Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, NKJV).
I was thinking about the verse above this morning and asked myself, "What is my cross to bear?" Is "cross-bearing" just about persecution? Or is it something more? Jesus said the above words right after he asked his disciples who they thought he was. Peter said, "The Christ of God." (Luke 9:20) And Jesus immediately commanded them not to tell anyone and followed that with the news that he would suffer, be killed and rise again on the third day. This would quite literally be his cross to bear. It had a purpose (our redemption and eternal salvation). But he had to put aside his desires and endure excruciating pain, rejection, and humiliation so that we might be saved. Jesus then lets his disciples know that to follow him, they also had to deny themselves by taking up their cross "daily." As Jesus' disciples, this also applies to us. But what does it mean to deny myself and what, more importantly, is my cross?
My cross is probably different than yours, and it has gotten heavier over the years, but it is something that I am only now learning to take up daily. It does, however, have a few chunks missing where I dropped it a time or two. It has, at times, been painfully heavy to bear, but for the most part, it has stayed with me. My cross has been trying to teach me for over 30 years not to complain about it. I have failed miserably at this and had the splinters to prove it. Each one reminding me of where I failed. By complaining about my cross, I haven't been a good witness or "cross-bearer" to my children. By thinking about my burdens, I have become bitter over what my life was like, compared to what it is now. Cross-bearing is not for the faint of heart. That's why Jesus told us first what it could look like.
But I have learned that not everyone bears the same cross. And not everyone has realized they are even carrying one. Some people look at the problems in their lives and say, "Why, me God?" And they blame God for everything that is wrong with their world. Others say, "Why not me?" And take up their burdens and push on toward the day when they can stand before God and hear Him say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."
I don't want to be someone who keeps dropping my cross on the ground because it becomes too heavy. I want to keep my eyes focused on Jesus and be one of those people who says, "Why not me?" So today I sat down and drew a cross. And on that cross, I placed the burdens Jesus told me to give to him. But something strange happened. I realized while I was doing this, that my burdens were also my cross to bear. Yes, Jesus said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). But he followed that with, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29). In other words, we can learn from our burdens. We can grow into the people God intends us to be if we daily take up our cross and follow Him. And we can find rest and fellowship with God even when life is difficult and stressful.
This is what my cross has looked like over the years:
Like I said, my cross to bear is different than yours. But it is mine to bear. I have an incurable disease which makes me gain weight at an alarming rate. It is resistant to diet and exercise, and it is called lipedema. It also affects my lymphatic system, so that it doesn't work correctly. Currently, I have stage 3 lipo-lymphedema. Right now I have congested tissue in my legs that is heavy and about as big as a five-pound bowling ball on each leg. It is like this because my lymphatic system is shot. To control my lymphedema, I must sit for an hour a day in something called a lymphapress (think blood pressure cup, but for your legs). It squeezes my legs to get the lymph fluid moving. It is a very painful process, but when the lymph fluid doesn't move it builds up into congested tissue (hence my bowling ball legs!). It is excruciating to walk, yet that is one of the suggested therapies for me so that the lymph fluid will move. However, at the same time, I am told the best way to control the lymphedema is to sit with my legs elevated. So, for the most part, I am stuck in my house all day with my legs up, because leaving them down for too long is quite painful. And walking on them to get the lymph fluid moving is just as bad. What a conundrum! I can no longer put my socks and shoes on by myself because I can't bend my legs. Nor can I clean my house as I used to (some might say that's a blessing), but when dust builds up it drives me crazy!
All that to say this - sometimes the troubles in our lives (especially if you have a chronic illness, debilitating disease or even a terminal one) can be all that we see, and we forget that others are suffering too. We forget to join in with the living because we are so bowed down in just dealing with life. While my cross to bear is a painful, incurable disease, my husband's cross to bear is (sad as this sounds) taking care of me. He is the one who now has to do the work I used to do, like the laundry, cooking and cleaning. While I try to do what I can, it isn't long before the pain overtakes me and I have to quit. Adding yet another burden to his cross, which adds guilt to mine.
