Bishop Walpole was cited as having offered this wise counsel to a friend who was struggling with a life-shaping decision: “If you are uncertain of which of two paths to take, choose the one on which the shadow of the cross falls.”
I suspect that the advice may not have been welcomed by Walpole’s friend. Or, to put it more personally, had that advice been given to me, I expect I would not have welcomed it happily. It’s like Jesus’ hard words with which the Beatitudes end: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10–12). It is akin to the adage that the Lord gets his best soldiers out of adversity. The trouble is, not many of us readily sign up for adversity.
I expect that few of us would rank ourselves in the realm of those saints who have endured great hardships for Christ. While I have faced some hurtful things in ministry, they really are mosquito bites in comparison to the struggles, labours and sacrifices that many have poured out for the sake of Jesus. No, I relate far more to the story of another bishop who lamented that wherever Jesus went, riots seemed to break out; but wherever he went, they served tea!
Most of us probably prefer tea to riots and our creature comforts to any real sacrifice or suffering for Christ. Given the choice, our most natural response would not likely take any road over which the shadow of the Cross loomed, since that would seem to promise to demand of us such loyalties, convictions and readiness to know “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10), and we might despair of having such qualities in our soul. Yet, it is so very true that when we dare to obey Christ’s summons despite the danger or challenge or hardship, we find his presence to be so strong, dear and good. Indeed, it is precisely in those situations when we have no power of our own upon which to rely, no wisdom of our own to bring to the challenge and come to the very end of our personal resources, that we find the grace of Christ to be sufficient for us and the power of Christ to be most at work. It is not unlike that great promise in Isaiah 43, that it will be as we are passing through the waters and walking through the fire that the protection, comfort and presence of our God will be most fully known.
Over what road ahead looms the shadow of the Cross for you this day? It may also be, surprisingly, the road whereon you will discover the greatest joy of meeting Jesus.