And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Following Jesus is a Daily Exercise in Yielding to God
The cross was a potent symbol of Roman authority and power. A condemned person bearing their cross to the place of execution was a public demonstration of Rome’s authority over life and death. The bearing of the cross also exhibited the condemned person’s powerlessness. The person bearing the cross was completely under the power of Rome.
In this verse Jesus explained that following Him means voluntarily and intentionally yielding oneself to the power of another. It means doing God’s will rather than their own. For Jesus, doing God’s will was to suffer, be rejected, die, and be resurrected. These were things that Jesus must do (Mark 8:31) because they were God’s will. Every disciple of Jesus is called to do God’s will and not their own.
God’s will for Jesus was pretty clear. Sometime’s His will for us isn’t as plain. I don’t know God’s will for your life. As Ephesians 5:10 says we are all “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” Let me, nevertheless, be so bold as to make some suggestions concerning how you can learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Begin with an attitude of yieldedness. By this I mean resolve to yield your thinking, your feelings, and your actions to whatever God wants for you. I wonder how often I have missed God’s will by dismissing something as just not making any sense? Or maybe I have allowed fear and worry to scare me off. Difficult tasks that seem beyond my capabilities can be a real discourager. Don’t let your thinking, feeling, and abilities get in the way. First yield to Him knowing that where God guides, God provides.
Second, read God’s word. You will be surprised to see how often God provides specific commands concerning what He wants you to do. For example, Romans 13:1 says everyone is to be subject to the government. Romans 13:7 says to pay your taxes. Ephesians 5:18 tells us to not get drunk. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 means we are not to be sexually immoral. There are a lot of specific, clear commands like these that are God’s explicit will for our lives. If you want God to guide you in things that aren’t plainly laid out in scripture, maybe you should first make sure you are following Him in the things that are.
Third, develop wisdom. Not everything we are to think, feel, and do is clearly spelled out in Scripture. Who we are to marry, where we are to live, what we should do for a living, how many children we are to have are decisions that require wisdom. The Holy Spirit develops wisdom in us through carefully reading the Bible, seeking the council of more mature saints, and learning through our successes and failures. Wisdom is God’s gift to us. Wisdom is the practical application of God’s word to our specific circumstances which allows us to make our way in this present evil age (Galatians 1:4). So be in God’s word regularly particularly the Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes; seek the fellowship of more mature Christians; and reflect on the successes and failures in your life and learn from them.
Lastly, pay attention to what God is doing in your life. He is at work in your life and in every situation you find yourself in. God providentially brings people, opportunities, and circumstances to bear on you every day. For example, God often gets my attention by bringing up the same topic, multiple times, through different people. I have learned to be alert for this. Pray for discernment to see the spiritual dimension in what is happening in your life. Ask how God, who works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:10), might be at work leading you toward the good works He has prepared for you to do (Ephesians 2:10).
God will reveal His will for you through this mix of Word, wisdom, and providence. Read, discuss, and reflect, then act. To be Jesus’ disciple is not to be paralyzed into inactivity but rather to be actively yielding your mind, emotions, and will to Him. Just as it is easier to steer a moving car, so God can steer you if you are actively yielded to Him, searching His word, developing wisdom, and watching what is happening in your life through spiritual eyes. You will sometimes make mistakes, get it wrong, and need to start over. This can be a messy, frustrating process. But take heart, God is forgiving, patient, and is at work at every step of the way.