There are times when dying feels like death.
Having grown up in a Christian church and home, I’m well-accustomed to the language of “dying to self” and “taking up my cross.” The words are readily on my lips when someone speaks of sacrifice, or the call to missions, or the call to serve their local church. But recently, this has been the call of the Spirit on my life: die to self.
The call came one morning as I sat begrudgingly in my bed with my Bible on my lap. Seemingly perfectly poised to hear from God, my heart was the farthest from ready to heed His voice. I sat in the silence and feigned a prayer. I flippantly asked God for direction, but knew that I did not want to follow His call. I tritely prayed for His leading, though I knew that I was not willing to leave anything behind. And by the conviction of the Spirit and the gentleness of a good Father, the Word of God was brought sharply to my mind: take up your cross and follow me.
The words are familiar to me, but they did surprise me that morning. They came unwanted, and yet so appropriate. Ironically, nothing else in that moment would have made me feel more known by our Father. Those words spoke exactly to where I was, acknowledge my fixed feet, and knew my unmovable heart. He knew me, and He called me to die to self.
So, I strapped myself in. Believing myself to be a noble martyr or righteous saint for following God, I told Him that morning in bed that I would obey. Externally I was sitting on my disheveled bed in my pajamas with a cup of coffee, but internally I set my hand to the plow and determined that I would diligently follow God wherever He called. I would follow Him into a season of giving up, loss, or grief. This lasted about 35 minutes.
Ignorantly and ironically, I anticipated that this apparent obedience would feel noble or virtuous. But it didn’t.
Over the last few weeks I have come late to the realization that the call to die to self feels a lot more like death than I would like to acknowledge. It is painful, it frequently brings tears, and I carry it in my gut as a loss. Where I thought I could stoically play the victim, the call to take up our crosses is a call to willingly allow parts of self – of our very selves – to slip away into death. We take these parts and we burry them in the ground, often without a lot of ceremony. We allow them to lay beneath the earth as we walk away, leaving them solely in the hand of our God who will do with our sacrifice as He alone sees fit.
Dying to self? Well, that feels a lot like death.
Today is Good Friday. Today we commemorate and remember the death of our beloved Savior, who went willingly and confidently towards death. He was the first to take up His cross in innocence, and to sacrificially lay down His life for His undeserving friends. Christ, in the ultimate sense, died to Self. Though He deserved throne rooms filled with adoring worshipers, He gave Himself over to be hung on a cross surrounded by mockers. Though He deserved Kingship and total rule over all, He willingly received a crown of thorns and a blasphemous title of “king of the Jews.” Jesus, our dear Friend, Brother, and Savior, walked confidently towards the grave, laid Himself in the darkness of death, and entrusted Himself wholly to the Father.
In three short days, we will be celebrating the new life of Christ as we commemorate His resurrection. We will sit in our churches and partake of the Supper – not just because Jesus died but because He is risen! His resurrection seals the promise of the body and the blood. His new life is the promise for you and for I that in Christ there is life on the other side of death. Resurrection is our great hope; more than that, it is our inheritance.
I can only be called to take up my cross in so far as I am called to do so “and follow [Him].” Christ’s death paves the way for our obedience to the Father; Jesus makes is possible for us to die to ourselves and entrust ourselves completely to the Father. And Jesus’ resurrection gives us the promise that what God buries in the ground He often calls out of the grave, bursting with Kingdom life.
On this Good Friday I am committing to consider the death of our Christ as the sacrifice that makes it possible for me to die to myself. I will consider it an honor to follow Him, cross in hand. I will set my eyes on His sacrifice, on His grave, and on His death. I will fix my eyes on that large stone fixed before the tomb. And I will wait – painfully and patiently – for the Sunday morning light to dawn. With hope in my heart I will believe that it will be rolled away, that life in Christ will burst forth, and that the words the saints long to hear will be spoken over everything that feels like death: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”