Taking Up The Cross

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-26; ESV).

After watching “Letters“, a movie about Mother Teresa and her devotion to serving the poor in Calcutta, India, and “Hillsong: Let Hope Rise“, a documentary about the rise of the Australian megachurch and its amazing worship band, I was once again reminded of the heavy cost associated with following Jesus.

Though Scripture teaches me about how much the disciples sacrificed in following Christ, often to the point of a horrific death, seeing modern day examples of Christians “taking up their cross” speaks powerfully. Mother Teresa gave up a comfortable sheltered life in a convent to spend her days in the filth and disease of an Indian slum. The Hillsong worship band members sacrifice comfort, sleep, financial gain, and irretrievable time with their spouses and children to connect people around the world to God through worship.

Even though I have not been called to the extreme service and sacrifice of someone like Mother Teresa or the Hillsong band, I find myself complaining regularly about where God has me at this season in my life – doing laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and chauffeuring my nine-year-old son to doctor’s appointments for his various health issues. Yet what is evident in the examples of Mother Teresa and Hillsong is the power that is released when God’s people willingly offer themselves as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) fully submitted to the will of God.

Oh, that the minuscule sacrifices I make would bring such a testimony and give glory to God! I pray that God would forgive my arrogance. Who am I to tell the Creator of the Universe what his purpose for my life should be?

Beloved Warrior, on this Good Friday may the Holy Spirit’s power come upon you to take up your cross and fulfill the Lord’s calling on your life, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13; NIV).

Enjoy this song by Hillsong!

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A Meaningful Sacrifice

Our church recently launched a financial campaign called “Freedom” with the goal of eradicating its debt. The church staff made frequent mention of the term “sacrificial giving”, and my sense was that many in the congregation were unclear as to how this concept applied to them individually. Sacrificial giving was certainly a confusing subject for me personally as well. What exactly does sacrificial giving mean? Is it something you do until it hurts? Does it always involve pain? Is God only satisfied if we’ve given more than we can do cheerfully? Does sacrificial giving only pertain to finances, i.e. can people also give through other means (e.g. performing service, giving their time, sharing their non-monetary resources, etc.)?

For answers to these questions, I turned to Scripture. And I discovered that the Bible has a lot to say about sacrifice and what makes it meaningful. The message throughout the Bible is that what God desires more than sacrifice is our worship, obedience, sincerity, and an attitude of humility and of devotion to him. Religious acts, though well-intentioned, mean nothing if our hearts are not right before the Lord. As Proverbs 15:8 explains:

The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked,
    but the prayer of the upright pleases him. (NIV)

When God commanded King Saul to “attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them”, Saul disobeyed by sparing the Amalekite King Agag and keeping the best Amalekite livestock. Saul tried to justify his disobedience by claiming that his soldiers took the sheep and cattle as sacrificial offerings for God, but the prophet Samuel rebuked him:

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22; emphasis mine)

Before I gave my heart to Jesus, I tried to earn God’s love and absolve the guilt I felt from living a sin-riddled life by singing in my church choir. There were many Sunday mornings when I was singing in the choir with a hangover. In fact, during one church service I was so hungover that I had to sit down in the middle of singing a song because I thought I was going to faint and/or throw up. This was quite embarrassing as I stood in the front row of the choir! Would I consider my service an acceptable sacrifice, an aroma “pleasing to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:9b)? Of course not!

In addition to my obedience, the Lord also wants me to offer true repentance and humility as my sacrifice rather than outward actions:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17; emphasis mine)

It’s not my offerings and religious rituals that necessarily need examining, but rather my motive in doing them. Am I loyal to the Lord? Am I worshiping him out of a heart of love? Furthermore, do my dealings with other people adequately reflect a heart submitted to him? The Bible teaches us that above any offerings or sacrifices we could bring him, the Lord wants us to demonstrate mercy and justice:

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)

With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:6-8; emphasis mine)

Christ provided the ultimate example of sacrifice. He gave himself as a perfect offering for our sin, and his attitude in doing so was one of supreme mercy, humility, obedience, loyalty and devotion to the Father. The Apostle Paul explains that when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’” (Hebrews 10:5-7; emphasis mine)

Since Christ was the only perfect and acceptable sacrifice for sin, what kind of offering can we now possibly bring to God? The best answer is everything. 100%. All that we have, all that we are. In response to God’s mercy, love, grace, power, wisdom, provision, and glory, we offer ourselves as living sacrifices “holy and pleasing to God – this is [our] true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1b).

So does sacrifice involve pain? The answer, unfortunately, is yes. Offering ourselves as living sacrifices means denying ourselves, laying down our own desires, and putting others first. Jesus warned his followers about the self-denial required to follow him when he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

On the other hand, dearly beloved warriors, the joys of following Jesus far outweigh any pain or discomfort. Some of the many benefits we enjoy by living God’s will include fellowship with the Creator of the Universe, salvation, eternal life, forgiveness, a moral compass, purpose, guidance, meaning, fellow believers to walk through life with, peace that transcends all understanding, adoption as God’s children, our name in the book of life, and freedom from earthly pursuits. Is sacrifice difficult? Most definitely. But is it worth it? Absolutely!

Father in Heaven, I pray that my life would be a pleasing and acceptable offering to you. Please help me in the areas of my life where I’m weak and selfish, where I’m not taking up my cross. I need your help, Lord! But I am willing that you should have all of me, to your glory always.

Enjoy Casting Crown’s Life Song