If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26–27)
Another preacher points to Abraham as an example, saying that apart from God, nothing could have been dearer to Abraham than his son Isaac. Then God tested him to uncover whether he loved Isaac more than he loved God. He adds that if we love God supremely, we will thank Him for what He is accomplishing through our trials and sufferings. Those are tests also.
I know from personal experience that when I love myself more than I love God, then I question His wisdom and become upset with those tests. In my selfish mind, God should treat me better than that. Yet I know the truth; loving God and doing His will is far better for me than having my own way. I also know that if I love anything more than I love Him, He must deal with that affection or remove its object so I will grow spiritually.
Jesus does not ask me to hate anyone. Instead, He means that I must love God so much that I am willing to be separated from my family, even my desires for my own life. I am to love Him supremely and determine to do His will first. He is at the center of everything, no matter how strongly others or my own desires may appeal to me.
This is continually a challenge. I might think that I am wholeheartedly committed to the will of God, but when He tests me, I discover that I’m not as willing as I thought.
Some of the challenges are simple, as in our current process of downsizing and moving. I must decide what to toss and what to keep. As I go through my stuff, I’m praying for wisdom. We don’t have space for those “useless” items with “ego significance” yet I noticed that it easier to toss college papers with red ink than those with 100/100 and “Excellent” marked at the top. At this, God kept whispering to me,
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23–24)
Other challenges are less complex but more difficult. For instance, when I have opportunity to speak of Christ to a family member, will I do it? Or will I freeze up, worried that I will offend them? When I am involved in a personal project and highly enjoying it, will I drop everything because a Christian friend (or an unsaved neighbor) calls with a long, long story to share?
The ultimate test is in that cross-bearing reference. Many spiritualize this to mean a heavy duty or responsibility yet, because of the context, this is likely more literal. In those days, bearing a cross meant going to your death. Jesus likely used this as an illustration for the first part of what He said. It refers to the extent of dying to myself and to all that is dear to me that I might live a new life for Christ.
Again, this does not mean that I hate others. In fact, it means that I love others with a more radical and extreme love than ever before, a love that denies self totally and is not interested in what they can do for me, but in what I can do for them. This radical love means giving up all that I want in order to sacrificially serve and bless God and other people.
Lord, sometimes I forget the simple truth of the Cross. It is first a place of dying. Your Word tells me that I died with Christ; I was crucified with Him in His death. I know that being united with Christ includes having new life too. I’d rather focus on that, but know that the dying part is important. Without remembering I am dead in Christ and dead to all my selfish desires, I cannot experience the wonder of what You have given me in Your Son. Today, whatever the tests may be, remind me to take up my cross and, wherever it leads me, wisely follow You.