I remember watching a documentary on the first African-American female doctor. She was working until she was in her nineties. When asked why she continued her practice, her answer stuck to my mind. She said, “It is not work if you are having fun. I am having too much fun.”
Not many people can share the woman’s feelings about her job. The reality of vocation is that it is a mixture of good and bad. Vocation can be both satisfying and fulfilling. It can also be boring and discouraging. Sometimes, it is fruitful; other times, it seems futile. And these mixed realities hold true in every facet of our life. It is wonderful to be a parent. But there will also be moments of heartache. It is blessing to be married, but there are disagreements and fights. It is good to have a job, but it also brings with it unreasonable bosses and uncooperative colleagues. It is good to belong to a church, but I am sure that there are some things in the church that upset you too.
So every vocation has its up and down sides. That is because the whole earth is cursed after the fall of Adam. God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground...in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field” (Genesis 3:17-18).
Through Christ, the curse was removed. The Seed of the woman crushed the serpent’s head. But while the victory is assured, the Bible tells us that the effects of the victory are not yet to be fully realised. The Apostle Paul tells us that “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now...even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:22-23).
Cross and Crown
Here is the reason for the mixed realities of our vocation – the cross and the crown. We all yearn for success in all our endeavours. We would rather enjoy the thrill of victory than the agony of failure. Yet our Lord Jesus and His apostles spoke of the cross just as much as they did of the crown.
“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
“We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
“If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Timothy 2:12).
“Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye...” (1 Peter 4:13-14).
There is a divine pattern – the cross before the crown. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The way of the cross means commitment and consecration, and it necessarily entails perseverance in spite of defeats and discouragements. Yes, ahead is the promised crown, but along the way, we have to bear the cross.
The Way of the Cross
Jessie Pounds pens these based on Matthew 16:24 (Luke 9:23).
I must needs go on in the blood-sprinkled way,
The path that the Saviour trod,
If I ever climb to the heights sublime,
Where the soul is at home with God.
The way of the cross leads home,
The way of the cross leads home;
It is sweet to know, as I onward go,
The way of the cross leads home.
Christian vocation requires us to go on in the blood-sprinkled way, but it is the way of the cross that leads home. Parents who poured out their lives into a son to raise and nurture him only to have him reject the very truths that the parents had taught him. Did the parents fail in their calling?
A man devoted his life to his work. He was good at what he does, but because of bad economy, he was laid off. Did he fail in his calling?
A church team spend hours and devoted time and energy to an evangelistic outreach project, but the end results were miserable. There was no fruit to show for it. Did they fail in their calling?
A pastor was called to serve by a congregation. He was faithful. But they were lukewarm to the truth, and they eventually turned against him perhaps because someone does not like one point in one sermon, and he was removed. Did God call him there?
These are the disappointments that come with our Christian calling. Winston Churchill was voted out of office after leading Great Britain through the Second World War. Steve Jobs was dismissed from the company that he founded. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb but only after countless failures. All of us, at one time or another, struggled with God’s calling for us.
These are the crosses that we have to bear. The temptation of the devil is to get the Christian out of God’s calling by offering him a way of lesser resistance. Enter the wide gate instead of the strait one. Take the broad way instead of the narrow road. Take the short cut.
This is what Satan offered our Lord Jesus Christ. The devil brought our Lord Jesus to a high place and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil made Christ this offer, “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine” (Luke 4:5-7). In other words, the devil is saying, “I will give you the crown, and you do not even have to go the way of the cross.”
Take the easy road. Forgo the cross. But can there be a cross-less Christ? Can there be such a thing as a non-cross bearing Christian? No! A non-cross bearing Christian is a misnomer. May the LORD help us!