Peter was blessed. He had heard God right: “You are the Christ!” Happiest moment of his life. The next encounter he wished he could forget. Jesus rebuked him severely. Jesus spoke of suffering and death, and Peter had an allergic reaction to the thought of pain. We mock Peter. Would you have said, “Sounds great, Jesus?” You might have asked, “Do you have a plan B?”
I’ve slowly come to see the value of suffering. Jesus has not tricked us. He didn’t say it was going to be easy. He is cautious with would-be followers, while I would have been offering perks.
When Peter rebuked Jesus, he was thinking about himself. He wanted the pain-free style of discipleship that offered
Self-preservation. Peter’s response is understandable: “I don’t want to die.”
Entitlement. I have a right to be happy, even if that means divorce or selfish pleasure.
Pain-free living. One brand of Christianity chooses pleasure over hardship every time.
The things of God related to suffering:
Death is a way of life. Paul said, “I die daily.”
Delayed gratification. Satan loves the word, “Now.” Jesus,“for the joy set before him, endured the cross, disregarding the shame” (Heb. 12:2). He postponed his joy in favor of obedience.
Suffering is a gift. Paul writes that “it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Phil. 1:29). I had thought suffering was an intrusion on a pain-free life.
The best advice I ever received came from Jesus. It followed on the heels of his rebuke: “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
It is not about me, my enjoyment, my rights. If I am criticized, I am not going to take up an offense (I hope). I don’t deny myself things, I deny myself. You might think, “This isn’t even fun.” Wrong. No greater joy than to take the big “I” off center stage. People who find it necessary to coddle self, improve self, or pay attention to self, are anxious and self-preoccupied.
To deny yourself is to deny the part of you that has never been your friend and never brought you lasting hope, the part with an appetite for self-indulgence and self-protection. Would I say this to a single woman with four kids and floundering to make it? I would, and I did—with good results. This advice is universally true and applicable.
TAKE UP YOUR CROSS.
When Jesus talks about crosses, they are instruments of death, not jewelry. There is no greater freedom than the freedom of death. This is a daily activity, not an event that we do once and are done with. Self cannot be christianized, only crucified. Dying is how maturing Christians live.
To follow Jesus is literal. It is not to ask, “What would Jesus do?” but “What is Jesus doing?” To follow Jesus means to focus on Him and obey Him. I turn from following empty dreams and illusionary passions. Jesus is King and is worthy of being followed. (Next blog: specific commitments related to these three points. As you see, this is not marriage counsel–it is life counsel).