We all have a cross to bear. Some of those crosses are horrific, and my heart cries for those of you suffering under the weight of them. Maybe, like me, you were looking at your problems with the wrong perspective. Cross-bearing is not just about being persecuted for your faith. It is also about how well you can stand up under the weight of your cross. Will you give up and say, "Sorry, God but this is too much!" and throw down your cross? Or will you continue to carry it, despite its weight? Knowing that every day that you do so, you testify to God's saving grace and you grow a little bit more like Jesus.
Not sure what your cross is all about? Download the PDF below, fill in everything that is a burden to you. Give it to Jesus, then take up your cross daily, and follow Him without complaint.
Oh, that my head were waters,
Today while studying Jeremiah 9, I was struck by a few things. First, was Jeremiah's obvious distress. He basically says that if his head were full of water, his eyes would be like a fountain of tears. That's a lot crying. He was known as The Weeping Prophet for a reason. This tells me a lot about Jeremiah the person:
The most interesting thing about Jeremiah for me though, is that he wasn't just a prophet for the Jews. He was a prophet for the nations (Jeremiah 1:5). God appointed Him to speak to ALL people. And thousands of years later, remarkable as it is, the book of Jeremiah is still doing exactly that. At least it is for me. The warnings in this book have seemed to parallel what our world is going through today, convincing me once again that ALL of God's Word (not just the New Testament) is relevant for Christians. Those who say we are not bound by the Old Testament and never bother reading it, do themselves a disservice, because it is in the Old Testament that we find lessons we can take to heart and learn more about the ways of our unchanging God.
In Jeremiah 6:27 we are told that God has set Jeremiah as an assayer and strong tower among God's people. An assayer is someone who is an inspector of metals. He judges their value. So Jeremiah is out among the people and he is assessing them. He knows they are unworthy and God knows he knows. So God makes a decision and says:
Behold, I will refine them and try them;
How are metals tested? They are put through the fire to see how well they stand up. It's called a refiner's fire. In Revelation 3:18 Jesus says: “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich.” In my book He Who Has an Ear, Who the Seven Churches of Revelation are Today, I explained it this way:
To refine gold, it must be hot enough to burn away the dross or impurities.It is known as a “refiner’s fire” and this is what Jesus was saying the Laodiceans needed to go through. They needed to be refined or tested so all the dross in them could be cleaned out. Then they would be truly rich. If there is one thing I have learned in life, it’s this: When God wants to deal with something about me He knows I’m not seeing clearly or haven’t worked towards refining, I can be sure I’ll go through a trial. Of course, when those trials go on for months, one starts to wonder, “What am I not getting?” But it may simply be that the dross is gone but God knows He has to “test the gold,” as it were, to see if it endures.
Jeremiah's people were about to be put through the refiner's fire. Not only would they be tested with the horrors of war, (they would end up going into captivity for 70 years) but the land would also be put through the fire. God said:
I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a den of jackals.
You may be wondering why God would punish the land. Jeremiah asked the same question and God said it was because the people had forsaken His laws. They had not obeyed His voice or walked according to it (Jeremiah 9:13-14). Instead, they had walked "according to the dictates of their own hearts." Their sin polluted the land. So what was God's solution?
“Behold, I will feed them, this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink. I will scatter them also among the Gentiles,
What God was about to do in response to the unrepentant hearts of His people would be (essentially) bitter for them to drink or endure. Since they refused to obey Him or listen to Him anymore, He was not only going to bring destruction to Jerusalem and its surrounding cities, but He was also going to send them among the heathen nations (Gentiles) they had followed after.
How Does This Apply to Us Today?
