Eons ago, my would-be-mentor gave me a little card when she first invited me to join my church’s youth ministry leadership team. I do not recall what she wrote, but the quote on the card remains etched in my memory, some fifteen years on. It said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
Reading Jesus’ words made me want to drop out of leadership even before I had begun. The stakes were too high, I remember thinking to myself. As if denying myself were not enough, I had to take up my cross—and follow only Jesus.
As a young person, I had a problem with praise—I craved it. I did things, said things, and behaved in ways wanting to be praised for doing so. Each successful attempt led to a greater obsession with people’s praises. Denying myself of this praise was the last thing on my mind.
Also, the thought of having to place His plans and His way before the things I enjoyed, such as movies, sports, and the like, was a tough pill to swallow.
On top of all that, I was a very competitive youth. Friends were getting boyfriends, and so I went and got myself one. Schoolmates were really good at sports, so I trained hard as well. Close friends told me that speaking rudely to my parents was cool, and that staying out late after school was the way to go—so I followed their example. Following Jesus meant not trying to keep up with my “cool” friends, and living life His way instead.
Although joining the leadership team meant giving up so many things I loved and enjoyed, I was too proud to back out after giving them my word. So I gritted my teeth and dived into it.
Fifteen years on, I’ve served in the youth ministry, the church worship team, missions board meetings, intercessory group—the list goes on. Not once have I regretted serving God’s people or watching His young people fall in love with the Word and lead others to Christ. In fact, the only things I’ve regretted were moments of self-centeredness: when I turned down an invitation to join a missions trip because I wanted to go on a holiday with my friends, and when I had someone else lead my cell group because I wanted to focus on my studies.
Certainly, there have been times of exhaustion and stress, but not one day has gone by without the joy of the Lord being my strength. I’ve found that self-denial becomes easy when you are constantly praying for other people. Taking up your cross daily becomes easier when you begin each morning hearing His call through His word.
Following Him then becomes the only logical path to take.