“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever wishes to save his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25
There it is in black and white: the cost of discipleship. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, Jesus did not say, “Follow me and have an easy life.” He told us that if we are to follow him, we are going to have to suffer. He Himself set the example. The passage that immediately precedes this one has Jesus telling the apostles that he is going to suffer and die before being raised. Peter tells him that this should not happen, and Jesus rebukes him strongly: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Matthew 16: 23)
Like Peter, we are human and we think like humans. We like comfort and ease and try to avoid suffering, often at all costs. Yet, suffering is an integral part of life. We don’t need to seek it out. It finds us. Every person you meet is suffering in some way, no matter his age, sex, race, or economic status. Some are very forthcoming about their difficulties – they go on ad nauseum about them and will complain to anyone who comes within earshot. Others keep their pain entirely to themselves, and never let anyone help them carry their crosses. Others fall somewhere in between, perhaps sharing their difficulties with a close few friends. Regardless, one should always be kind. We never know for sure what crosses another person is struggling to carry.
Crosses can come in many forms – physical ailments, emotional pain, relationship issues, heartache, grief, employment problems, spiritual pain, and economic pressures, to name some of the most obvious. At any time, any one of us is most likely carrying more than one.
If we are to follow Christ, we are to accept those crosses and carry them. We are not to run from them. This doesn’t mean we don’t seek appropriate help for whatever difficulty we are having. It does mean that we accept the difficulties that have come our way. It means that we pray for God’s will to be done, even if it means that we will continue to suffer. It means that we trust that our suffering is serving a higher purpose, even if we don’t know what it is.
Jesus had to suffer and die before he could rise from the dead. So do we. This life is not about taking the easy path. It is not about indulging all our desires, or trying to collect the most possessions. No, if we profess to be Christians, the purpose of our lives is to deny ourselves and accept whatever crosses that may come our way. No one ever said it would be easy, but we have Christ’s word that it will be worth it!