And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Every year, one week in particular stands out for me as the major hurdle in youth ministry: the week of youth camp. This week invariably carries with it a certain level of stress, and the stress often doesn’t let up until I’ve dropped all the kids off and have arrived back at the apartment on Friday of camp week. This year was no exception. From sign-up issues to car troubles to the desperate search for a chaperone, the road to camp this year was arguably the most stressful I’ve yet experienced. Add to that the number of other responsibilities I was juggling and the various weights already on my mind and heart, and you have a recipe for burnout. I confess that I was going into camp this year in survival mode, hoping just to make it until Friday. I even began to question whether I could remain in youth ministry.
The call of Jesus in Luke 9:23 is one that I felt I could relate to well. This verse was the theme of Camp Fuego this year, and it couldn’t have been more appropriate. I was fighting bitterness and frustration, wrestling to deny the flesh from throwing a pity party or lashing out. I was fighting exhaustion, having just come out of the most difficult class of my life thus far only to take up the responsibilities of camp week. As I reflected on all of this, I began to ask if it was all really worth it. Granted, I wasn’t planning on denying Jesus or walking away from the faith, but I began to seriously consider what Jesus was saying here. In this verse, Jesus demands a lot. He doesn’t say that things will be mostly easy for us with only a few bumps in the road, nor does he promise happiness and comfort along the way. He actually calls us to deny ourselves those things and to embrace a death sentence for his sake. Those aren’t simple tasks. But as I thought about the difficulties associated with following Jesus, I began to realize something huge: it’s all completely worth it.
You see, as the week went on, I grew less and less stressed and more and more joyful. I felt closer to God than I think I’ve ever felt before. I found a peace that truly passed all understanding. I found myself counting trials as joys, trusting that God was at work in and through them. The pain and frustration and stress that had formerly engulfed my mind and heart gave way to a depth of intimacy with God that completely made up for any difficulties I faced to get there. I found that the love of God completely and abundantly makes up for anything you deny for his sake, anything you bear for his sake, any comfort forsaken, any cross carried. It is all totally worth it.
This week, as I study the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians and Philippians, I’m again reminded of this truth. The more earthly comfort Paul gave up for the sake of Jesus, the more he grew in love for Jesus. The more he suffered for the name of Jesus, the more he grew in intimacy with Jesus. He stands as a testimony to the fact that it is absolutely worth it to deny one’s self, to take up one’s cross daily, and to follow Jesus.
If you’re struggling under the weight of life this week, if you feel crushed by the cross on your back, and if you’re wondering if Jesus is really worth all this trouble, be encouraged. He’s worth it. If you’re worn and weary from fighting against the lusts of your flesh, if you’re beaten and bruised because you’ve been denying yourself for the sake of Jesus, and if you’re wondering if it wouldn’t be better just to give up on the whole thing and run back to the world that seems to be carrying on perfectly fine, be encouraged. Don’t give up. He’s worth it. Life is found in Jesus. Peace is found in Jesus. Love and joy are found in Jesus, and only in Jesus. When the questions come and the doubts arise, meet them with truth: Jesus is worth it.
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.