Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Those Heavy Crosses!

            Matthew 10:38:  “and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

            Oh, those crosses that we are asked to carry!  They can be so awkward, heavy, and discouraging.  Maybe it’s the cross of loneliness or a job you don’t like, financial concerns or a too-small house, a broken family or a difficult relationship.  None of us like to carry these crosses, these burdens and heart-aches.  That’s why we have to be told to do it.  Because our natural instinct is to not carry them, to try to get them off of our backs and take the easy way.   
            And doesn’t it often feel like you didn’t really do anything to deserve some of those crosses?  Like Simon (Mark 15:21), you are just walking along and minding your own business when, out of nowhere, someone grabs you and lays a cross on your back and forces you to carry it.  And the kicker is that Simon wasn’t even one of the people screaming for Jesus’ death.  He was from out of town, just passing through all the hoopla.  He wasn’t part of the group that was crucifying Jesus (as far as we can tell).  And yet, he was the one chosen to carry the cross.  What a shock!  What a change of plans!  What an incredible, unexpected, “unfair” burden!     

            What do I do when a cross – a trial or heavy burden - gets laid on my back?
            I complain.  I struggle against it.  I try to shove it off and get free. 

            What did Simon do? 
            He carried the cross for Jesus.

            In fact, I will fight it for a long time.  And the more I do, the more discouraged I get and the heavier that cross becomes.  I will bemoan my situation.  I will try to take control of things and restructure them to be the way I want them to be.  I will daydream about how much nicer it would be if things were the way I think they should be.  I will pray with an underlying attitude of despair and discouragement, with an unspoken attitude of:   
            “Lord, You couldn’t possibly expect me to carry this!  It’s not the way things are supposed to be.  It doesn’t bring me joy.  Don’t You see how much it hurts?  How heavy it is?  Do You care?  Surely, this is not what You have planned for one of Your children?  Oh, woe is me!  Please, release me from this burden.  Make it “right” again.  It shouldn’t be this way.  It’s just not fair!”
            But at some point, I get so tired of trying to fight it that I resign myself to it, full of what seems like humble acceptance but what’s really just discouraged exhaustion.
            “Okay, Lord, if this is what You want for me, I’ll deal with it as best I can.  I’m going to do my best to carry this cross in a godly way, to please You with how I handle it.  But I don’t think I can take much more.  I’m tired.  It’s breaking my back and my heart.  But if this is what You want for me, then fine.”
            And the cross is still heavy and still hurts.  Yet I am more tired than I was before and don’t have the energy to fight it anymore.  In fact, I barely have the energy to stand.  If I can’t get the cross removed, may as well just lay down under it and fall asleep. 
            And after a time of this discouraged resignation, I finally get to the point where I am supposed to be (if I allow myself to get to this point, not stopping at bitter wallowing).  It’s not one of fighting it or of resigning myself to it in discouragement, but it is one of embracing it. 
            “Lord, I don’t understand why things have to be this way. And yes, it hurts and my heart is aching.  But help me learn from it.  Help me grow through it.  I can already see the changes it has made in my mind, spirit, heart, priorities, and faith, and I like those changes.  I needed those changes.  And I know that I would not have gotten to this point without the trial, the cross You placed on my back.  So thank You for it.  And I do not need You to take it from me as much as I just need You.  I need You to be with me, to help me grow through it, to strengthen me, and to help me carry it.  And let it be something that glorifies You and that You use for Your purposes and glory.  You are good.  And I trust You.”
            It is at this point – after fighting the burden, after struggling to shoulder it myself as best I can, after growing exhausted and discouraged - that I cry out to God and say, “I can’t do it anymore.  It’s too hard for me.  I need You.  I don’t need anything else, I just need You.” 
            And He says, “Exactly!  This is just where I wanted you.” 
            Through the burdens, through the crosses, He teaches us to humble ourselves, to need Him, to lean on His wisdom and strength, to trust Him as we see Him work in the trials, to understand His goodness even in the face of a difficult life, to see things with spiritual eyes instead of earthly eyes, to prioritize our lives with eternity in mind, and to praise Him, regardless of life’s circumstances. 
            Our job during any trial is to learn all we can from it, to run to Him instead of away from Him, to let Him teach us and grow us through it, to find Him in it, to lean on Him, to learn to walk by faith and not by sight, and to develop a more proper and accurate view of Him and of ourselves. 
            Do we see Him as good and faithful only when we get our way, when life is comfortable for us?  Or is He good and faithful all the time?  Do we trust that God is listening even when He seems so silent?  Do we believe Him when He says that He will be with us always, that He will give us wisdom at the right time if we ask for it, and that He will straighten out our paths?  Do we really believe that He loves us, that we matter to Him more than anything else He created, that He is a God of forgiveness, and that He truly wants a genuine and personal relationship with us?  
            Satan loves to use trials to get us to doubt God’s goodness and love.  Don’t let him sow these doubts in your heart and mind.  The only way to keep “seeds of doubt” from taking root in the soil of your heart is to dig them up and expose them to the Son.  Give them to Jesus.  Take your fears and doubts right to God.  Tell Him what is on your mind and in your heart, even if it’s that you are angry with Him.  He can handle it.  Don’t let the trials and doubts and fears pull you away from Him and put up walls around your heart.  Use them to draw you closer to Him, to deepen your relationship with Him.  Pour out your heart in humble, transparent prayer.  Meet Him – truly meet Him, not just read about Him - in the pages of the Bible.  Learn to desperately need Him and to lean harder on Him.  He is big enough!        
            If He won’t remove the crosses we are asked to bear, He will come alongside us and help us shoulder them, making them lighter and easier to carry.  And when and if He sees fit, He will remove them and take us into a new part of our journey with Him.  But only after the trials have accomplished in our spirits, hearts, and lives what He wanted them to accomplish. 
            Don’t fight it!  Don’t let discouragement and bitterness take root!  It will make the crosses we bear even heavier.  And don’t just resign yourself to it in discouragement.  Embrace it.  Learn from it.  Grow because of it.  Run to God with it.  Let Him carry you while you carry your cross, and it will get a whole lot lighter.  And you’ll eventually see that your faith and spirit have grown in ways you couldn’t imagine.  Those burdens and crosses will become blessings in disguise.
            Whenever a cross gets laid on your back, do what Simon did.  Carry it as though carrying it for the Lord.  Shoulder the cross and follow Him where He leads.  The only other option is to walk away from the Lord in despair and bitterness, yet while still having to carry the cross on your back.  But there is a purpose for that cross.  There are humbling, “dying to self,” God-glorifying, faith-growing lessons to be learned from that cross.  But only if we follow Him. 
            The genuineness of our faith isn’t tested and proved by how well we handle the successes, how many earthly “blessings” we have, how much we serve at church, or how polished our words and prayers are.  The genuineness of our faith is tested and proved by how well we shoulder the crosses He places on our backs, how well we handle the trials and if we continue to follow Him even when times are hard and our hearts hurt. 
            If we don’t follow Him in the hard times – if we walk away from Him in bitterness because the burdens He gives us are too heavy -  we were never really following Him to begin with.  Because our faith was a “what’s in it for me” kind of faith.  But if we let the hard times draw us even nearer to Him, we will find greater spiritual blessings – security, peace, joy, wisdom, contentment, purpose, etc. - than we ever thought possible.  And those crosses won’t be so “awkward, heavy, and discouraging” anymore!          

Have you shouldered any crosses that ended up being blessings in disguise, that taught you valuable spiritual lessons you couldn’t learn any other way?