34And he called the crowd and his disciples and said to them, “If anyone wishes to follow after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and let him follow me. — Mark 8:34
[I apologize for getting out the last several devotionals a bit late. I’ll try to get them back to very early morning shortly.]
I don’t actually have any statistics on this, but I think this is one of the most commonly cited verses by serious Christians. By â€œseriousâ€ I don’t simply mean committed, but those who are realists about their spiritual life, and who know that spiritual growth requires discipline. (Such discipline also must come in balance, but that is a topic for another day.)
Normally, we quote this text when someone is facing extraordinary hardship. The missionary who is going to a difficult country is said to be â€œtaking up his cross.â€ The person who endures the loss of a love one, while remaining faithful to God is said to be â€œtaking up his cross.â€ When we endure persecution, we’re taking up our cross.
It’s not surprising that we use the text this way, because Jesus quite literally took up his cross, gave up his own preferences of the moment, and submitted to his father’s will, going to the cross for us. Our daily hardships, if borne faithfully, are like hisâ€”though smaller.
But I’d like to look at taking up one’s cross in a different way. In studying for my Bible Pacesetter presentations on Mark 12:28-34 this week, I came across the following quote from the Interpreter’s Bible, exposition on the passage, speaking of the young man who asked about the first commandment:
He is a model for the right approach both to Christ and to the scriptures. The psalmist speaks of “inquiring” in the temple (Ps. 27:4). We do so many other things there. We talk, we pray, we sing, we give. But so many never really inquire. That is the attitude which Jesus so eagerly welcomed. It is the reverent, humble search to learn the will of God for us and for our time; vastly different from the frequent attempt to bend the Almighty around until we can use him as a support for policies and points of view which we have already decided upon without reference to him. So often the common question “What would Jesus do?’ does not mark the beginning of a search at all. It marks the beginning of an argument. The conclusion usually runs something like this: “So, you see, Jesus would do just what I am doing.”
We need to learn to take up our cross in the common everyday events, especially in the constant decisions of our personal and work lives. What does this mean? It means that I inquire of God, leaving aside my own agenda. I don’t ask, â€œHow can I accomplish what I want to?â€ but â€œLord, what do you want me to accomplish and how?â€ It means getting rid of my anger at someone before I take action.
This last point brings me to forgiveness. So often we take forgiveness as something that must actually involve the offending party. If they are not sorry we view forgiving them as some sort of major sacrifice on our part. We’re giving them this undeserved forgiveness, and we’re â€œtaking up our crossâ€ by enduring the hardship of that forgiveness. That’s a wretched, pitiable sort of forgiveness. You go through all the pain without any of the joy.
But forgiveness isn’t a gift you give to someone else, though it may function as such. Forgiving someone else is really a gift you give yourself. How is that? Because truly forgiving someone clears your mind, let’s you think rationally, lets you hear God more definitely, and lets you act without regrets. Sometimes people think forgiveness means that I can no longer do anything to deal with the situation.
Let’s imagine, for a moment a person who has done something dangerous at work. As a supervisor, you are angry. You want to get them! They have threatened your security! Your job could even be in jeopardy! You rush from your office, call them names, and fire them. In the days that follow you wonder whether you acted appropriately. You know you were angry, and weren’t thinking clearly. You’re very likely to justify your action to yourself, because you have to. You can’t really admit that you reviled someone publicly and fired them when that wasn’t the best choice.
Now deal with the same thing after taking up your cross. You give up your anger, your worries about your own job. You’ve taken up your cross, meaning you aren’t pulling for #1 any more; you’re interested in the safety of others, the success of your office team, and your company. You get rid of the anger that is related to your own concerns. This may take time and prayers, but whether it’s with a coworker, or with your children, taking the time to pick up that cross is going to be worth it when you deal with the problem.
Now you consider just what this person you supervise has done. How does this relate to the job place? Can this person be brought up to standards and be valuable. It’s possible that someone may have to be fired; it happens. People get in the wrong job. There are folks who truly cannot be trusted in certain situations.
But the bottom line is that people who have picked up their crosses make better decisions.