Many have heard the story about the man who visited Peter in heaven. Maybe the man was me. Like us all, I carried a cross, and when I arrived I asked Peter, “With all due respect, Peter, this cross I am carrying is very heavy, and I’m tired of it. Is there any way that I can exchange it for another?”
We walked together down a long hall, and at the end were immense doors of iron that opened into a chamber the size of a stadium. Scattered all around were crosses of many different sizes and materials. Some, although smaller, were incredibly dense and heavy as if made of lead. Others towered hundreds of feet into the air. Some crosses forged of iron, some carved from thick oak – the selection was infinite.
So I set my cross among the many and began to test others. The enormous crosses I didn’t even attempt to lift, and others I could barely budge. One or two I could get up off of the ground, but they would have been impossible for me to carry. After searching for hours I came upon a simple cross of wood that seemed reasonable. With some effort I hoisted it up upon my shoulders testing its weight.
“This one seems like one I can handle,” I said. “It’s not light, but I think I can manage. I’ll carry this one.”
Peter responded calmly, “That’s the cross you came in with my friend.”
A cross and eternal life. These are the two things that Jesus’ promises us, and really, at the essence of our faith, nothing else matters. Why is it that I feel cheated sometimes? What about health and prosperity? These things might come to pass, but where do I focus my attention? I want to add more to the deal like ornaments on a Christmas tree – but the real tree of Christ is stripped bare waiting for Him to hang upon it. This makes me cringe. Why do my expectations exceed what is promised to me?
A cross. This is universal. All humans have their trials and following Jesus does not make us exempt. Carrying our cross teaches us to be strong, perseverant, obedient and humble. Trials are never pretty things, but they define our character. A Christian is not a “good person”. Christians are persons who respond to crisis in a way impossible for them to accomplish on their own.
Eternal life. What more do I want? Why do I feel I need, or even worse, deserve more?
This promise is so perfect that its fruit gives us all we need. When fully embraced we are at peace in every circumstance – even the impossible ones. This type of embrace is not easy, especially for those who suffer, but God extends His promise most vigorously in the darkest night. The Spirit eases the burden of the cross defining the relationship between the trial and the promise. In our worst and weakest moments we are truly saved by grace.
But I don’t want to enter into the garden of Gethsemane with Jesus. Like the apostles, I want to sleep this one off. The next chapter I want to avoid… hoisting that cross into life eternal.
So instead I ask for blessings, change, healing and restoration. These things are not bad, and I should pray for them. But in Gethsemane – as the religious and political order of the day mounted its deadly wrath against Him – did Jesus pray for a change where all men would be free and equal? The dreams of great men such as Martin Luther King, Jr. revolutionize our world, but these changes are only born of a belief in something much more grounded… that God’s will be done in every circumstance. Then there are Christians in China that do not pray for a political change at all despite cruel and suffocating oppression. Instead they pray for a stronger spiritual back to carry the load… in order to give more glory to God.
When Jesus was cornered in the garden by His future executioners, He was healthy and He was free. The most profound healing and liberation are found in His prayer…
Thy Will Be Done.