“Take up my cross” has become a euphemism for getting through life’s typical burdens with a semi-good attitude. Yet life’s typical burdens—busy schedules, bills, sickness, hard decisions, paying for college tuition, losing jobs, and the family dog dying — are felt by everyone, whether or not they follow the Way of Jesus.
What is Christ’s Call?
When Jesus calls us to take up our cross, He is doing much more than calling us to endure the daily circumstantial troubles of life.
Jesus is calling us to be willing to suffer anything and forsake everything for the sake of the Gospel. His call is to love those who have cheated us in business; Those who have spread nasty rumors about us; Those who would kill us if they could; Those who disagree with us politically, practically, and fundamentally. He calls us to consider everything a loss for His sake. His call is for total surrender. He calls us to give up all we have, to give even to the point of offering up our lives as a living sacrifice. His call means realizing that His power is more perfect in our weakness, that when we are weak we are also strong (see 2 Corinthians 12: 9 -10 below).
Do you remember the story where Jesus saw people putting gifts into the offering box? At first some rich people gave, and it sounds like their contributions must have been monetarily large. Then Jesus pointed out a poor widow who put in two small copper coins. Jesus commends this woman, whom the world—those people with power and money — overlooked and perhaps even derided. Jesus praises her for her revolutionary faith. She literally gave everything she had, with no other means of income or support.
What if you could hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and He asked you to literally give everything you owned? What if He asks you to sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor? Could you do it? Before you start explaining why He would never ask that of you, take a moment and answer the question honestly. It’s not out of His character to ask for everything.
(Read the account of Deb who sold everything and moved to Kenya because of the call of the Holy Spirit. Behind the Scenes; God Working with Us)
I don’t know about you, but that challenges me like crazy. I say I want to give it all to God, to truly submit myself to the leading of the Holy Spirit, but I won’t lie; sometimes the reality of what that means leaves me wanting to hold back a little. There are things on this earth that I really enjoy like eating out and laughing with friends. I know that you’re thinking that these are not sinful. And you are right. But that doesn’t mean the Spirit will not lead me to forgo those things occasionally or maybe even permanently for His purposes and the glory of the Father.
I struggle to always and actually keep in step with the Spirit moment by moment. To submit and to give up everything truly is radical and terrifying. However, when I think deeply about it, walking in my own wisdom, contrary to the Spirit’s leading, is even more frightful. Though I struggle, I know that ultimately I want nothing more than to live in total surrender and abandonment to the Spirit every moment I have left on this earth.
The Spirit may lead me into total sacrifice financially, or He may lead me towards humiliation in the opinion of others around me. The Spirit may ask me to move to a different region or a different country. The Spirit may ask me to stay where I am and spend my time in very different ways that I do now.
The crux of it, I believe, is realizing that being filled with the Spirit is not a one-time act. As we read in Galatians about the Spirit and the flesh, walking with the Spirit implies an ongoing relationship. Being filled with the Spirit is not limited to the day we first met Christ. Instead, throughout scripture we read of a relationship that calls us into an active pursuit of the Spirit.
Working with the Holy Spirit
Receiving freedom and healing in answer to prayer is generally not something that is done to you, a situation in which you are just a passive participant. Occasionally God works this way and simply heals or frees a person outright. He is certainly capable of this.
(Read the account of Edith’s healing of severe burns within 2 hours: An Astonishing and Undeniable Spiritual Healing.)
But in my experience, He typically asks us to play an active role in the journey toward wholeness. He doesn’t need our help but invites us to participate. Often this journey to freedom takes time, sometimes a very long time. And it takes perseverance. It takes participation on our part.
“I have prayed for the Holy Spirit to free me from my lust, and I am still addicted to pornography.” or, “I have prayed for years to be able to forgive my dad, but I am still wracked with anger and bitterness 30 years down the road.” “I have prayed for years to be free of my gluttony, but despite prayer, spiritually based support groups, and dieting, I am still a compulsive unhealthy eater.” Fill in whatever sin plagues you.
Have you been stuck in a cycle of sin for a long time? Have you given up on the Holy Spirit and resigned yourself to thinking that He doesn’t “work” or doesn’t have the power to bring freedom, at least not in your life? If this is you, then maybe you have not internalized the reality that walking in the Spirit requires action on your part.
Because the fact is that if you were in step with the Holy Spirit, listening to and obeying him, you wouldn’t sin. In any given moment, it is impossible to live in the power of the Spirit and sin at the same time. Sin is wholly opposed to everything that is of the Spirit. They really are mutually exclusive and totally contrary to each other.
This does not mean that if you sin, you don’t have the Holy Spirit or aren’t a follower of Christ. It does mean that when you are sinning, you are not simultaneously submitting to the authority and presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. He is still present, but you are most likely suppressing or ignoring His counsel.
Submitting to the Holy Spirit
Several people in my own life come to mind when I think about people who walk with the Spirit daily. It would be easy to start comparing ourselves to others in this area. I can already hear the thought progression: well, I am obviously more Spirit-led than that person.
Instead of deliberating over whether others are walking with the Spirit (which is definitely not our job), I challenge you to examine yourself. Look at the “fruit” of your own life and let it be a gauge of your connectedness with the Spirit.
- Do you listen to the Holy Spirit as you stand in line at the post office? Perhaps He is asking you to begin a conversation with the elderly lady in front of you.
- Do you allow the Holy Spirit to lead when you are making your budget? Perhaps He will direct you to allocate the money differently than you otherwise would.
- Do you submit to the Holy Spirit as you spend time with your family? Often family members are most difficult to love, and we need the Spirits help to love them well.
These are just a few of the many areas of our lives that we can submit to this Spirits leading. Take some time to think about areas in your life where you tend just to do your own thing, heedless of the Spirits will and call.
Living by the Spirit implies a habitual, continual, and active interaction with the Holy Spirit. While this sounds exhausting, it really isn’t because all of this living and action is done in the power of the Spirit. It is not by your own strength.
I think each of us has a strong tendency to attempt to wrestle control from the Spirit and “do” this life on our own. Each of us tends to switch from living the Gospel of grace to trusting in a system of works. That’s why Paul brings up this issue with the churches of Galatia. He knows it’s hard to truly depend on sustenance and guidance from the Spirit rather than merely on our own wisdom and effort.
If we never responded to God, if we never acted based on what He has done for us, we wouldn’t have much of a relationship. God is still real and moving, but at some point we have to respond and act because of what he’s done.
God is big and mysterious enough that we cannot simply put a label on this process and move on. It requires continual engagement and wrestling and discovering how to live a Spirit-filled life today. Not 10 years from now. Not tomorrow. But right now, in the particular time and place He has put us. As we “work out our salvation” and as “God works in us”; let us keep in step.
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But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12: 9 -10)
“Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:3- 4)
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3: 18)
to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:16)
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5: 16)
Forgotten God by Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski