Taking up my cross daily takes practice and trust. I’m never pleased to sense God’s call to give up something I cherish, big or small.
But with practice, I've found that the terror I first experienced when I was sixteen is mostly gone. Time and time again I have seen God’s work in my life, redeeming loss, bringing hope out of despair, and opening new doors when others were shut. I’ve definitely gotten better at dying to myself, but it’s still not easy.
And even as I write this, I wonder how I will respond the next time I hear God’s still small voice bidding me “come and die” (Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 44). I don’t know what lies ahead, and I have no room to boast in my self-dying skills. Each challenge is another fork in the road: will I submit to God’s direction and grow in godliness and faith, or will I insist on being “my own man” and wither?
I remember wrestling with God early in my Christian life, trying to talk him out of some new and difficult step I was being called to do. In time, I’ve learned to do that less and less. I know he wouldn’t call me unless he had some good purpose in it, and I know that resistance is futile. I’m regularly called to do plenty of things I don’t like.
I’m always amused when non-Christians refer to Christianity as a crutch. To me, it sometimes feels like a bed of nails. Flannery O’Connor wrote, “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross” (229). I agree.
God challenges me every day. My daily devotions are filled with reminders of things I am called to do contrary to my natural desires. In fact, I’ve made a practice of asking the Lord what he wants me to do today, and then I pause to listen. So often what I “hear” is the same challenge to live in purity and humility and integrity, ordering my life according to first principles. Sometimes I hear a very specific admonition to reach out to an unemployed friend, to do the house project my wife has been asking me to do, to set aside time to spend quality time with one of my children, or to do some task at work that I was avoiding.
Just as I know there is emotional turmoil in resisting God, I also know that there is tremendous reward in obeying. I have often experienced the joyful fruit of obedience, fruit I would not have tasted but for my obedience in laying down my life. That experience has built up my trust in God, knowing that he wants what is best for me and has hidden plans to bless me if I will obey.