The first requirement is that we must deny ourselves. By this Jesus does not say that His disciples must give up something, as many of us are doing during Lent. Giving up chocolate, candy, computer games, or other things like that will never make us His disciple. Rather, He commands us to deny ourselves. We give up our selfish desires. We give up our ambitions. We give up everything we think is important and turn the entirety of our lives over to Him. Practically, that means He becomes the most important person to us. He is not relegated to Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings during Lent. Instead, we recognize that He is Lord of our lives when we work, when we pray, when we play, when we eat, when we live, when we laugh, when we cry and even when we sleep. We recognize that we are always, totally and entirely His. And we ask Him to use us to His glory.
The second requirement presented by Jesus is that we must pick up our crosses. We sometimes forget this requirement as we no longer watch public executions as they did in Roman times. Carrying a cross meant that one was headed to one's death; it was a shameful and hopeless procession. In instructing us to pick up our crosses, Jesus is reminding us that we, too, will appear to be hopeless and heading to our ruin and possibly even our deaths. We will ignore conventional wisdom for the sake of the One who died for us. And we will do so voluntarily. We will pick up our crosses not because we are forced to, but because of the fact that He commands us to pick them up.
Finally, the last requirement is that we must go where He commands, not where our hearts desire. You and I may wish to play it safe, to deal only with those with whom we feel comfortable, to ignore some of our past pains, but Jesus reminds us that He tells us where to go. We may go to those people we most fear, because He commands us. We may go to those places that we most fear, because He commands us. We recognize that He does not ask for a cheerleader, He does not ask for and audience. He does ask for a follower, a disciple, for one who will be His hands, His voice, His heart in the world.
What does such a life mean in practical terms? It means that we die to the very things we most treasure, if they are anything but God. The prideful become willing servants, the lazy become hard workers, the whiners become joyful, the fearful become faithful. As His disciples, we go wherever He sends us, cognizant of the promise, gratefully aware of His mercy and power to redeem each one of us and every situation in which He allows us to find ourselves. No matter the ridicule, no matter the threat, no matter the cost, His disciples realize that He is in charge and that He will see His disciples safely through, even through death.