“If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And you cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross and follow me.
This is Jesus talking and He says five very strong words not once, but twice.
you cannot be my disciple
If He speaks these words to those who followed Him, how much more strongly must they ring in the ears of those of us who carry Him – in whom He has chosen to place His Spirit?
Do I love Him more than I love my own father and mother?
Do I love Him more than I love my husband and children?
Do I love Him more than I love my sisters?
Do I love Him more than I love my own life?
My instant reaction is a resounding, “Yes!” but is this an honest reaction?
As I wrote this meditation several years ago, the holiday season was fast approaching and bringing with it a conflict between our traditional family gathering and a church service. Many families set aside church at such times, but for us this was not an option. We could join our family before or after service, but not instead of service.
Yes, to this day we are active in our church and would be missed were we not there. We may have chosen not to create difficulty by being absent. We could have decided to attend services merely because we knew we would feel guilt if we stayed away. We could choose to forgo fellowship with our earthly family in favor of fellowship with God for any number of reasons. We choose God’s house over the family’s house for one reason above all others. We choose because He has called us to love Him with our entire being, to love Him better than others, and to allow no one and no thing to come between us and Him. He does, on rare occasions, tell us to do something other than come to His house (the church) for our regular services. These times really are rare, however, and for us to absent ourselves without His instruction (express permission) would be a sign that we do not love Him above all others and all else.
Having said all that, I can conclude that yes, I believe I do love Him more than my father and mother, husband and children, sisters… But what about self?
This is where it gets tough for me. In general, I love Him better than my own life – my own self. For decades, my habit has been to crucify my flesh on Sunday mornings and make it get up early when it would rather sleep in. I often bite my tongue and forgive when my flesh pointedly does not want to, simply because the One I love expects it of me. I study His Word and pray because these things are absolute necessities if I am to truly know Him – and I want to know Him. Still…
There are too many times when self/flesh wins the argument. It may be true that I still love Him better than I love my own life in those moments, but you couldn’t tell it by looking at me. I am reminded of a friend’s experience. She was out shopping with her spiritual mentor when a sales clerk messed up. My friend tore into the clerk and then huffed out the door. She apparently felt convicted almost instantly, because she turned to the older lady and muttered, “Well, I guess I wasn’t much of a witness.”
“Oh…” the more mature friend replied, “you were a witness all right.”
Her friend’s point, of course, was that, like a man in the witness’ box at a trial, we are always being watched by those who witness what we say and do. The question is, do we represent our Lord well…or badly? Is our love for God strong enough that it will overpower our love for our own lives, our own selves? Is it powerful enough to still our tongues (as He would wish) when our flesh would rather lash out and cut deeply?
Yes, I do believe I love Him better than I love my own life. I am well aware, however, that I do not always display this love as He desires, that I must continue to crucify the flesh and improve my ability to walk the walk.
And you cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross and follow me.
There is a piece that makes its way around the internet on occasion; this has reminded me of it.
In the story, a man goes to God complaining that his cross is too heavy, too much of a burden to bear. God takes him to a room and gives him permission to lay down his cross and pick up a different one. Going to first one and then the next, he tries each and every cross in the room until his finds the perfect fit. Not surprisingly, the cross he carries from the room is the very same cross he carried in.
Each of us really does have our own cross to bear, and no other person’s cross will do. No matter how rough my life gets, no matter how busy, no matter how complicated, no matter how challenging or downright hard, I know one thing; God has it all planned out and knows exactly what the path ahead of me looks like. The cross I bear fits me for the path, giving me the learning experiences and tools I need to accomplish exactly what God wants me to accomplish, to reach the goals He has set for me. Were I to set aside my own cross and carry another’s cross down the road that lies before me, I would undoubtedly arrive at each turning without important things that I need, unprepared for what I faced and destined to fail.
It is not only obedience to take up our own crosses and follow Jesus; it is absolute necessity. His command to take up our own crosses and follow Him is not a command that creates a burden; it is, rather, a command that fits us for the journey and saves us from carrying burdens that were never meant to be ours.