July comes. Good times. Our minds turn to vacations and cookouts and beach trips and fun in the sun. The best of times. Do the best times, though, bring out the best in us? Experience teaches that sometimes, the easier we have it, the harder it is for us to deal with life. Think of a child with Mickey ears having a meltdown at the amusement park. How does that happen?
Our optimism and our good mood don’t survive long. We get impatient with the smallest first-world problems: A misspelled name on a birthday cake. The barista made your drink wrong at the coffee drive-through window. Someone cut you off in traffic and saluted you unkindly.
You think, “I shouldn’t have to put up with it.” In a perfect world, you wouldn’t. To put up with it patiently, and overlook a slight, that would be grace. In a graceless world, who does that? Where does such a thing come from?
It comes from heaven. It’s Jesus. He does it. If you ever find such grace in the world, it finally comes from Him. He loves the world enough to deal with it patiently. He loves the world enough to show kindness and mercy to it. He loves sinners enough to discipline them and train them.
The Proverb says: Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15 ESV) Experience teaches that this is true. So even in July, when our minds turn to vacations and cookouts, Jesus says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34 ESV)
He says it not because He wants to see you suffer. It’s not because He doesn’t want you to have any fun. It’s because, as Christ would have it, nobody should have to live without the cross. The cross is discipline for us. It’s a sign of God’s love for us. It means that He’s unwilling to leave us in our sin.
We find the cross when we suffer in our contact with the world, and we begin cry out to Him because it’s hard to cope. We find it in our homes and in our churches, in our callings from God to serve, and we struggle in our relationships, and we start to learn to pray. We find it in the world. Better said, it finds us.
When it teaches us that we are sinful and coming up short in these callings of ours, it’s doing its work, preparing us for the Lord’s own call to worship: “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28; ELH p.43.)
Have a blessed, restful summer—not without, but with, the cross.