I remember saying it in AWANA, speeding through a mile-a-minute. Those little jewels might have been plastic, but it was a big deal to fill up that little brown crown on my bright red vest. Someone, Denny Messenger probably, slowed me down and asked me to say it again.
I always memorized things in a sing-songy way, little phrase by little phrase and it almost always ended up sounding like an awkward poem. I would rock back and forth and scrunch up my face if I got stuck. Once successful, I'm sure I beamed as I grabbed my book back to review for the next verse.
Someone like Denny Messenger would take the time to ask what I thought Jesus meant when he asked the disciples to "take his cross" and I would respond in the same sing-song fashion that we have to "do hard things for God." Well, I'm not sure what I really said, but I imagine it being something like that.
Now, 20 years later, that verse is still hidden in my heart, along with a host of others from the NIV and I can't tell you how often I've been grateful for the early investment. When truth is planted, it grows and always returns blessings.
I was reminded of this verse recently in several conversations with friends. One of the conversations was about vision - is everyone supposed to have a specific vision that requires sacrifice on behalf of Christ? Another conversation was more specifically about understanding what it practically means to "take up your cross."
Twenty years is a long time for something to be hidden... you'd think the goodness of it would be exhausted by now, that there would be nothing to mine for in one measly little verse from an ancient book that an 8 year-old memorized, partially out of the desire to stand in front of a group of kids to receive a plastic jewel to put in a plastic crown on her vest. But, in the currency of grace, twenty years is an investment that proves its worth.
What does it mean to take up my cross and follow after Christ? What does it mean for 9 am and in the break room and for Tuesday night? Does it mean we start up non-profit organizations? Does it mean we live amongst the poorest of the poor, or at least give all our funds away? Does it mean we find something very, very heavy and then commit to carrying it?
What does it mean to take up my cross and follow after Christ?
My friend shared thoughts on the verse from a devotional that talked about the importance of choosing this "cross." It is not something situational that you cannot change, but something that you elect just as Christ elected to suffer for the joy set before Him.
But, "What do I choose? How do I find this cross Jesus speaks about?"
I wonder if we race too quickly past Jesus's first words in this verse, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself..."
Often, I think, Christians are paralyzed because it seems a great chasm exists between walking unencumbered and walking with a heavy cross. Of course, this chasm does exist - the Christian life is not easy or comfortable - but maybe the concept of finding an uncomfortable and heavy cross at 9 am and in the break room and on Tuesday nights is overwhelming to the point of paralysis.
"let him deny himself"
Just as the sanctification process is from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18), our "taking up of the cross" is a daily denying of ourselves and in the littlest things treasuring Christ first. Very few will feel the weight of a cross on their backs (though Christians are still being crucified), but we all choose what we treasure the most with the weight of daily decisions.
Are you willing to be inconvenienced? Uncomfortable? Awkward? Humiliated? Hated?
Do you treasure Christ more than you treasure popularity in the workplace? Do you treasure Christ more than you treasure your Monday night TV program? Do you treasure Christ more than you treasure your weekends of leisure?
We say no to the things we like in favor of the things He loves, because we love Him and believe His promises.
When we treasure Christ the most, our footsteps follow His into self-denial. We present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to the Lord (Romans 12:1) in the ways we deny ourselves and follow Christ into and through any suffering our treasuring of Him might bring.
Want to read about someone who is doing this well? I'm learning a lot from this young man and his journey to make much of Christ as he denies himself and follows Him. Check out this post and see if you don't agree.