How Obedience Leads to Freedom
I'm not going to lie, obedience has always felt like a word that comes with harsh rules, even harsher punishments and just a generally negative sounding term.
Recently, God has been opening my eyes and heart to discover how the words obedience and surrender are a process that results in a whole lot more than being bound to a useless set of rules and regulations.
In Priscilla Shirer's Bible study, Discerning the Voice of God, she writes, "Obedience - at least the kind that our good, loving, sovereign God requires - is neither legalistic nor lacking in affection. Although it places needed boundaries and demands on us - as in, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me." Matthew 16:24 (NIV)
Priscilla continues to say that, "Obedience is not a no; it is actually His best yes. It swims in oceans of grace and leads us to freedom, wholeness, and health. It opens up to His unbridled blessing and abundance."
The message of taking up your cross is also found in the book of Luke 9:23. But here, Jesus is a bit more specific, as He says, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." (emphasis mine) (NIV)
So I must ask you... Did you pick up your cross today?
When you woke up this morning, did you remember to pick up your cross as you swung your feet to the floor? Maybe you grabbed your cross as you were checking the newest social media posts as you brushed your teeth. Perhaps, you took up your cross as you poured the milk into the cereal bowl.
Maybe if you’re like me, in the midst of the morning rush, you forgot to begin your day clinging to your cross and found it halfway throughout the day, or you saw it hanging crooked in your heart after a shock of bad news.
Possibly it was thrown into a corner during a heated discussion, or dejectedly it was still hung up on the light switch as you slid into bed after a failure-filled day.
Finding My Cross
Recently, I picked up my cross on an airplane ride to the West Coast.
I was given the gift of an amazing journey to visit the ocean, to experience self-renewal and reflection, only to be met by the most tumultuous, bumpy landing of an airplane I have ever experienced.
When the Bible says that we will encounter trials, I am not sure if that included windy conditions on the wings of an airplane. Nonetheless, when you are suspended in the air, thousands of feet above the comforts of feeling your feet planted firmly on the ground, what else is a person to cling to (other than the nearest armrests or a shoulder of a patient friend)?
“What’s the worst that can happen?” my friend asks me, as we are being tossed and turned in between the feelings of free-fall. “Well, we could die,” I half-jokingly replied.
In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus did not say to deny ourselves and pick up our cross only when trouble strikes. He didn't say it nonchalantly: He made that statement so specific, that there would be no questions asked, nothing left in the gray area and definitely nothing left for negotiation.
When I find myself in fear and uncertain circumstances, self-surrender and submitting to God’s authority is the obvious path to seek. But in all honesty, when the winds are smooth and the sun is shining, I could easily pat myself on the back and think that I’ve got it all together.
But that was not God’s design.
God knew we would be sinners who would look to ourselves for the easy out, who would walk on our own path of perfect peace and who would rely on our own strength to save the day.
There must be a better way.
Let’s look at three ways to consistently “take up our cross”:
- Be Still
Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” (NIV)
It’s a bitterly noisy world that we live in. The enemy has infiltrated our lives with screens and sounds – and they are not all pleasant pictures to view. Countless times the Gospel tells us to be still, to wait upon the Lord, and to be silent.
Fast forward from the rough airplane ride to the serene backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. As I sat on my beach towel, staring at the sea, I heard the thunderous roar of wave after wave, beating against the shore. Seagulls overhead gave a squawk as they battled one another for the newest shell that was washed ashore. The sun shone down and was warm and refreshing.
For me, it is easy to be still in paradise. It is not so easy to find that same peace in the day-to-day grind of life. But it is possible to be still, even in the midst of daily disorder.
Psalm 10 says, "He says, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."" (NIV)
If you are not hearing God’s still, small voice, I encourage you to find a place where you can be intimate with God, and wait for His Spirit to descend into your heart.
2. Renew Your Mind
John Piper, of Desiring God Ministries, notes that the word transformed is used only one time in all of the Gospels, namely about Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration (the mountain of “transformation”). “There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” (Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:2) (NIV)
Piper continues to say that, “The Christian alternative to immoral behaviors is not a new list of moral behaviors. It is the triumphant power and transformation of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ – our Savior, our Lord, our Treasure. So transformation is a profound, blood-bought, Spirit-wrought change from the inside out.”
So what is the key to becoming transformed? Again, the bible gives us this answer!
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)
On the contrary, “The god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”. 2 Corinthians 4:4 (NIV)
Because our minds are not naturally God-worshiping minds, but self-worshiping minds, we must pray that the Holy Spirit will renew our minds from the inside out, soften our hearts and seek God’s will.
Let’s re-visit the scene of my plane-ride gone awry. Seat belt is securely buckled, tray-tables and seat backs fully upright, and there is literally nothing in my control that I can do to fix this turbulence.
Decidedly, I turn to my friend, put my right hand on her shoulder, my left hand facing up to the Heavens, and I begin to pray out loud.
God gives us these circumstances to free-fall back to Him, to hand over ourselves and our situations in a crumpled, disheveled package for Him to restore and refine.
In all honesty though, we were never in control. Proverbs 19:21 tells us, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (NIV)
Ultimately, God doesn’t want us to surrender merely our circumstances to Him; He wants us to surrender our whole self to Him. He longs for our whole being to remain in an ultimate surrender to His will, for His glory.
Will You Remember?
How would your life look different if you made the time to be still, to renew your mind and to surrender yourself on a daily or weekly schedule? Would you remember to take up your cross daily and bring it with you in the battles you face?
It is my hope that you will be encouraged by the reminder that your living God goes before you, even when we stumble. He is patient with us and equips us with exactly what we need. Sometimes, He will allow a few bumps along the way as a reminder to always be reaching for our cross.