Only the blind cannot see what is happening in the world today. We are rushing headlong toward God's judgment once again. For those who know the Lord, don't be surprised if you find your troubles in life increasing. Rejoice if they are, because the Lord is preparing you for the future. All Christians will go through a refiner's fire at some point. Be strong, stand firm and you will come out shining like gold.
To those who do not know the Lord, this is your warning from Jeremiah, me and all Christians everywhere who beg you to repent and turn to God to be saved. Jesus is coming again and He will not be coming as a meek shepherd, but as a righteous judge.
For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead." - Acts 17:31
God set Jeremiah as an assayer - to test the people to see if they were worthy. Today, we have an intermediary, who stands before God on our behalf. His name is Jesus and one day He will come again to judge the living and the dead. He alone will decide if we have stood the test and have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Jesus says, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Will you be found worthy when He returns?
“I have not seen Jacob at all. But let me tell you –”
“Oh, Joseph, please help me!” Mary cried from the back of the wagon. “It’s getting closer!”
“Heli, what are we to do? She can’t have the baby in the street!”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, Joseph. We have a place.” Heli grabbed the reigns of the oxen from Joseph and started to drive them through the crowd.
“A room? You have a room? Well, why didn’t you say so?” Joseph sighed with relief. “Mary, it’s all right, we are going to our room now. Can you hang on?”
“I don’t know, Joseph. Please hurry!” she sobbed. They went as quickly as they could to the far end of the street, where Heli directed Joseph to the back of an inn.
“What’s this?” Joseph asked as they neared the entrance to the stables.
“Your room,” Heli declared as he carefully retrieved Mary from the back of the cart.
“You can’t be serious?” Joseph protested as he watched Heli carry Mary to a stall in the back of the stable. “Heli, she cannot give birth in a stable.”
Heli laid his daughter on a fresh bed of hay covered with a blanket. He stood, then turned to face his bewildered son-in-law.
“She can and she will. It’s clean, it’s warm, and it’s private.” Heli was adamant and Joseph could tell by the look on his face that his father-in-law would not change his mind.
“It’s fine, Joseph,” Mary whispered, her strength waning. “It’s fine.”
Joseph, clearly at a loss, looked to Rebekah, who arrived with warm water and fresh cloths. Surely, she would agree with him. Mary could not give birth here – could she?
Rebekah pleaded silently for Heli to take Joseph outside. She placed a comforting arm on her son-in-law and said, “It is as it should be, Joseph. We have cleaned out the stall. We have fresh hay. We are even using the cattle’s feeding trough as a little crib for the baby. Go now. Mary will be fine.”
People often ask me, "How do you do it? How do you stay so positive?"
Really? Me? Positive? If you told my family that I'm a positive person they would laugh their heads off! Unfortunately, they see the real me and while I try not to let them see it, the "real me" comes out all too often. The real me needs too much help to get normal things done. If I want to go out for example, someone else has to help me get dressed (usually my husband), like putting on my socks and shoes for example, because my spine has deteriorated to the point where I can no longer bend down and my legs no longer bend properly because of my lymphedema. Someone else has to be on hand to get my scooter out of the car too, because I am not allowed to lift heavy things (I have two hernias). And someone else needs to drive, because lately, I can barely reach the pedals in the car. Seriously, I think I'm shrinking!
For someone who is (or was) very independent and would often go out and do things with friends at the spur of the moment, it is frustrating not to be able to just get up and go. I have to rely on others. I don't like it that I have become a burden to my family. I know I have, because when we think about vacations or going anywhere at all, it always comes with the "what about Mom?" line in the next breath. For example, in order for me to visit my daughter who lives about eight hours away from us, we have to pack my scooter, a tub-chair, my CPAP machine (I stop breathing about 40 times an hour when I sleep, so I kind of need it) a grab bar (I fell in my daughter's tub last visit and ripped her towel bar right out of the wall). Did I happen to mention I'm also accident prone? Letting me outside in the winter is the last thing my family wants to do because if someone is going to slip and fall IT WILL BE ME. Hands down! Without exception, if something bad is going to happen then I will be the one it happens to.
