The Daily Inconvenient Path to Joy

My five-year-old and I recently started some seeds indoors that we will transplant later this season into our garden. Every morning, he wakes up and goes to check on his seeds to see how they are doing.

After we first put them under the soil, my son told me he didn’t know where his little seeds had gone. He had buried them away underground the week before, and now he wasn’t quite sure what had become of them. Now we can see the little shoots, and we anticipate a bountiful harvest in the coming months. But for a while, they were nowhere to be seen.

God designed the seed’s cycle of death and life in such a way that he could demonstrate the gospel to my young son. The plant cannot live and bear fruit unless the seed is first buried away to die. Then, once the seed relinquishes its life, a plant can emerge with the promise of yielding fruit.

“God calls all who follow Jesus to daily fall into the ground like a little seed and die.”

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” Jesus proclaimed. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also” (John 12:23–26).

God calls all who follow Jesus to daily fall into the ground like a little seed and die (Luke 9:23). Dying for the purpose of bearing fruit is exactly what Jesus did for us, and taking up the cross through our daily sufferings is our chance to come and die with the risen Christ.

Recognizing the Cross

To take up our cross, we must learn to recognize the cross when it comes to us. In seasons of great loss or sorrow, it is easy to discern the cross that God has entrusted to us. But perhaps more often, the cross is presented to us in small ways — through little inconveniences, frustrations, and irritations. We probably would not even deem these struggles worthy of the word suffering, and yet these little hardships are often our opportunities to “die every day,” as Paul says, “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus” (1 Corinthians 15:31; 2 Corinthians 4:10).

When we grasp this truth, as Elizabeth Elliot did, it can change our lives. Quoting John Henry Newman, she comments, “‘The cross is going to be presented to us by the continual, daily practice of small duties which are distasteful to us.’ It is simply one of those small duties, gladly tackled, that will point to what to do next.” These are not the kinds of crosses we will ever be able to brag about, but they are the tiny thorns that prick and needle, the challenging situations, and the discomforts, where our Lord says to us, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Chance to Die

“To take up our cross, we must learn to recognize the cross when it comes to us.”

Whatever it is that really gets to me, really annoys me, there it is — my chance to die. Lately for me, it’s when my young children drop crumbs in my freshly swept kitchen. What a seemingly inconsequential “suffering”: I have to sweep a little extra on my first-world kitchen floor.

But it’s in that moment when the providence of God crosses the will of my flesh that I have an opportunity to surrender. Right then and there, I have the chance to fall into the ground like a little seed and be expended. What a loving Father I have that he extends to me the chance to be crucified with Christ in this moment, to be conformed to the image of his Son through the surrender of my will, by the gift of this tiny thorn.

In these moments, when the cross is presented, how do I walk by faith?

First, I must believe that God is sovereign over these tiny irritations, and that this thorn is ordained by God for my good and for his glory. Once I realize that this is an opportunity from God to lay down my life, I am faced with the question: Am I going to submit to the cross and walk in the Spirit right now, or in this moment am I going to indulge the flesh and choose sin?

Secondly, according to God’s power at work within me, I must strive mightily in the Spirit to act in faith, and this only happens through the word of God and prayer. As I learn from his word the path of obedience, I can pray and ask him to help me take up the cross right here in this situation. I can ask him to change my heart, so that my only ambition today is to go lower, to be buried, to lay down my life and die.

Fruit-Bearing Death

I recently overheard my son explaining to his daddy, “The seeds we planted had to die so that these plants could live.” The Christian life is a fruit-bearing death as we embrace eternal victory through the hope of a buried life.

“Dying to ourselves is the path to joy, because death always precedes fruitful resurrection.”

Suddenly, it’s clear that sweeping away crumbs is the path of joy, because for the Christian, death always precedes fruitful resurrection. Whatever our current cross, we rejoice in this light and momentary affliction with joy inexpressible and full of glory, for the one we follow into the grave is a resurrected Savior. And because Jesus was resurrected from the dead, we too await a resurrection.

Daily cross-bearing is the Gardener’s tool to conform us into the image of his Son. So, take heart, for as you fall into the ground each day like a little seed, hidden away to die, God is working for you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Lose your life, little seed. You have a chance to come and die with the risen Christ.