There is a way, and it has already been made for me.
I forget this. I think I am some kind of pioneer, forging my own way ahead through a harsh land. But the truth is, if Someone had not already gone before me, making a way, I would never be able to walk even one step forward in this my year of walking.
The work of my Savior in me and for me did not stop at the cross.
Shortly after New Year’s Day, after I began my year of walking (sometimes it feels more like a year of crawling, if I’m honest), I wrote this on the chalkboard in my kitchen: “We should follow in His steps.” It’s a quote from 1 Peter 2, and if you were around in Christianity in the late nineties, you might recognize it as the verse that inspired the WWJD movement. What Would Jesus Do? It was everywhere. Everyone had those rubber bracelets during my freshman year at Bible college.
It’s a valid question to live your life by, although like anything– like the verse on my wall– you can look at something and wear something and even say you are something without it ever really affecting your mind and heart and actions.
But I think that if we really want to understand what it means to follow in His steps, we have to look at the context in that passage in 1 Peter. This book was written by the apostle Peter– our good friend who walked on water until he didn’t, who confessed that Jesus was the Christ but rebuked Him for doing the things the Christ had come to do, who claimed he would never deny Jesus until he did. I love Peter. I can relate to Him so well.
Peter wrote the book of 1 Peter as a letter to believers who were suffering for their faith, and the whole book is an encouragement to stand fast and do right and trust God. We can’t understand what it means to follow in His steps without understanding that Peter was not talking to people who were living happy sunshiny Christian lives with no problems.
When Peter called upon believers to follow Christ– to walk in the path He had made for them– He was specifically talking about a path of suffering. He was talking about the same thing Jesus was saying when He told people that if they wanted to truly follow Him, they needed to daily take up their cross and walk behind Him.
Friends, I am so guilty of looking at the cross as little more than a decoration that hangs at the front of my church. This is a way that we are deceived and led astray– when we forget for a moment that the cross was an instrument of torture and death and violence. To take up a cross does not mean to wear a necklace or to get a tattoo. It means to go the way that Jesus did, and to expect suffering and sacrifice when we do it. It means to deliberately, daily say Yes, Lord— not just to the beautiful and the precious blessings, which are many, but to the painful steps and the hard, wearing trials.
If we are to follow in His steps, to take up our crosses and follow Him, we must remember that His steps led places that were filled with poverty, with shame, with disease. His steps led to needy people and to foolish people and to sinful, desperate people. His steps led Him to kneel down and wash the feet of His betrayer. His steps led Him, bruised and bloody, up the tortuous road to Calvary.
We cannot expect– I cannot expect— to follow Jesus and to at the same time live a life of ease, of physical comfort, of nothing but flowers and sunshine and skipping through parks under blue skies.
And this leads me to the question that plagued me for years– If this Christian life is so hard, why on earth would I want to live it? If my salvation is a work of grace, why would I choose to do the hard thing anyway? Does it matter?
Finally dumping all the ugly of this question before God began a slow but dramatic change in my life. Show me, I said. What’s the purpose? Why bother?
Here’s the truth. There is no other way to find peace, joy, and satisfaction in this life than to follow after Jesus, even on the way of suffering. God created us for this. It feels all upside-down, but isn’t that always the way of God? We are made topsy-turvy by the fall, our world is wrong when it says that peace and joy and satisfaction come from stuff and relationships and power and prestige. God’s way is best. We have to take it on faith, step out, walk the road– and discover that it is true in the nitty-gritty reality of every single day.
We cannot know Christ without understanding suffering. Paul considered the privilege of knowing Christ to be the main purpose of his life— “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” James said that it is the hard trials that lead us to perseverance, to maturity, to completion. And Peter said that enduring during suffering is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
Here is what I have learned, though I forget over and over, and God has to keep on teaching me. The road of ease and materialism and popularity that the world says will fill me up and give me purpose is a lie. It is, at best, treasure on earth that will be destroyed, and at worst it is nothing more than a quick trip to misery here on earth with nothing to show at the end. But the way of Christ– the way of the cross– the daily sacrifice and the suffering and the hard endurance– this is where true joy, true purpose, real abundance, and eternal reward lie.
There is nothing better than to know Christ today, even in His sufferings, knowing that He is there at the end of my journey. I want to hear Him say well done, good and faithful servant.
Everything else is loss.