Now does that sound positive to you? My husband says I'm a pessimist. I say I'm a realist. How can I not be? We have been married for 32 years and the first "accident" I had was on our honeymoon. I reached into my makeup bag and sliced the tip off my finger on an uncovered razor blade. I can't imagine what the maid thought when she saw all the blood.
Throughout the years I have sprained ankles, snapped tendons, fallen down stairs (three times, once with my newborn son in my arms), broken my thumb three times (going down water slides - don't ask), and let's not forget the accidents in the kitchen (just don't let me near knives!). On top of all that, I was diagnosed with an incurable disease that from time to time leaves me with serious infections that require me to be hospitalized. All in all, my husband had no idea what he was in for! Poor man.
So how do I not give into feeling sorry for myself and have a pity party? I have five key strategies that I have relied on for years and without them I think I would go mad. I share them here because maybe you are in a situation where you just want to give up and cry. Trust me - I have had those days. Don't give into them. Pity parties are the worst sort of parties. They only have one person attending them - YOU! So before you throw one for yourself try one of these strategies instead.
1. Be Ridiculous
This is a picture of me after I had botox injections. Seriously, this is really after I had both my legs operated on. I did not know then how bad things would become and that my stay in the hospital would be a long one, but I knew enough to be ridiculous. Life is short and you never know when your time will be up, so make the most of it. Have fun! Do something that will make you look ridiculous. Learn to laugh at yourself! You will not only make the people around you feel better, but your mindset will change to thinking about how you can make them feel better despite how you are feeling.
2. Find the Funny!
I debated on whether or not to share this picture. I mean - how much information is too much information, you know? But this is the best example I could find of me finding the funny. I had been hooked up to an I.V. for the umpteenth time and decided that I could get dressed by myself before I went to see the nurse to get my bag changed. I ended up with my bra tied in a knot on the I.V. tubing. I could not get it undone because one end of the I.V. was obviously in my hand and the other was in the I.V. bag (which was housed in a little pouch to protect it). So I did the only thing I could think of - I stuffed my bra in the pouch, went bra-less to my appointment and waited for the nurse to be "surprised" when she went to change my bag. Instead of pulling out the I.V. bag, she pulled out my bra! I don't think I've ever laughed so hard before and the nurse had a good laugh too!
3. Accept Help
Sometimes you just need help!
I used to be the one who would bring meals to the sick, help clean their house or visit people in hospital. It made me feel good to help others. Now, the shoe is on the other foot and people have to help me and the worst part for me is accepting that help! I get embarrassed when someone sees that my floors need sweeping or my house needs dusting. When I try to do these things I don't get very far before I am in horrible pain. So when someone offers to help me do those things I have to learn to say yes, because in the long run I will only stew about how messy my house is and that will bring my mood down, but if I let someone ease my burden it will also lighten my mood.
I wise friend once told me to not squelch her God-given gift of helping others. She wanted to bless me and I was too embarrassed at my need for help that I wouldn't let her. Thank the Lord she set me straight! Some people feel called by God to serve others. So don't deny them the opportunity! God has sent them to ease your burden - so let them!
4. Pray for Others
5. Read Your Bible! Get to Know Your Saviour
God has you where you are for a reason. Don't be like the crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9) who waited for 38 years to get healed. Take up your mat and follow Jesus now, in your current condition. Stop wallowing in self-pity and start believing that God has a purpose for you! Get used to saying, "This too shall pass!" If you allow Him, God will continue to use you no matter what your situation. Trust Him and you will begin to see your gloomy attitude change to a positive one!
