“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
In case you ever needed a strong argument that the so-called prosperity gospel isn’t true, this is it. Jesus himself says plainly and simply that if you want to follow him, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and give up your life. This concept is foreign to many who think that believing in God is supposed to guarantee you a happy, healthy, and wealthy life. On the contrary, Jesus says that believing in him and following him means willingly denying that life.
Why? Why would anyone want to follow a religion that not only won’t guarantee health and wealth, but actually guarantees almost the opposite? It boils down to one concept: delayed gratification. That means that instead of doing what would be immediately satisfying or pleasing, holding off on it for a greater satisfaction in the long run. For example, a student may forego a night out with friends in order to study even if it isn’t the most satisfying thing to do, because in the long run he will do better in school and better in life because he chose to study.
In the same way, followers of Jesus forego the immediate satisfactions of this world in order for a greater, eternal pleasure. If you don’t believe me, read Matthew 5:10-12, Luke 6:22,John 15:18-20, and 2 Timothy 3:12 among others and you’ll see that it’s very true. Christ is quite blunt and honest about the fact that to follow him means to endure persecution. Based on the verses listed so far, it would be fair to say that if you’re not facing any type of persecution, you’re probably not following Jesus the way he called us to. In the verse in John 15, Jesus actually says, “a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” These are the words of Jesus himself. There’s really no way around it.
But here’s the most important part: it’s worth it.
The key to all of this is that when you know Jesus, when you’ve experienced the transformative love of salvation, you don’t need the earthly pleasures. As the veil between you and God is lifted, you begin to see that all earthly cravings are a deeper yearning for something greater: eternity with God. And Jesus promises us that those who believe in him will be given nothing less than that. Mark 10:29-30 says, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” Jesus promises us that whatever we sacrifice, he will give back to us in new and better ways both now and in eternity, even though it will come with some persecution.
I pray that I will never follow you out of a desire for earthly pleasure, but only out of a desire to come near to you, be more like you, and spend eternity with you. Give me the strength to leave behind comfort, riches, and any earthly pleasures that hold me back from you. Help me to take up my cross and follow you.
In Jesus’ Name,