At times, the Christian life can seem impossible. Perhaps you’ve experienced struggle. You hear others talk about things like prayer and witnessing, and you wonder why you don’t have the same experiences. The joy and peace of which Scripture promotes seems allusive. Old habits die hard; attitudes and emotions seem hard to control. You often don’t feel like reading Scripture, praying, or sharing your faith. A sense of spiritual excitement doesn’t grip your soul.
Sometimes, a part of our problem lies with our expectations. We anticipate perfection, not knowing that a struggle with the flesh will persist until the end. (1 John 3:1-2). The truth is we will all have bouts with the blues, struggles with sin, and times of trial. We can’t let such things detour us from the pursuit of Christ. Another problem is that we don’t stay sober concerning the nature of the Christian walk. We forget basic disciplines, simple virtues, and the faith approach which is required to live for Christ. While Scripture says many things about how we are to live the Christian life, I believe Luke 9:23 contains some truth which can give us a fresh approach to our walk. In the passage, Jesus says, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” By looking at our Lord’s words, I believe we discover three keys to experiencing the overflowing, abundant life of Jesus (John 10:10).
Jesus’ words first show the importance of maintaining a steady direction. He said that his followers are “to follow after” him. The aim of the Christian life isn’t behavior modification, church involvement, charitable service, social activism, political advancement, or doctrinal enlightenment. It is a pursuit of a person — Jesus Christ. If you want to experience the contentment Jesus promises (Matthew 5:3-10), you’ve got to come to grips with this reality. A relationship, not religion or rituals, is at the heart of the Christian life. When you get your eyes off of Jesus, you are sure to get frustrated. Keep your focus on Him (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Second, Jesus said his followers should “deny” self. The Spirit can’t have control when ego is on the throne. John the Baptist knew this. He fervently prayed, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). When your wants, wishes, and will supplant those which belong to God, you won’t get far in your spiritual life. Learn to say no to selfish and sensual desires (1 Peter 2:11). Eliminate some activities, friendships, habits, and priorities which fuel the fires of self-love. Develop a habit of praying hard for God to accomplish his will (Matthew 26:39). Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will exalt you (James 4:10).
Lastly, strong Christian living requires an everyday approach. There are no offseason, shortcuts, or end-arounds to the life of God. You have to seek him on a regular basis. Jesus indicated as much when he said a disciple should take up his or her “cross daily.” A cross implies suffering. Some days with Jesus will be great, others won’t. The flourishing disciple keeps trucking along no matter what. A bull-head determination to walk with Jesus each day makes a big difference in spiritual advancement.
Dr. Patrick Latham