Prayer, if you haven't discovered it, can move mountains. When God answers our prayers we stand in awe and shout to the world - "Look what God did!" Giving Him all the glory. It's only right that we should do that. After all, He is God. But sometimes, God doesn't answer prayer and we wait . . . and we wait . . . and we wait some more . . . and during the whole time we are waiting for an answer, two things are going on. God is working behind the scenes and Satan is working overtime putting doubt and anger into our hearts and minds because we aren't getting our prayers answered.
This is when maturity in your faith comes into play. First you have to realize that God is going to answer your prayers, however it might not be how you want them answered. God sees the big picture, you don't. Trust Him to do what is right. You can either accept that God heard you and leave it at that, or you can listen to the voices in your head that are making you doubt in God's love.
When I was in the hospital in 2010, battling a dangerous infection after surgery on my legs, I had one particular night that was horrible. I would say the pain was the worst I have ever experienced (that includes childbirth). My prayers were frantic pleas to God to make it stop, to send a nurse to give me something, to take me now . . . I was beside myself with pain and my thoughts were all over the place.
It was at my moment of deepest despair, of feeling alone in my pain, of being unable to bear it a moment longer, that I heard this in my mind, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" It was Jesus' cry from the cross. And I finally got why he screamed that. It wasn't that he felt God had left Him, or was ignoring Him. It was a cry of despair. A cry of frustration. A cry similar to mine. A cry that hid beneath it all the thoughts that were coming to the surface, bubbling over, with no way to control them. A cry of agony over the pain that was crushing him and threatened to swallow him up.
"I'm so afraid, Lord. I feel alone in this, like no one understands."
"I cannot bear this anymore. When will it stop?"
"Are you there? Do you hear me? Please, let me feel your presence so that I know everything will be alright."
"How much longer Lord? I cannot bear it."
Of course my pain was nowhere near what Jesus experienced. But the thing was . . . He experienced it. He understood my heartfelt cries completely and it was at that moment that I knew I wasn't alone and that if my pain continued, I wouldn't like it, but I would be okay with it, because there was a purpose in it. Jesus' pain and His death had a purpose. A glorious purpose that freed us all from sin and the sting of death. Not physical death, but spiritual death, because to be separated from the Father forever would be agony.
I may never know this side of heaven if what I am going through today has any purpose. Right now, I can only see that I write more and blog more. I have enormous amounts of time on my hands actually. I would use it differently if I were able. I would be volunteering somewhere, or visiting with my friends. Maybe even clean my house (my least favourite thing to do, but now I would give anything to be able to do it). But, for now God has ordained that I am to endure daily pain, swollen limbs, infections, sleepless nights, body spasms, and be unable to walk very far or for very long. He has ordained that for me for this time in my life and God has His reasons. And I'm okay with that.
In my book He Who Has an Ear I put it this way:
To refine gold, it must be hot enough to burn away the dross or impurities. It is known as a “refiner’s fire” and this is what Jesus was saying the Laodiceans needed to go through. They needed to be refined or tested so all the dross in them could be cleaned out. Then they would be truly rich. If there is one thing I have learned in life, it’s this: When God wants to deal with something about me He knows I’m not seeing clearly or haven’t worked towards refining, I can be sure I’ll go through a trial. Of course, when those trials go on for months, one starts to wonder, “What am I not getting?” But it may simply be that the dross is gone but God knows He has to “test the gold,” as it were, to see if it endures.
You see, trials aren’t just to refine us, to make us more like Jesus. They are also sent to strengthen godly attributes. Sometimes God’s glory, like gold, can only shine through us after we have been tested. For some, that may mean a terminal illness, a financial setback, or the loss of a loved one. It is how you deal with those times that will determine how refined you really are.
All that to say this . . . if you are suffering right now and in pain, either physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually you are not alone. God has never left you and He never will. He understands more than you could possibly imagine and He has a plan. Rest in that assurance until He comes again, or takes you home. He loves you, He cares about you and He has not forsaken you. Your life is not without purpose and God will use it for His glory no matter what your circumstances.
Trust Him today with what you are going through. He's got you in the palm of His hand.