“If anyone wants to be my disciple, they must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.” — Jesus, Luke 9:23
This stands in contrast to some of our nations best known preachers. I’m not going to call any out by name. It’s not my style, and not the point of drawing the contrast. But here are some of their not-so-Jesusy quotes:
- “You were born to win; you were born for greatness, you were created to be a champion in life.”
- “First make a clear-cut goal, then draw a mental picture, vivid and graphic, to visualize success. Then incubate it into reality, and finally speak it into existence through the creative power of the spoken word.”
- “If anybody, anywhere, will take these four steps or put these four principles into operation, he will always receive whatever he wants from Me or from God the Father.” (The 4 steps are: Say it. Do it. Receive it. Tell it.)
- “God wants you to go further than your parents.”
- “You’re not going to lack anything. I’m prophesying you into your future.” (then they say “you need to SLAP somebody!”)
While I’m confident that slapping someone is not a pre-requisite to following Jesus, I am also quite certain that reading some of those other quotes made me want to slap the speaker who uttered them. Whether in a best-selling book, on a recorded podcast, or spoken from a pulpit, I have to confess something to you. Please pardon my bluntness.
There’s less cow manure on a heifer’s hind end than is piled up in those statements. “You were born for greatness? Visualize success? He will always receive whatever he wants from God the Father?” C’mon…do people really buy this stuff?
Lest I lump a whole segment of the population together in haste, let me add myself to the lump. I do not agree with these statements offered up by some of the nation’s most obvious heretics. Unfortunately, though, sometimes I believe them. I live them. I trust them instead of trusting Jesus.
When I was a kid, I would take a basketball outside and imagine all different kinds of scenarios: last-second shots, heroic actions, stunning plays that secured my team’s victory. When I was in high school, I dreamed about what was next. Even today, I think of what it would mean to have something more…something better…something richer.
Don’t you? Don’t you get excited when you get a promotion? Don’t you feel a rush of adrenaline when someone notices something good you did? Don’t you well up with excitement upon anticipating some future success? Don’t we all? We may not claim to believe the health and wealth stuff, but we make sure and pray that we’re healthy and wealthy.
You see, these authors and speakers didn’t invent this stuff. They’re just saying out loud what most of think. We want more than our parents had. In fact, we think we deserve it. We may not believe that God will make sure we won’t lack anything, but we’re sure hoping he does.
Sure, there’s a difference between financial stability, having your needs met, and keeping your family safe and sound and blowing your nose with five dollar bills and rolling around in a Bentley. But there’s also a difference between our cushy American life and the life of a disciple.
In fact, this difference may be more pronounced.
Jesus said, “if anyone wants to be my disciple, they must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.”
Some questions I’ve been wrestling with that maybe you’ll wrestle with too:
- When was the last time you denied yourself of anything?
- What does it mean to shoulder a cross every single day? Does it include the luxuries we enjoy?
- When Jesus said “follow me” where exactly was he headed? Is it good enough to follow at a safe distance?
This is tough stuff. I don’t mean to even hint at the idea that I’ve got all this figured out. I don’t. But just about the time I looked up all those barf-inducing quotes, it struck me that while I may not have the guts to write them down or say them out loud, I live by that same philosophy far too often.
Something better. Something bigger. Faster. Shinier. More gigabytes. Forget that–terabytes. I’m owed it. I can work hard enough to get it. I can do anything I set my mind to! I’m living the American dream. This is the life!
When Jesus said that our test as a disciple was in our willingness to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow him, I don’t think he was joking. I don’t think he had a Bentley in mind. I don’t think he had us getting a raise in mind. I don’t think he was talking about us living the ultimate, comfortable life.
I think he was talking about being the kind of people who loved him so much we wouldn’t let anything stand in the way of our pursuit of his best. I think he was talking about living a hard life, not an easy life. I think he was talking about pain, and disappointment, and struggle, and sacrifice.
It’s not as shiny as the stuff we’re used to. It may not give us much of an opportunity to brag. But don’t forget this truth, and don’t forget that Jesus wasn’t kidding:
If we don’t deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Jesus…we’re not really following him.