French Archbishop François Fénelon (1651-1725) was struck by how his people responded to the words of our Lord Jesus, “If any of you want to be My follower, you must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross given to you for following Me.”[1] So he offered the following insight to those struggling to keep up with Jesus because their cross seemed too heavy or inconvenient. His French expressions are not easy to translate but I’m sure you’ll get his point.

God is very resourceful in making crosses for us to carry. Some seem to be constructed out of lead and iron, which are overwhelming in themselves. And some are made of straw, which seems so light and yet is no less difficult to bear. Other crosses appear to be made of gold and jewels, the glitter of which dazzles those around and excites the world’s envy, but all the while being as punishing as the most despised of crosses.

Sometimes He makes crosses for us out of whatever we love best which can make us bitter. Positions of responsibility involve constraint and harassment. It gives us things we do not care for and removes what we crave.

The poor man who does not have bread to eat considered his cross made of lead, but God mingles trouble very much like the cup of those who are prosperous. In fact, the rich may hunger for freedom from their cross just as the poor hunger for bread. Whereas the poor can freely knock at every door and call upon every passerby for pity, the person of high estate is ashamed to seek compassion or relief. God very often adds bodily weakness to this moral servitude among the great. Nothing can be more profitable than two such crosses combined: they often suffer while God shows them their lack of power and the uselessness of all they possess to satisfy what only God can give.

Wisdom tests us in all manner of ways according to our position. Therefore, it is very possible to drink the cup of bitterness[2] while living in luxury without having to endure some calamity – indeed, to drink it to the last dredges out of the golden vessels that adorn the tables of kings. In this way, God can reveal that our supposed greatness is nothing more than powerlessness in disguise.

Happy are those who seek these things with that illumination of the heart that Apostle Paul advises.[3] The trials of high position are more acute than rheumatism or headache! But faith turns them into something that accounts for our good.[4] It teaches us to look upon all such things as mere trials,[5] and our patient acceptance of them shows us absolute freedom, which is all the more real because it is hidden from our gaze in our hearts and spirits.

The only good point of worldly prosperity is one to which the world is blind – its cross! An elevated position does not save us from ordinary afflictions common to the human condition. Indeed, it has its unique trials, and it involves oppression that prevents people from seeking the relief open to those in a less exalted place. Those who are not in a high place can at least, when ill, see whom they will, and be sheltered from external threats.

But well-known persons must carry their cross. They must live for others when they might prefer to consider their comfort. In this way, God turns the good things that the world covets into trouble and toil and allows those He has raised to earthly grandeur to be an example to others. It is His will to perfect their cross by concealing it beneath the most splendid worldly riches to show what little value there is in prosperity. Let me repeat; happy are those who, in such circumstances, learn to see God’s hand sustaining them in mercy. But, unfortunately, in seeking a false paradise, many too often forfeit the hope of true heaven after this brief life ends.

Fénelon ends with this prayer: O cross! Holy cross! May I cling firmly to you! May I worship my Lord as He hangs upon you, and may I die with Him to sin and the world forever! Amen.

[1] Matthew 16:24

[2] Ibid. 20:22

[3] 1 Corinthians 2:12

[4] Romans 8:28

[5] James 1:2

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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