Have you ever been faced with something genuinely frightening and overwhelming? That kind of overwhelming that you can’t handle on your own, that needs supernatural help to bring you through it? Jesus has! Of course, we will never fully understand what He went through on our behalf because we are not God made man–we were never gloriously one with the Father in eternity past as He was–and we could never bear up under the condemnation of our own sins, much less those of all humanity. But we do suffer at times–and some are called upon to suffer an unbelievable amount of difficulty and pain; it is at these moments that we can learn from Jesus how to persevere.
“They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James and John along with Him, and He began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ He said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ Going a little farther, He fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from Him. ‘Abba, Father,’ He said, ‘everything is possible for You. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.'” (Mark 14:32-36 NIV)
The gospel of Luke interestingly adds, “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:43-44 NIV) And while a footnote to the NIV (other translations do not have such a footnote) says, “Many early manuscripts do not have verses 43 and 44,” I cannot but imagine that the Father did strengthen Him for the task ahead. But how did Jesus do it–how did He get through the horror of what was before Him?
We learn from Hebrews 5:6-9: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.”
And from Hebrew 12:1-3: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:1-4 NIV)
Jesus got through the most difficult task anyone could ever have been asked to complete because 1) He knew the truth, 2) He knew the Father, and 3) He fellowshipped intimately with the Him.
First of all, Jesus knew the truth. What do I mean by this? Well, He knew what was on the other side of the suffering. He understood “the joy set before Him;” He comprehended that this world isn’t all there is, He didn’t cling to life at all costs, He knew the joy and glory on the other side of the difficult journey. Yes, He would have to suffer excruciating pain to get there, but the Father was there at the end of the road.
Which brings me to the second point–He knew the Father. I don’t believe any of us can get through anything genuinely difficult without knowing “…You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” (John 17:3 NIV), because, “this is eternal life…”
Knowing the heavenly Father and Jesus IS eternal life–it begins in us in this world, and this relationship doesn’t sever at death! That is why we can overcome anything the Father sets before us–because we no longer enslaved by our fear of death: “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15 NIV)
Not only did Jesus know 1) what comes beyond the grave after the suffering and 2) the Father Himself, He also 3) intimately fellowshipped with Him in prayer. He didn’t do this like many of us do–out of duty because we have to, or by uttering rote prayers. He did it because He recognized fellowship with the Father–seeking Him, being one with Him, calling out to Him, praying in the Spirit, remaining in Him–for the source of strength it is: He did it because He wanted to! I believe this unity with the Father is what ultimately got Him through the suffering, and it can get us through, too. So, how should we pray? How should we seek fellowship with the Father and Jesus Christ?
I believe there are two ways we pray: we pray when we have to, and we pray when we want to. The “have to” prayers are “duty prayers,” done out of obligation. I’m not saying God doesn’t hear them, but I believe the ones that are really effective–the ones that He responds to by giving us the strength to bear up under difficult circumstances–are the ones we walk away from having lost track of time, the ones after which our looming problems have inexplicably shrunken to minuscule proportion in light of having spent time in the presence of the glory of the God of all!
Have you ever personally prayed like that? Have you “panted for His presence like a deer pants for water?” Have you recognized that if He takes your hand and leads you forward you can do “all things through Christ who strengthens you?” Have you recognized that if you “gain Christ and are found in Him,” ultimately everything is okay, no matter how “not okay” they otherwise seem to be?
You can do this–whatever it is you are faced with today–but not on your own! We need the power of “Christ in us, the hope of glory;” we need to “Remain in [Jesus]…” because “…apart from [Him]…[we] can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5 NIV)
My Lord and my God:
Help me seek You and Your presence with my whole heart! Amen.