The start of a new year brings hope. This new beginning delivers the courage to believe that anything is possible. Our past days are behind us, and we anticipate better days are ahead. We boldly step into this new season armed with our expectations for how things will be better this year.
I began 2018 like every other year, with goals and expectations. However, the reality of this past year is almost unrecognizable to the original vision I had for it. Instead of losing weight, I gained. Instead of my plans to not work outside the home, I began working two part-time jobs. I expected to welcome an adopted daughter into our family, but instead was given the bittersweet privilege of grieving her premature death. While those around me spent last year thriving, I spent it adjusting to a reality that I neither wanted nor expected.
Learning to adjust to new circumstances has helped me learn some other things, too. I’ve learned I wasn’t who I thought I was. My heart has a greater capacity for unbelief and sin than I was willing to acknowledge. I learned, like Eve in the garden, that sometimes my enemy’s words sound sweeter than my Father’s. More importantly, I learned new things about my Father. He isn’t who I thought he was either. He is more than I believed. He’s bigger and wilder. He is better.
Last year, I learned to cling to him in desperation. His sovereignty both scared and humbled me. His faithfulness bewildered me. His grace sustained me. His love overwhelmed me. His tenderness unraveled me. In all my brokenness of last year, I was given a new taste for him, and I want more. This insatiable craving has inspired my goal for 2019. I want to chase hard after Christ. I simply want more of him.
Jesus’ words to his disciples tell me how to achieve my goal: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). We don’t define the terms of following Christ; he does. He says the way to chase him hard is through daily self-denial and cross-bearing.
We are lovers of self. Our default mode is to please, exalt, and nourish our own wills. It is only by the grace of God that we are enabled to deny our wills and choose our Father’s. Amy Carmichael understood this as she prayed, "God, harden me against myself!" This must be the prayer of all who chase hard after Christ.
Christ, himself, is our example in self-denial. Remember the tension between his will and his Father’s as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). “Nevertheless” communicates trust and submission, yet Jesus also made his fleshly desires known. There is no use ignoring this tension; it exists. But, as Christ proved, we can wrestle with our Father in prayer to receive the blessing of desiring his will as we deny our own.
This is how we chase hard, through self-denial. The Bible commands us to reject our selfish ambitions (Phil. 2:3). We resist the temptation to advance our own agendas. By God’s grace, we crucify our self-will.
Bearing our crosses
“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). You can’t be a follower of Christ without going where he went. And he went to the cross. So we must go to our cross and take it up to chase after him. We echo Paul’s words, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
Cross-bearing means that we embrace God’s will, no matter the cost. Christ sacrificed himself on a cross and paid the great cost for us. And now, God calls us to adoption in Christ. But that call begins with the invitation to die. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” He calls you to bear your cross by dying to your old way of life, to your sin, and to your will.
He calls you to take up your cross every day. But one day, he will call you to a crown. Instead of taking up your cross, you’ll lay it down. You will receive Christ in all his fullness and enjoy his presence and glory forever. Persevere in your cross-bearing.
The daily chase
As you determine your goals for the new year, consider what you really want. If it’s not what God’s Word says you should want, repent and ask him to align your desires with his. Pray for a passion for Christ and his glory on earth. Choose which liturgies you will immerse yourself in daily to direct your passions toward him. Don’t spend your days chasing after lesser things. Choose the better pursuit.
When your enemy tells you your goal is impossible, don’t believe him. Resist the devil and watch him run away from you (James 4:7). And then continue to run to Christ. Persevere. Trust God for the strength each day to chase him hard.
To follow him today, we must deny ourselves and take up our crosses. Tomorrow, we wake up and do it all again. This is our privilege and our calling. Martin Luther said, “There are two days in my calendar: This day and that Day.” May we chase hard this day to receive the fullness of our reward in Christ on that Day.