As I was studying for the message I am going to give this coming Sunday (Surrender is the New Freedom), I ran across this quote from Thomas A Kempis’ work The Imitation of Christ. It’s definitely not a popular idea in our culture today, but I have no doubt he nails what Jesus is talking about in Mark 8:31-38. I’d encourage you to read and contemplate.
Jesus has many who love His Kingdom in Heaven, but few who bear His Cross (Luke 14:27). He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share His feast, but few His fasting. All desire to rejoice with Him, but few are willing to suffer for His sake. Many follow Jesus to the Breaking of Bread, but few to the drinking of the Cup of His Passion. Many admire His miracles, but few follow Him in the humiliation of His Cross. Many love Jesus as long as no hardship touches them. Many praise and bless Him, as long as they are receiving any comfort from Him. But if Jesus withdraw Himself, they fall to complaining and utter dejection.
They who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for the sake of comfort for themselves, bless Him in every trial and anguish of heart, no less than in the greatest joy. And were He never willing to bestow comfort on them, they would still always praise Him and give Him thanks.
Oh, how powerful is the pure love of Jesus, free from all self-interest and self-love! Are they not all mercenaries, who are always seeking comfort? Do they not betray themselves as lovers of self rather than of Christ, when they are always thinking of their own advantage and gain? Where will you find one who is willing to serve God without reward?
Seldom is anyone so spiritual as to strip himself entirely of self-love. Who can point out anyone who is truly poor in spirit and entirely detached from creatures? His rare worth exceeds all on earth. If a man gave away all that he possessed, yet it is nothing. And if he did hard penance, still it is little. And if he attained all knowledge, he is still far from his goal. And if he had great virtue and most ardent devotion, he still lacks much, and especially the `one thing needful to him’ (Luke 10:42). And what is this? That he forsakes himself and all else, and completely denies himself, retaining no trace of self-love. And when he has done all that he ought to do, let him feel that he has done nothing.
Let him not regard as great what others might esteem great, but let him truthfully confess himself an unprofitable servant. For these are the words of the Truth Himself: `When you shall have done all those things that are commanded you, say, “We are unprofitable servants” (Luke 17:10). Then he may indeed be called poor and naked in spirit, and say with the Prophet, `I am alone and poor’ (Ps. 25:16). Yet there is no man richer, more powerful or freer than he who can forsake himself and all else, and set himself in the lowest place.