This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free, compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from an anonymous Christian source, there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
And anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:38)
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. (Acts 5:41)
'Take up his cross' -- it sounds ominous. This does not sound like something that goes with faith. Victory, blessing, peace -- these are the things which make you happy. But struggle, the cross, suffering, these have such a negative sound to them.
Yet Christians who have endured suffering, often consider it an honor to have been counted worthy to take part in Christ's suffering.
A 21-year-old Chinese woman from Guangzhou told us openly about the many chances she had in China to be a witness for Christ. 'Aren't you persecuted then?' she was asked. 'Yes' she answered, 'but that does not matter. It's the way of the cross.'
We are not asked to seek persecution and suffering. We are called to take up our cross.
Whoever has to carry such a cross, will be given sufficient strength to do just that.
'But rejoice' ... yes, it really is written there. 'But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed' (1 Peter 4:13).
A moment of introspection: The word "ominous" evokes mental pictures of impending troubles (e.g., looming thunder/lightning storms, dire predictions of societal and financial collapse, the resounding "boom" of approaching cannon fire during times of war, etc.). These all foreshadow pain, loss, and heartache. And in many Christian lives, these pictures would be held on a par with the thought of taking up one's cross for the sake of Christ. Taking up one's cross is anathema to many of us. But according to God’s Holy Word, the Christian life often involves unusual pairings. Victory comes within a struggle (e.g., Deuteronomy 20:4; Proverbs 21:31); blessings, we are told, come with persecution (e.g., Matthew 5:10-12); peace comes to us Christians in situations where its arrival and presence baffles the world around us (e.g., Philippians 4:4-7; Psalm 30:5b).
Taking up our cross is a conscious act of will. In C. Hope Flinchbaugh's latest novel, entitled I'll Cross The River (ISBN 10: 0-7684-2648-0; ISBN 13: 978-0-7684-2648-9; published in 2008 by Destiny Image Publishers), a "Gethsemane gift" is mentioned. This "gift" refers to Christ's passion-filled prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, giving Himself over to carrying out the Father's plan. In Matthew 26:39, Christ Himself received the "Gethsemane gift", and took on the willingness to suffer. In our lives, though we may be scared, terrified, or at least hesitant to suffer loss for the sake of Christ, the "Gethsemane gift" can still come to us--we "simply have to ask Christ to make us willing to suffer" for Christ's sake and the sake of God's Kingdom. According to our source and to God's Holy Writ, we are not asked to seek persecution and suffering--we are called to take up our cross. C. Hope Flinchbaugh wisely writes:
"God doesn't mind if we are scared; we do not have to be willing to be persecuted. We must only ask Jesus to make us willing to be persecuted. We must be willing to be made willing" [to suffer for Christ in this world -- emphasis mine].
The way of the cross brings with it reasons for rejoicing; Paul's letter to the church in Rome alludes to these rationales (Romans 5:3-5); James likewise wrote in his letter, that we should consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds (James 1:2-4). Blessings, inexplicable peace, victory, joy, honor, rejoicing, and more facets are apparent, of the rewards borne within the way of the cross. Do we wish to be overjoyed when the glory of God is revealed in this world? Be glad, then, that you are enabled to share in Christ’s suffering. The first letter of Peter says we rejoice not despite suffering, but because of suffering. Rejoice! "We are not asked to seek persecution and suffering. We are called to take up our cross." God will give us the strength to carry it. Doubt that? He gave Jesus Christ, His Son, the strength to bear the weight of the world's sin—in the accepting of and using of the Gethsemane gift. We serve an awesome God, amen? Rejoice!