One of the challenges of writing a book like this is the very real obstacle of trying to “sell” the idea that the way of the cross is not something to avoid…is not a negative (1 Cor. 1:18-24). The way of the cross is not a take-it-or-leave-it option for the true disciple of Jesus Christ, today or in the long ago past. At issue is not some Christianized version of the worldly warped and totally inaccurate viewpoint that God wants to steal our fun by forbidding the pleasures of sin…that God is somehow a cosmic killjoy with strict rules and a bag full of “don’t do this or that.” The way of the cross is at the highest imaginable level, the best possible path to take in life because it removes our mediocre way and replaces it with something infinitely and eternally better.
The not-so-obvious difficulty here is that taking up our cross for the sake of Jesus and the gospel (Mk. 8:34-35) has an unspoken, justifiably negative connotation. Picking up our cross is not picking up our golf clubs, our bicycle, our fishing pole and tackle-box, or our slow-pitch softball gear. Taking up our cross and heading off toward Calvary Hill means that we will be crucified. But if the cross of Jesus Christ set us free from sin and gave us the gift of eternal life, then how can the way of the cross, applied to our own lives, be a negative? If every narrative story of faith in the Bible has God displacing our ways with His higher ways through the way of the cross, how can taking up our cross be anything other than the greatest thing that could possibly happen in the lives of born-again, Spirit-led Christians (Heb. 12:1-2)?
Of course Abraham the wealthy herdsman, recently relocated to the land of Canaan…the “land of Promise” inaugurating the first biblical journey of faith…wants a large family of sons and daughters…a tent full of laughter, joy, and fulfillment. But God reshapes the normal aspirations of Abraham into something much larger and grander in becoming the “father of faith” that fathers millions upon millions…like the number of stars visible in the night sky…of direct and indirect descendants of faith that will each shine in the glory of their own journeys of faith, like starlight for all eternity. But the cost involved in Abraham’s beautifully crafted, purpose-filled walk of faith is to let go of his own way…by faith…to create the space for challenging trust and patience in God’s higher ways to be put into action.
As a teenager growing up in Canaan, Joseph is bursting with the knowledge that he has innate leadership abilities. But only God can set up a tightly focused training regime and an unimaginably improbable scenario of events that leads not to Joseph capably managing the family sheep herding enterprise in Canaan according to horizontally conventional expectations, but instead managing the entire nation of Egypt as ruling governor during a crisis having a divine trajectory and eternal implications. At the time only God had the prophetic foresight to see all of this.
Certainly Moses wants to engineer the deliverance of his people from bondage in Egypt. This imperative is an innate, conscious calling for Moses from childbirth (Ex. 2:10; Acts 7:25). But there is no plausible, worldly conventional scenario whereby Moses can achieve this goal. Moses cannot raise a foreign army strong enough to militarily defeat Pharaoh’s army and set the Israelites free. Moses cannot devise an effective program of non-violent protest combined with elegantly persuasive speech to convince Pharaoh and the Egyptians to “let my people go.” The only force on earth strong enough to liberate the Jewish people from bondage as slaves in Egypt is the living God. The God-composed life-script for Moses “the deliverer” and for the divinely created nation of Israel is beyond human invention…far above anything Moses or the Israelites could imagine or actualize.
The way of the cross in the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible and in the lives of Christians “walking in the Spirit” today is deeper, fuller, and overflowing with purpose and meaning beyond anything we could imagine or cause to come into reality…no matter how high or how humble the actual path may be.
An instructive observation about the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible is that God does not sell the benefits of His callings to the people of faith through an upfront, give-and-take process of negotiation. God already knows ahead of time that placing loving faith and confidence in us that conveys our priceless worth to Him as individuals will capture our devotion when it is met with a corresponding measure of faith in God on our part.
People hear God’s call, and with allowances given to their understandably human reservations about their fitness and capacity to be able to comply with the magnitude of their missions (Ex. 4:10; Jud. 6:15; 1 Sam. 10:22; 1 Ki. 3:7; Jer. 1:6; Jon. 1:3; Lk. 5:8), they take up their callings and willingly follow God.