crosses and crowns.
During Jesus ministry, He turned and spoke plainly to the disciples that He must suffer many things and that He must be killed (Mark 8:27-31), but Peter took Him aside and rebuked Him, with the rest of the disciples. Jesus turns to Peter and says: “Get behind me, Satan; you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (8:32). At once Jesus sends the disciples to call together the crowd around Him, perhaps separated for a moment, and spoke to them saying: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me,” (8:34).
This year I have been pulled back to depth in simplicity. When I was a teenager, Galatians 6:7 was always handed off to me as something ominous: Do not be deceived, God is not mocked! What you sow, you will reap, and even with the tag line do well and He’ll bless you I still think of the verse with some apprehension. Paths go both ways, and what if we followed the path in the other direction? It could as easily be something positive and not negative, as a call to me saying: “I see what you do and I see how nobody notices, do it for Me and don’t worry, okay?”
Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. – Psalm 37:4
This verse and Jeremiah 19:11 are often mistaken as blank checks for a spiritual lottery, like the plane that taxis us to the end of the runway before we take off to the pie-in-the-sky life we think we so readily deserve. The Hebrew desires is the English equivalent what matters, which takes me out of the picture. This is actually an invitation into transformation: into a love that is surrounding and a relationship with life – the desire of the heart is very simple: what has been broken will be restored, and that what has been lost will be found.
Mark casts Jesus in the role of a servant, yet over and over again people come to Him for healing and He challenges them to go deeper. The woman with the issue of blood believed her redemption in the touch, she believed she could touch and go and be healed, but Jesus calls her and tells her it is her faith, not the touch, that has made her well, and challenges her to believe (5:21-36). When the Syrophoenician woman comes to Him, He challenges her and she accepts the challenge in faith, even after being called a dog – that yes, she did not have a place at the table yet, but there was more than enough on the table to even feed the dogs now (7:24-30). It was never enough that people would come to Him to listen, but everyone left with a challenge and an invitation.
In Mark 8, this must have been an emotional speech for Jesus to give, having just so sternly rebuked His own disciples. He offers a challenge once more: if any man would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. The disciples wanted Jesus to live – but He came to die. God’s interest was that His life would be taken so that we could be given life, and no alternate path or ritual would satisfy the debt against the human race. But in doing this, we follow to accomplish what God sent Him to accomplish – His own glory. I fail the challenge when I fail self-denial; when I believe that I can have Jesus in this part of my life, but not in this part – or that I can hold on to something that holds me down as long as the total sum seems to keep me above everyone else.
Do you see the connection? What David calls the desires of your heart are what Jesus calls your cross and self-denial.
What often hinders us from the invitation is the fear of what it will cost: the loss of control. Jake and I have been having a lot of conversations this year about control and it always comes back to the same point: “the only power of control is the belief that we actually have it.” What stops a tree from destroying my house? Or some idiot texting his way so perfectly through a red light and killing someone I love? Or someone that we rely on who simply stops loving us? Yes, I think we should be smart and take precautions, but in the end we have to admit how little we “got this“. We think your cross comes with the high cost of pain and death, but I think that is what we are taught to think so that we stay blind because God brings about life and good things to those who seek Him (Ps. 84), and that our cross may actually become something pleasant when we follow Him to the places where our crosses belong: His glory.
The world teaches us the opposite – trust only yourself, gratification comes only through effort, and appear well adjusted. Personally, being a man in this world is difficult because it screams so many messages of adequacy at me; If I do well, I am enough, but what if I fail its standards? I find myself most lost when I try to explain who I am, where I am, what I think, instead of looking ahead to a Savior who calls back and says: Follow Me; ignore them. I’ll deal with them. Self-denial for me is so much more than discipline in my habits and wants, but it is giving up the demand for self-justification, self-righteousness, self-glorification. In fact, when I am most discouraged with my life and my efforts seem to fall like water in the pouring rain, it may actually be my heart that needs to be changed first. If I glory in myself, my glory means nothing, and so all I can ask is that He would glorify me in His cross. When I fall to this point, I delight myself in Him, and as light breaks the morning I began to understand His plan; my heart tuned, I hear the song of Eden and I start to return home.