This last Sunday, the message at my church was about our “crosses to bear.” In Luke 14:27, Jesus says “And whosoever does not bear is cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” So often, it was pointed out to us that the statement “that’s just my/his/her/our/their cross to bear” is used in reference to circumstantial hardships and/or those hardships that come about as a result of sin; but that’s not exactly what Jesus meant.
Jesus’s cross to bear was a literal cross for crucifixion; it was not a circumstance – it was His choice. It was His willing sacrifice for us. Though it was a necessary one, He definitely could have changed His mind.
One of my favorite scriptures is when Jesus is in the garden just before He is arrested and He says in prayer, “Abba, Father… everything is possible for You. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.” This scripture screams so many things, but what is most provoking about it for me is His emotion. Jesus was fully God, yes, but He was also fully man. He STRUGGLED. It really shows His choice in the matter. He knew He was not here for Himself, not even for us necessarily – He was here for the Father, to do the Father’s will, and He was willing to lay down His life, to sacrifice in order to follow the plan that God had laid out for Him.
All things considered, our crosses to bear probably do not have much to do with, if not have anything at all to do with our circumstances or the messes we can make with our sin. Our cross to bear is something we willingly sacrifice to walk more closely with God, to more fully walk in His path for our lives.
I’ve long debated the idea of fasting and honestly have never been able to bring myself to the point that I fast from food. So much in me is tied to being worried about eating healthy or dieting so I’ve focused more on fasting from things that won’t give me an opportunity to misuse the purposes – for instance, I will fast from make-up leading up to a be.you.ty project event, or from television for a night or two in order to give more of myself to seeking Jesus in an area.
This year, after that message and just a few things God has been working in my heart – exposing a lot of excuses that I have made for idolatrous addictions – I have decided that I will be taking up my cross this year and observing a Lenten fast, from Ash Wednesday until Easter, even though it is a Catholic tradition and I am not Catholic.
Some people are jaded to the idea of Lenten sacrifices because so many either misunderstand it or treat it like a game. For example (and from my personal experience) some people might act as if traditions like Lent will earn us a rite of passage into heaven, which also is not true. Jesus Himself says in John 14:6 that He is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one can come to the Father except through Him. He is the only doorway to heaven; works matter, but works alone cannot get us in. On the other side, some approach Lent like a New Year’s Resolution for superficial self-improvement that they hope to accomplish in their own might or strength. I know more than a few who have given up things like junk food or chocolate in an attempt to lose weight over Lent, and I just don’t’ think that’s right. A sacrifice is something that is hard to part with. Using the same comparison as before, Jesus was willing to sacrifice His life. Not that anything we could ever give would ever come close, but does giving up chocolate for 40 days sound at all comparable anymore? (If you’re a true chocoholic – I know there are some out there – then obviously you probably have a point).
For me personally, I will be laying down two things in the hopes of giving more of myself to walk in obedience: social media access via my cell phone and the snooze button on my alarm clock.
You would probably have to know me on social media or know me well personally to understand, so I’ll explain for those who don’t: I currently have access to one personal account, one business page, and four ministries’ pages on Facebook; I have a personal Twitter, three ministries, and another business; and on Instagram I have acess to my personal account, as well as three ministries. This does not include my LinkedIn, two blogs, three email addresses (not including my work email), or the texting and web browsing capabilities of my phone. A lot of what I do goes through my phone and because most of it is ministry, I have used it as an excuse to nurse and maintain a solid addiction, so I am inspired by the Lenten tradition to lay that down before Jesus and allow Him to work in my heart and fill the void that the lack of instant social gratification will leave because it’s a void He should fill in the first place.
As for my snooze button, those of you who are fellow non-morning people will understand this struggle. I have to be up by 5am every morning in order to get my daughter where she needs to be and get to work. This is, for at least the first 15 minutes of my day, the most miserable part of it, and because of that, I use my snooze button a few times. And then a few more times. I lack a lot of discipline and self-control in the matter and as a consequence, I am often late to work – a conviction I have chosen to put in a shoe box on the shelf in order to sleep more. It all boils down to a lack of discipline and self-control, which according to Galatians 5:22, is a fruit of the Spirit. I have for a while now been very interested in spiritual gifts, fruits of the Spirit, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit and I really do believe that it is an area of my life that the Holy Spirit is wanting to work on me, if only to strengthen His influence in my life. I believe this because I will be fully dependent upon the Holy Spirit to get me out of bed and to stay out of bed and avoid all temptation to hit that button that gives me 9 more minutes. Getting out of bed on time will allow me, also, to give my mornings to the Lord in prayer and in study, and hopefully, He’ll help show me the joy that the Bible refers to! (Psalm 30,).
They might seem trivial, but they are huge sacrifices for me. They’re scary even, if I’m being totally honest. They’re emotionally taxing, and I have definitely spent time in a garden of my own, asking God if there’s anything else I could possible give up instead – and in that question I know these are the two best things to give up, because I don’t want to. He wants me to. And not my will, but His will be done. And no matter how many times I ask, I am comforted knowing that because Jesus has faced above and beyond far worse in His own experiences, He will have no problem walking me through and bearing the weight of my own miniscule in comparison sacrifice.
Though fasting and pursuing the Jesus devoutly should be a practice we are free to and arguably should engage in all year round, I can agree that this is a wonderful time to do so – everything about it is symbolic, but God uses symbolism in huge ways throughout history and all over the Bible. It’s hard to think anything less than those symbols, especially sentimental ones, mean something to Him. Jesus was tried for 40 days in the wilderness, completely dependent upon the Father for His ability to stand firm and sinless; let us sacrifice, really sacrifice, for 40 days and fully depend on Him to help us to also stand up under the temptation we will most definitely face. Let us pick up our crosses and carry them, and let us do this leading up to the days that He gave His all for us, culminating with the most amazing and holy of holidays: Easter Sunday, the day He rose alive again!
Are you participating in Lent? What are you giving up? And what are your motivations for sacrificing?