letting go of what others may be thinking and spending less and less time building or protecting my own reputation. I am in Christ, free from all condemnation. Isn’t that enough?
Look at the words of Jesus again. He doesn’t just say to take up your cross and follow him. Notice the promise he gives. Whoever loses their lives for his sake will find it. Amazing! Many of us read these words and think only of what we’ll lose if we take up our cross and follow Jesus. But look at what we gain! We will find our lives! True life, eternal life is found in Jesus. There really is no downside to taking up our cross and dying to ourselves. For as Paul said in Colossians 3:1-4, if we have been raised with Christ, our life, our real life, is hidden with him in God.