When Lucy and I took some time off last fall to spend a few days in the mountains we made our way to the botanical gardens near Asheville. One of the things that caught our attention was their large collection of Bonsai trees – very small trees that are grown in a pot by special methods to control their growth. Hours are spent on stunting the growth of those trees. As we wandered through the greenhouses looking at those popular trees, I kept thinking about people instead of trees. One of the greatest tragedies in the Christian church is the immature, undeveloped disciples of Jesus Christ. How sad to find a believer who has been a Christian for three, five, twenty, or fifty years, and who is still just a little child spiritually.
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Thousands of folks sought after Jesus because of His healing miracles and His compassion, but when He began to lay down the terms for following Him, they departed. So many left that He turned to the twelve and asked, “Are you going to leave also?” [John 6] Being Jesus’ disciple is hard. We are to take up the cross daily. Think about that with me for a few moments.
Dying on a cross hurts – A. W. Tozer, in surveying the men and women that God used mightily, said: “It is doubtful that God can use a man greatly until he has first hurt Him deeply.” It will cost you and hurt you to take up the cross, but God can effectively use our hurts and struggles to grow us up in Christ. In purifying gold they use an extremely hot fire. As the liquid gold sinks to the bottom of the container, the goldsmith skims off the impurities as they rise to the top. When the goldsmith can see his face perfectly reflected in the gold, he knows that the gold is pure. Friend dying on a cross hurts, but when our old man dies, God can see more clearly the reflection of Jesus in our lives and so can others.
Dying on a cross takes time – One Roman historian tells us that the longest he’d seen anybody hang on a cross before expiring was six days. Discipleship takes time. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6 the following: “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” God is in no hurry. He’s working for eternity. Our spiritual growth takes time. When a survey was taken of some of the great saints of the past century they asked this question: “How many years was it from the time you met Jesus Christ as Savior until you began to know Christ as your life?” The answer among those godly men and women averaged 15 years. [Miles J. Stanford’s book Principles of Spiritual Growth page 14] Years ago I heard someone say this: “It takes God a hundred years to make a mighty oak. He can turn out a squash in six weeks. Which would you like to be? An oak? Or a squash?” Discipleship takes time.
There is no such thing as self-crucifixion – When was the last time you opened up the paper and read that someone committed suicide by crucifixion? You’ll never read that. You can shoot yourself, hang yourself, or take an overdose of drugs. People have invented all sorts of ways to kill themselves, but nobody has ever committed suicide by crucifixion. Crucifixion is God’s work, not ours. What He does to me is not what He’s going to do to you. How He operates and uses things in my life are different from what He’ll do for you. It is not our responsibility to tell God how to grow us to be His disciples. It’s our responsibility to yield our lives and let Him work as he sees fit, knowing it’s going to hurt and knowing God’s plan will take time.
Are you willing for God to mold you into a disciple at any price? Will you be a spiritual man or woman at any price? I don’t know what trials or difficulties may come to you. I don’t know how God is going to deal in your life. I do know this: He has promised to make good disciples – not bonsai Christians – of those who are willing to follow Him at any price.
Let’s take up the cross! Pastor Steve