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What “Taking up our Cross” Really Means

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When Jesus said “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24), he had a specific thing in mind but Christians over the centuries have broadened it to the point where it has lost its original meaning and intent. Christians tend to think of any trial or difficulty as “their cross.” Usually this means that life has thrown them a curve and they are suffering because of it. For some, being mildly discomforted is to bear their cross!

What Jesus was referring to was the intentional acceptance of some difficulty or likely suffering to fulfill the mission God has called us to do. In other words, we choose to do something that has not been thrust upon us by life, but we intentionally choose to accept it because it is our calling. Immediately the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer comes to mind. He was in the United States teaching when things were deteriorating in pre-World War II Germany. He could have stayed—safe and secure in his teaching job and no one (at least Americans) would have questioned his wisdom. But, he chose to go back to Germany to suffer with the church during very difficult years. As a result of that choice, he died as a prisoner in a concentration camp.

One of the prisoners in VOM’s Prisoner Profiles ( is Gao Zhisheng, the human rights lawyer who intentionally takes on cases on behalf of Chinese Christians. He has suffered greatly and intensely for his choice. Still, in spite of all his imprisonments and beatings and deprivation, he continues his campaign. He says: “Not only is it now extremely difficult for me to make my voice heard, but it is also extremely dangerous.” So why doesn’t he back off and be quiet? Because he has chosen to take on this mission and the consequences of it are part of his commitment. He has truly taken up his cross.

I once overheard a church official speak disparagingly of a decision of a pastor of a large and successful church resigning to begin a ministry in the inner city. The pastor was a great success and his life was safe and secure. Why, the official thought out loud, would a person give up such a great ministry for an extremely difficult and perhaps dangerous one? The pastor intentionally followed God’s will for him even when it seemed (to observers) to be a bad career move! He took up his cross and followed Jesus. In God’s sight, a bad career move is not following Him!

I wonder what mission does God wish you to intentionally take on? 

YOUR TURN: In the comments to this post share a time you chose to sacrifice something or take a difficult path to answer God’s call or take on a special mission for His Kingdom.

Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.


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