Lately I’ve been hearing the phrase, “my cross to bear,” repeatedly. Every time I hear it or read it somewhere it sticks out, grabs my attention, and demands my thought. My dad was driving me up to Tuscaloosa a week or so ago, and since he reads through the Bible approximately four to five times each year, I asked him what it meant. Now maybe you’re thinking, “it’s pretty self explanatory, Madison, how on earth would you not know what it meant.” To which I respond, “maybe it’s not, please keep reading.”
All of a sudden, my dad got really passionate about this topic of conversation. He raised his voice, spoke with a quicker pace, and–to be honest–kind of freaked me out. He told me that we often associate this phrase with a negative connotation and it is normally tied to something that wears us down. For example, “I have daily migraines, but that’s my cross to bear.” Now there are thousands of examples, but since I have a migraine as I write this, it was the first thing to come to mind. So I asked my dad why it’s a bad thing, thinking it is a reference to Christ carrying the cross alone. I mean dying on the cross is a pretty heavy burden. But he explained, dying on the cross was not Christ’s burden, it was His purpose.
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, He sent His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Jesus Christ was sent specifically to Earth to save all of us from our sin. His purpose was to die on the cross so we could have life. The cross was not Christ’s burden. Jesus Christ knew his death upon the cross was God’s purpose for His life, and Christ surrendered His will to God’s will. In the garden of Gethsemane Christ prayed to God, “‘My Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.'” (Matthew 26:39 ESV) Yes, Jesus did many incredible miracles and taught many powerful sermons and told many illustrative parables. He did additional great acts of glory, but His ultimate purpose in life was to die for us.
When Christ told us in Luke 9:23 ISV, “‘If anyone wants to come with me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross every day, and follow me continuously,'” He was not telling us to pick up our burdens and carry them by ourselves, He was calling us to live for God’s purpose for our lives. By picking up our crosses daily and bearing them, we are surrendering our lives to God and submitting to His will. We are agreeing to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives, and that’s not a burden, but a blessing. God has a plan for each and every one of our lives, but because He has given us free will, we get to decide whether or not we pick up the cross–whether or not we surrender to Him and live out the purpose and plans He has for us. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV tells us, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” And once we pick up our crosses, once we submit to God’s plans for our lives, He never abandons us, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” (Philippines 1:6 NIV)
This is incredibly humbling. To think, the God of the universe took time to create a plan and a purpose for my life, He gives me the choice to follow it or not, and–if I chose it–He molds and shapes and invests in me so that I can fulfill His plan in the fullest, most glorifying way possible. How on earth could this be seen as a burden?! But when we look at our crosses as a burden we disrespect God and do a disservice to ourselves. When we see following God and His plan for our lives as a burden, we begin to look at the Bible as a list of do’s and don’t’s. We begin to see everything God calls us to give up–money, pride, comfort, sin, ect.–as us loosing out, rather than trading up. Yes, God does call us to live differently. There are several verses in Romans illustrating this. Romans 8:6, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Associating the cross with a burden rather than a purpose leaves us with a perspective that will be more quick to resent God and slower to submit to Him. Now I’m not saying that carrying our cross will always be pleasant. Sometimes it will be painful and hard and we will cry out to God in anguish. But we are refined through pain. And through pain, we are made stronger.
So what does it look like to pick up our cross and carry it daily?
1. It means reading our Bible every day to hear from God.
2. It means praying constantly. Prayer is how we align our will with God’s will.
3. It means self-reflection–frequently asking if we are living in a way God can use to glorify Him. If not, it means changing (with God’s help).
If you want to know if you’re picking up your cross and carrying it daily, ask yourself, if God called you to give up your dreams and wants and desires for Him, would you do it?
I’ve decided to pick up my cross daily, and I pray you do too. I’ve decided to see my cross–as painful as it is sometimes–as a blessing and not a burden. Again, I pray you do too.