Gary Zimak is the author of several books, including A Worrier’s Guide To The Bible, From Fear To Faith, Stop Worrying & Start Living and Give Up Worry For Lent. He is a frequent speaker at parishes and conferences across the country and is recognized as the leading Catholic speaker on the topic of overcoming anxiety. In addition, Gary is a regular guest on EWTN TV & Radio, the host of The Gary Zimak Show podcast on Breadbox Media and was the creator and host of Spirit In The Morning which aired on Holy Spirit Radio in Philadelphia from 2016-2018. For more information, visit his website FollowingTheTruth.com.
Are you a follower of Jesus?
Simple question, right? If you are a Christian, there’s a very good chance that you would answer the question with a one word response: Yes!
But how can you be sure? What does it take to be a follower (or disciple) of Jesus Christ? Rather than guess, let’s look at what the Lord had to say. His words are direct and to the point.
And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
In order to follow Jesus, I must deny myself, carry my cross and… follow Him. At first glance it doesn’t seem like a big deal. The more I think about it, however, the more uncomfortable I become. On any given day, I probably meet one or two of these qualifications, but not all three. How about you? Let’s take a closer look at the three qualities a follower of Christ should possess and see how you measure up.
Since we’re currently in the season of Lent, many of us will meet the self-denial requirement. Recognizing that we often place material things ahead of our relationship with God, the Church encourages us to perform some type of fasting during Lent. Doing so allows us to unite the resulting suffering (even if it’s minor) with the suffering of Christ and get into the habit of controlling our passions. Giving up sweets, cutting down on internet time or choosing not to argue are all examples of this practice. Depriving ourselves of pleasure in this way can help us to avoid the temptation of sin and is a very worthwhile exercise.
Carry Your Cross
While it’s relatively easier to understand, this requirement can be difficult to put into practice. Unlike self-denial (which we can more or less control), there is an involuntary element involved here. Generally speaking, we don’t get to choose the crosses that the Lord asks us to carry. This can be a problem for someone like me, who enjoys being in control. Every day (a point made clearly in Luke’s gospel), we will encounter some type of cross (or suffering). It can be a traffic jam, an annoying co-worker, miserable weather or a serious illness, but we will be assigned one or more crosses each day. And, while we don’t get to choose the crosses, we get to decide whether or not we will carry them. Simply put, I can complain, kick and scream or I can offer it up. That is my choice to make. Every time I succeed, I fulfill the second requirement of discipleship. It’s simple, but not necessarily easy.
In my experience, this is the most challenging of the three steps that Jesus asks His followers to practice. If we’re being totally honest, most of us are not following the Lord as much as we’d like to think. Quite often, we reject the path He chooses for us because it’s challenging or uncomfortable. Don’t panic, however, because you’re not alone.
Missing The Point
In the Gospel from the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we heard the details of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). In this incident, Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him to the top of a mountain to pray. While they were there, Jesus was transfigured and appeared in His Heavenly glory. If that wasn’t enough, the Lord conversed with Moses and Elijah about the suffering He would have to endure in Jerusalem. Sadly, the tired disciples fell asleep and missed that part of the conversation. Seeing only a foretaste of Heaven, Peter expressed his desire to remain on the mountain. I would have probably reacted in the same way. After all, who would choose to leave perfect happiness? At that point, the Father instructed the disciples to listen to Jesus. They obeyed. Jesus led them down from the mountain and they followed.
Once they were back on the ground, Jesus ensured that His followers understood what they missed while they slept. It would be necessary for Him to suffer and die. It wasn’t an easy message, but it was God’s plan. Even though they were now awake, the Bible tells us that the disciples still didn’t understand. Instead, they were so self-centered and clueless that they argued about which one of them was the greatest. Sound familiar?
The Turning Point
Now, here’s when the rubber hits the road. In Luke 9:51, we come to a critical turning point in the mission of Christ. At this point, He “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” In plain English, He made a deliberate decision to head toward His passion and death. Shortly after that, He encountered several men who wished to follow Him. Most of them made excuses and pleaded that it wasn’t the right time for them. They weren’t ready to follow the road He was about to travel.
As we continue through Lent, you and I have the same choice to make. If we choose to follow Christ, it will not always be easy. Are you willing to follow Jesus WHEREVER He leads or only if it feels good? Before you answer, please consider that there is no guarantee that you’ll ever get to experience another Lent. Now is the time to make a decision.
What is your choice?
“Truly, truly I say to you, when you were young, you fastened your own belt and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will fasten your belt for you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” (John 21:18)