There’s an old hymn we sing once in awhile entitled, “Nearer My God to Thee.”
Nearer my God to Thee,
Nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross
That raiseth me.
Still, all my song shall be,
‘Nearer my God to Thee!’
Nearer my God to Thee—
Nearer to Thee.
~ Sarah Flower Adams, 1841
As with anything worth having, nearness to God is costly. Many claim to want a relationship with God, but have no desire to make any sort of sacrifice to achieve it. What about me? Am I willing to be “raised on a cross” in order to gain a closeness to the Lord that could not be attained otherwise?
More often than not, the conversation in my head goes something like this:
“Does it have to be that cross? Why can’t I have his cross over there? It looks a bit smaller than mine…”
“Why don’t I get to be some amazing missionary, dying for the cause of Christ? I’d rather suffer for doing something ‘important’ rather than dragging around this particular baggage.”
It is far easier to wish for someone else’s cross than to do the work of carrying our own.
Jesus calls us to lift up our own cross and follow Him. Sounds easy enough, right? Just lugging around some metaphorical wood doesn’t sound too daunting. But as the wood sinks heavily into our aching muscles, and unruly splinters embed themselves into our raw skin, we grumble endlessly over each agonizing step. “It’s so much heavier than that one. Maybe I was accidentally given the “wrong” cross. Why is this happening to me??”
Crosses take many forms.
Maybe you are reading this from a public computer, hoping you aren’t thrown in jail for reading Christian material.
It could be you have a spouse who is neglecting your relationship to pursue their own interests.
Maybe you have a child with special needs who doesn’t respond to anything “normally.”
Your cross might be your wealth and all the headaches that go with it.
Maybe you are poor, shamed by others for what you lack.
It could be that you are grappling with a debilitating mental illness… alone.
Are you caring for a parent with dementia or Alzheimer’s?
Are you the lone singleton among married couples, ducking those pitying glances?
Or maybe it’s something else…
The loss of a spouse.
The death of a child.
The betrayal of adultery.
The bitterness of divorce.
Confinement to a nursing home.
Crosses. Painful, shameful, crosses. Some monumentally daunting, others seemingly petty (to someone else)—but all an opportunity to witness the mighty power and unfailing love of our Father.
Do we carry our crosses with bitterness or use them as a ladder to unquenchable joy? Do we look up to God for comfort in the midst of pain or do we spit in the air?
Jesus said this to his disciples:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
~ Luke 9.23-25, ESV
Jesus, like a true leader, does not ask of His followers to do anything He was unwilling to do Himself. When we follow His example, we get closer to being like Him, and closer to our Heavenly Father. Are we willing to carry our cross in order to be more like Jesus?
Jesus died on the cross so our sins would no longer separate us from God, but the journey merely begins there. We keep on following after Him until this life is over. And Jesus said if we want to do that, we have to deny ourself and carry our own cross until the very end.
Deny self and carry a cross?!?! Yes. Nearness to God is costly.