Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
I often wondered where the Apostles, the early Church Fathers and other believers get their strength and power to face suffering and ‘carry their crosses’. When I thought of the crosses they carried, I asked the Lord to spare me of them. My excuse? “I do not have their faith or strength.” “I am afraid of pain.” “I do not ….” STOP! The Lord stopped me in my tracks and referred me to Matthew 5:10-12; 28:20b. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you… And surely I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He assured me that when He calls me to carry a cross, He will be there with me. But first, I need to learn to appropriate His presence daily.
One does not become a spiritual giant overnight. The Apostles, the early Church Fathers and other believers were so moulded and strengthened until they reached the point where they were willing to suffer and give their lives for the Lord when the time came. Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, did not plea with the Emperor for clemency before he was martyred. Others, like those burned on the cross by Emperor Nero, stood strong in the face of death. I am sure practising the presence of God in their daily lives was one of the ways God used to mould and strengthen them.
What does “practising God’s presence” mean? It includes:
- Acknowledging and enjoying God’s presence and communicating with Him throughout the day.
- Knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection. Sharing things of common interest, including the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings. (Phil 3:10)
- Fixing our thoughts and eyes on Jesus, our Lord, all the time – bringing Christ into our conversations, studies, work projects, plans and decisions, crises, joys and successes, grief and sorrow, etc.
- Meditating on God’s Word and learning from Christ and His discipline with humility, submission, obedience, and sacrifice all the time. Being humble to submit, obey and be prepared to sacrifice when we live out His Word.
- Confessing and repenting immediately – whenever we sin. “Brokenness is God’s requirement for maximum usefulness.” (30 Life Principles by Charles F. Stanley).
- Drawing strength, comfort and encouragement from Him in times of trials and tribulations. (Matt 6:12, 28:20; Heb 2:18, 4:15; 1 Pet 5:7-9; Acts 5:41-42)
- Learning to see things from God’s perspective in every situation.
- Believing that God is just. Only He can judge justly.
Although my daily crosses might not be as heavy as those martyrs, I have faced ridicule, insults, rejection, ostracism, loss of opportunity for recognition, loss of income, etc when I stood up for Jesus at home, in the marketplace and among relatives, friends and strangers. At times, the crosses seemed unbearable. But the Lord kept me going with His presence and His Word in Matt 6:10-12, 28:20b. As I learn to see things from His perspective and the present with eternity in view, I began to understand a little of what Paul meant when he said, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:10-11).
With encouragement from the Lord, I can rejoice in whatever I do, even when I smile, greet and wave to people I meet – regardless of their responses to me. The most important thing to me is: The Lord is smiling from above! Hallelujah!
By Mr Lim Han Soon (YCKC Bulletin 8&9 February 2014)