Following Jesus Daily
The new year is here, and with it comes challenges and a renewed focus to be more diligent in personal devotion. A new year can be challenging, because we all start with the best intentions of following Jesus, but how will we finish?
In the Gospels, we see examples of Jesus boldly walking into the lives of individuals and saying to them, “Follow Me.” We see this in two sets of brothers who were fishermen, Peter and Andrew and James and John (Matthew 4:17-22; Mark 1:16-20). Jesus’ call required them to walk away from their way of life to follow Him. The same thing happened when Jesus encountered Matthew (called Levi in the Gospels of Mark and Luke) a tax collector, and invited Matthew to follow Him (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27-28). Matthew’s response was to leave his livelihood to join Jesus on His mission. On the other hand, there were those who Jesus invited to follow Him who chose not to do so (Luke 18:18-23).
In Luke 9:23, we find these words of Jesus: “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
Following Jesus requires action. Because of this, the Christian life is often described as a journey. The first followers of Jesus actually followed Him by walking with Him. Following Jesus is an active, dynamic process. When we follow Jesus, we follow His example and live like He lived. We are disciples who are in training to become more and more like Him.
It’s important to note that following Jesus is not always easy. He asks us to do some things that are counterintuitive, that go against what is natural for us to do. Our normal tendency is to be selfish, to look out for number one, and to be self-promoting. But Jesus said, “deny yourself” (Luke 9:23). Jesus’ words clarify His expectations of those who follow Him, and they are high. Following Jesus means we can’t just focus on ourselves, and what we want. This can be difficult because we have trouble denying ourselves those things we desire. For example, we diet for the purpose of losing weight. But it’s hard to deny ourselves desserts that we crave. It requires a commitment to abstain from foods we long for and to consume less than we might normally eat.
Jesus made clear that a key component of following Him demands that we “take up our cross daily” (Luke 9:23). We have to understand that He wasn’t talking about a piece of jewelry we wear around our neck. To carry one’s cross means that we voluntarily give up our lives and die to ourselves for the purpose of identifying with Jesus and living for Him. The cost of following Jesus means that we die to our own will and desires for the purpose of living in accordance with Jesus’ commands. We are to do this every day until it eventually becomes a way of life for us.
Jesus continued His teaching, focusing on what we gain by following Him. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will save it. For what does it benefit someone if he gains the whole world, and yet loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and that of the Father and the holy angels” (Luke 9:24-26). Here’s the good news: when we lose our lives for Jesus sake, then our lives are saved. The result of trying to save our own lives by living for ourselves is that we lose our lives. It’s the opposite of how we have lived in the past so it will seem foreign to us, but it is exactly how He intends for us to live.