Normal is now weird.
At least that’s how it feels this week. Our older daughter is back at college, the younger one is back in high school. I’m washing school uniforms, packing lunches, and standing on the sidelines while my daughter cheers at a soccer game. I’m alone in the house for several hours, and, except for the part where I’m also washing masks, it’s just like a regular ol’ September. It’s going to take me a few more days to adjust to normal again, though!
I’m sure this has happened to many of us – you come across a Bible verse that you’ve read many times before, but it suddenly hits you in a new way. That’s the case for me when I recently read this Scripture.
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” ~Matthew 16:24
What’s involved with following Jesus? Here’s what I take from this verse.
1. It’s a choice.
Jesus says, “If any man…” He’s not going to make us follow Him. God has given us a free will. You and I get to decide whether or not we want to pursue Jesus.
2. The choice is open to anyone.
He says “If any…will come after me…” We don’t have to meet particular criteria ahead of time or possess a certain talent level or go through an initiation process. Anyone who wants to can decide to follow Jesus.
3. We have to be willing to set aside some of our own wants and desires.
Do you know what I don’t like to talk about? Denying myself. I like to do what makes me feel good. Recently I asked myself the question, “What if every day I consciously told my flesh “no” one time?” Maybe that would mean passing on another cookie since I’m not even really hungry. Or not repeating that bit of gossip that I want to pass on. Or taking ten minutes to pray instead of turning on the television first.
Denying myself will mean setting aside my will and choosing God’s way. That can seem obvious in some areas, but maybe not in others. What about denying my self-dependence and leaning on Him instead? Denial equals surrender.
4. We willingly take up our burdens.
Burdens, trials, afflictions, troubles, suffering – whatever you want to call it, we’ve all got ’em. I’ve got mine, you’ve got yours. Note that the verse says “his cross.” We’re not to compare our cross with someone else’s cross. Rather we’re to accept what God’s laid out for us.
Through bearing the crosses that God has given us, we make progress toward holiness. The daily, even hourly troubles are the small things that mold us and prepare us for the big ones.
5. We follow Christ.
Live like Him. Imitate his example. Go after Him. These are all action verbs. Following Christ is accomplished as we actively pursue Him. Part of that involves getting into His Word. It will be hard to live like Christ if we don’t know much about Him.
If we’re going to follow Christ, that means He’s in front and we’re behind Him. We allow Him to lead the way instead of going off on our own.
Today let’s make the choice to deny ourselves, willingly pick up our burdens for his sake, and whole-heartedly follow Christ.