This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from the heart of Andres Noriega (pseudonym for a Cuban pastor who has known persecution), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)
Denying yourselves is a voluntary and conscientious act. We make a definite decision which is equivalent to a complete and absolute surrender to our God. In doing so, we accept His plan for our lives and hand over the control to Him. He can make changes in accordance with His plan and purpose for our lives. To deny oneself and follow Jesus does not signify losing or winning. It does not nullify oneself but rather opens the way to be raised to the most noble standard of God's plan for our lives. To follow Jesus has consequences. To take up a cross involves struggle. 'If they persecuted me, they will persecute you' Jesus said (John 15:20). It means identification with Him who was crucified. But there is also another truth involved. 'Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.' (1 Peter 4:13)
The ultimate consequence of following the Lord is not death by crucifixion, but life eternal through resurrection.
'I am the resurrection and the life … and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (John 22:25)
A moment of introspection: The experience of Christmas, to many in the Western world, resembles more closely the experience of Philippians 4:19, "And my God will meet all your needs through His glorious riches in Christ Jesus", than it does a Christian's experience of taking up one's cross and denying oneself, yet the latter is indeed closer to the message of Christ given to a land of plenty than the former. Indeed, few among us would readily identify ourselves with the likes of the psalmist who penned Psalm 73:25 – "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides You." Rather, the combination of pre-Christmas pressures and post-Christmas financial concerns leave many silently yearning for the simple lifestyle of Brother Lawrence, the author of The Practice of the Presence of God. In the preface of this book is the following short passage: "The value of this book lies in its humility and simplicity. No conceited scholar was Brother Lawrence; theological and doctrinal debates bored him, if he noticed them at all. His one desire was for communion with God." How Brother Lawrence would echo the Psalmist in the latter's "And earth has nothing I desire besides You."
Materialism is a demanding master--always leaving us wanting more and more. God's Word says we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24)--and so we have the choice of it or God. Indeed, Joshua put it to the Israelites, pointedly, to make a choice between serving God and serving another (Joshua 24:15). In his first letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul warns his co-worker and protégé against those "...who think that godliness is a means to financial gain." (see also 1 Timothy 6:6-10) In our lives, will we deny materialism its hold on us, and choose God as Father and sovereign in our thinking and doing? God desires all of each of us. We are His and rightly His alone.
Andrew Murray, in his sermon entitled "Absolute Surrender", quoted 1 Kings 20:1-4 "And Ben-hadad the king of Syria gathered all his host together: and there were thirty and two kings with him, and horses, and chariots: and he went up and besieged Samaria, and warred against it. And he sent messengers to Ahab king of Israel into the city, and said unto him, 'Thus saith Ben-hadad, Thy silver and thy gold is mine; thy wives also and thy children, even the goodliest, are mine.' And the king of Israel answered and said, 'My lord, O king, according to thy saying, I am thine and all that I have'. What Ben Hadad asked was absolute surrender; and what Ahab gave was what was asked of him--absolute surrender. I want to use these words: 'My lord, O king, according to thy saying, I am thine, and all that I have,' as the words of absolute surrender with which every child of God ought to yield himself to his Father. We have heard it before, but we need to hear it very definitely--the condition of God's blessing is absolute surrender of all into His hands. Praise God! if our hearts are willing for that, there is no end to what God will do for us, and to the blessing God will bestow."
A fully surrendered life, solely desiring closer communion with God, eschews entertainment prioritized higher than such communion (communion integrating Bible study, prayer, and service to others); avoids self-aggrandizement in purchases; trusts in the Lord to meet our needs; and seeks to give all to God as an offering. These are perhaps benchmarks of a Christian life surrendered to Christ. In church we sing a hymn entitled "I Surrender All" (lyrics written in 1896, one year after the "Absolute Surrender" booklet was published); consider the text of the hymn, below:
1. All to Jesus I surrender; all to him I freely give,
I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live.
I surrender all,
I surrender all,
All to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.
2. All to Jesus I surrender; humbly at his feet I bow,
worldly pleasures all forsaken; take me, Jesus, take me now.
3. All to Jesus, I surrender; make me, Savior, wholly thine;
let me feel the Holy Spirit, truly know that thou art mine.
4. All to Jesus I surrender; Lord, I give myself to thee;
fill me with thy love and power; let thy blessing fall on me.
5. All to Jesus I surrender; now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation! Glory, glory to his name!
Let us not in each of our lives on this earth, give these lyrics only passing consideration but, denying ourselves and taking up our crosses (the symbol of worldly hatred toward Christ [John 15:20; Matthew 10:22])--and make the choice for God, seeking to serve Him and Him alone.