WillisThen, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. ~ (Mark 8:34 NIV)

Three days a week, early in the morning, I work out in the gym. One morning last week, stressed and sluggish I dragged myself out of bed to exercise. Anxious to get my workout over, I increased the speed of the treadmill. Suddenly I noticed Jesus was on the treadmill with me.

Today God wants me to share with you what it takes to walk with Jesus. First, we must deny ourselves, take up “our own cross” and follow Him. We must also love walking in the light. We must be dedicated to doing God’s work and clear about our priorities. These things all help eliminate the obstructions that keep us from drawing closer to Jesus.

Jesus shares deeper helpful ingredients to draw us closer to Him. In Mark 8:31-38 He tells the disciples to be prepared to suffer, and not to run from it but rather embrace it. He also shares with them that self-sacrifice is “The Way” to saving ourselves, and finding our true self.

As Christ shares this knowledge, He warns the disciples to keep quiet about His suffering, trial, death and resurrection. Peter protests the thought of this, and Christ quickly rebukes him.

Jesus, now seeing Peter and His disciples wavering and wondering about what to believe, confronts Peter and calls Satan out of him. In the final verses of the passage, Christ also points out, “If we’re embarrassed over Him and the way He leads, then we are an embarrassment to Him.”  (Mark 8:38 MB).

There are times in scripture when Jesus either walks away or distances himself from would-be followers. Once, when a stranger asked to follow Him, and then began to make excuses about having to first bury his father, Jesus seemingly crudely responds to him saying, “Let the dead bury the dead.” (Luke 9:57-62)

Then there was another time when a rich young ruler asked Him, “What must I do to be saved?” Jesus told him, “Sell all that you have and follow me.” The young man was very rich and he loved his wealth more, so he turned around broken-hearted and walked away. (Mark 10:17-31).

At the gym, as time passed my energy increased, and there was a strange excitement as my stride quickened. The time on the treadmill flew by.  My number of reps on the Nautilus equipment also shot up. As the sweat popped off my body, I just knew Jesus was working out with me.

I had a wonderful time that day at the gym. It was the best workout ever. My initial sluggish attitude and stressed-out mental condition had changed. With the passing of every moment, I became more and more aware of working out with Jesus. In my tired and anxious state, I had drawn closer to Him. He was there beside me on the treadmill, beside me on the Nautilus equipment, and beside me during pushups on the mat.

By ourselves, we are weak. However, thank God, with Jesus we are strong! Jesus can keep us from doing wrong. We can be satisfied as long as we walk close to Him. Through this world of toil and snares, if indeed we falter who else really cares?

The problem is many of us want Christ to draw close to us and to walk with us, if not actually follow us. However, He distances Himself from such people. We either draw closer to Him and follow Him on His path, or walk away from Him on our own path.

Regardless of our age, God calls us every day to grow closer to him. We draw closer to Jesus when we go through trials and sufferings, even when the journey is to some unpredictable destination. As we walk with Jesus, we are transformed into whom and what God wants us to become.

As we walk with Christ, He challenges us to be clear about our priorities. To draw closer to Him we must make “first things first.” His business is not that of helping us to avoid physical death, but rather that of helping us to find eternal life.

The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door UCC in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or pastor@churchoftheopendoormiami.org