Today on The Intentional Lent Series, professional counselor Jennifer Wier on what it means to carry the cross.
There is a solemnity that surrounds the season of Lent. This somber time of reflection calls to mind the long, lonely road Jesus walked from conviction to Calvary. Along that sorrowful journey, our Lord was required to carry his own cross. I imagine weighty wood rubbing bare skin already tender from whipping, heart lonely and bruised by the humiliation of having onlookers view his painful journey. Thankfully, you and I will never have to walk that road because our Savior walked it for us. But do you ever feel like the load you bear is grating on the already tender places in your soul? Do you find yourself lonely and bruised and feeling unfit for viewing?
I suspect just about every one of us is carrying something heavy. Maybe sometimes it feels as if it will be the death of you. It seems that God allows us each a cross to bear in one form or another. He places it at our feet and asks us to carry it for him, with him. In fact, he requires this cross-bearing of anyone who wants to be his disciple.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” -Matthew 16:24
Why would Jesus ask this of us? The command to “take up” our cross implies a willing action. Can we really accept such burdens willingly? For a sane person to take on something painful by choice, it must somehow be worthwhile in the end, but the end of this journey of cross-bearing is… death? Who in their right mind would sign up for such a thing? Maybe it won’t be our physical death that’s required, but we will have to die to self. That may mean death to our desires, our control, our dreams. Picking up that cross, we know, is the beginning of a death march.
No. We Christ-followers know the end of this story and it is not death. At the end of the walk to Calvary is… RESURRECTION! The new life that awaits us at the end of the road of suffering is everlasting life, and we are promised eternal reward for whatever we endure for Christ’s sake. Why would we not endure a short time of suffering in exchange for a prize that lasts forever? Taking up our cross for a little while in exchange for eternal reward is an exchange worth making! As missionary Jim Elliot put it, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Jesus is a trustworthy leader. He promises he has good things in store for us, good plans for us not only in the next life, but in this one. He always keeps his promises. Christ is worth following down any road, and he will sustain us under whatever he asks us to carry. Not only will he get us through it, he will bring us to life in the process! He is the God of resurrection and laughter and abundant joy! We really can trust that he has our best interests at heart and that whatever he asks of us will be worth it.
The burdens we bear this side of heaven are real and heavy. But I wonder if our reluctance to take them up might be a big portion of what makes them feel so hard. Every job feels difficult when done with an unwilling heart. Or maybe our burdens are extra burdensome because we are attempting to carry them alone, when Jesus offers to carry them for us in exchange for something lighter. Friend, I hope you won’t insist on going this road alone.
You and I, we could be people who willingly take up the cross Jesus asks us to carry, and we could rely on him to help us carry it. It sounds a little insane to sign up for this kind of life, but when we trust Him and trust that we are safe in His hands, we can take the risk. When the God who holds your heart and your story has victory over even death, there is no need at all to live in fear of dying, physically or otherwise. We can take up the cross in front of us, and, for the joy set before us, walk forward in faith. When our eyes are fixed on our eternal hope, that big burden will grow a little smaller than it seemed before. And at the end of the road…we find life.