Amid all this chaos and confusion Christ the Good Shepherd comes and says, “If any man will follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt 16:24). But most of us, even as Christians, simply don't want to do this. We don't want to follow; we don't want to be led.
Of course, most of us, if confronted with this charge, would deny it. We would assert vehemently that we are “led of the Lord.” We would insist that we follow wherever He leads. We sing hymns to this effect and give mental assent to the idea. But as far as actually being led in the paths of righteousness is concerned, precious few of us follow that path.
Actually this is the pivot point on which a Christian either “goes on” with God or at which point he “goes back” from following on.
There are many willful, wayward, indifferent Christians who cannot really be classified as followers of Christ. There are relatively few diligent disciples who forsake all to follow the Master.
Jesus never made light of the cost involved to follow Him. In fact, He made it painfully clear that it was a rugged life of rigid self-denial. It entailed a whole new set of attitudes. It was not the natural, normal way a person would ordinarily live, and this is what mad the price so prohibitive to most people.
In brief, seven fresh attitudes have to be acquired. They are the equivalent of progressive forward movements onto new ground with God. If one follows them he will discover fresh pasturage, new, abundant life, and increased health, wholesomeness, and holiness, in his walk with God. Nothing will please Him more, and certainly no other activity on our part can or will result in as great benefit to lives around us.
1) Instead of loving myself most I am willing to love Christ best and others more than myself.
Now love in the scriptural sense is not a soft, sentimental emotion. It is a deliberate act of my will. It means that I am willing to lay down my life, put myself out on behalf of another. This is precisely what God did or us in Christ. “Hereby perceived (understand) we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).
The moment I deliberately do something definite either for God or others that cost me something, I am expressing love. Love is “selflessness” or “self-sacrifice” in contradistinction to “selfishness.” Most of us know little of living like this, or being “led” in this right way. But once a person discovers the delight of doing something for others, he has started through the gate which leads into one of God's green pastures.
2) Instead of being one of the crowd I am willing to be singled out, set apart from the gang.
Most of us, like sheep, are pretty gregarious. We want to belong. We don't want to be different in a beg way, though we may wish to be different in minor details that appeal to our selfish egos.
But Christ pointed out that only a few would find His way acceptable, and to be marked as one of His would mean a certain amount of criticism and sarcasm from a cynical society. Many of us don't want this. Just as He was a an of sorrows and acquainted with grief, so we may be. Instead of adding to the sorrows and sadness of society we may be called on to help bear some of the burdens of others. Are we ready to do this?
3) Instead of insisting on my rights I am willing to forego them in favor of others.
Basically this is what the Master meant by denying one's self. It is not easy nor natural to do this. Even in the loving atmosphere of the home, self-assertion is evident and the powerful exercise of individual rights is always apparent.
But the person who is willing to pocket his pride, to take a back seat, to play second fiddle without a feeling of being abused or put upon, has gone a long way onto new ground with God.
There is a tremendous emancipation from “self” in this attitude. One set free from the shackles of personal pride. It's pretty hard to hurt such a person. He who has no sense of self-importance cannot be offended or deflated. Somehow such people enjoy a wholesome outlook of carefree abandon that make Christian lives contagious with the contentment of gaiety.
4) Instead of being “boss” I am willing to be at the bottom of the heap. Or to use sheep terminology, instead of being “Top Ram” I'm willing to be a “tailender.”
When the desire of self-assertion and self-aggrandizement gives way to the desire for simply pleasing God and others, much of the fret and strain is drained away from daily living.
A hallmark of the serene soul is the absence of “drive,” at least the drive for self-determination. The person who is prepared to put his personal life and affairs in the Master's hands for His management and direction has found the place of rest in fresh fields each day. These are the ones who find time and energy to please others.
5) Instead of finding fault with life and always asking, Why? I am willing to accept every circumstance of life in an attitude of gratitude.
Humans, being what they are, somehow feel entitled to question the reasons for everything that happens to them. In many instances life itself becomes a continuous criticism and dissection of one's circumstances and acquaintances. We look for someone or something on which to pin the blame for our misfortunes. We are often quick to forget our blessings, slow to forget our misfortunes.
But if one really believes his affairs are in God's hands, every event, no matter whether joyous or tragic, will be taken as part of God's plan. To know beyond doubt that He does all for our welfare is to be led into a wide area of peace and quietness and strength for every situation.
6) Instead of exercising and asserting my will, I learn to cooperate with His wishes and comply with His will.
It must be noted that all the steps outlined here involve the will. The saints from the earliest times have repeatedly pointed out that nine-tenths of being a Christian, of becoming a true follower, a dedicated disciple, lies in the will.
When a man allows his will to be crossed out, canceling the great “I” in his decision, then indeed the Cross has been applied to that life. This is the meaning of taking up one's cross daily—to go to one's death—no longer my will in the matter but His will be done.
7) Instead of choosing my own way I am willing to choose to follow in Christ's way, simply to do what He asks me to do.
This basically is simple, straightforward obedience. It means I do what He asks me to do. I go where He invites me to go. I say what He instructs me to say. I act and react in the manner He maintains is in my best interest as well as for His reputation.
Most of us possess a formidable amount of factual information on what the Master expects of us. Precious few have either the will, intention, or determination to act on it and comply with His instructions. But the person who decides to do what God asks him has moved onto fresh ground which will do both him and others a world of good. Besides, it will please the God Shepherd.
God wants us all to move on with Him . He wants us to walk with Him. He wants it not only for our welfare but the benefit of others as well as His own reputation.
Perhaps there are those who think He expects too much of us. Maybe they feel the demands are too drastic. Some may consider His call impossible to carry out.
It would be if we had to depend on self-discipline to succeed. But if we are in earnest about wanting to do His will, and to be led, He makes this possible by His own gracious Spirit who is given to those who obey (Acts 5:32). For it is He who works in us “both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).