|Volume 22 Number 2 February 2020||
We have been reading The Domino Effect by Tim Lewis in our Sunday morning Bible class. In a nutshell, the book’s central focus is that if we choose to base every decision on God, then that first decision—or domino—will lead to more good decisions. Doing so does not mean one will have a problem-free life, but it does mean we can place our hope in something eternal. Our discussion today touched on some tender places in my life, and I would like to take a moment to share some of my thoughts.
I have loved many people, some of whom have chosen to believe in life after death and some who have not. I want to first say that I do not believe “unbelief” means a person will struggle more than a believer in this lifetime; however, I know from experience that not having hope in something eternal when trials come makes the effort to overcome seem much more futile. I have lived in both worlds, and I cannot imagine ever going back to a life in which I have no Savior Who has overcome the grave.
In our Bible class, the focus over the past couple of weeks has been on the avenue of prayer. We’ve discussed how this is one of the greatest resources we’ve been given; yet, we often only use it during difficult times. I firmly believe that if we were more dedicated to what we’re told in 1 Thessalonians, our hope would be more concrete. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV).
I can remember a time in my life when I felt uncomfortable praying, and from some of my conversations with others, I don’t believe I have been alone in that thought. For myself, I would have moments of feeling so unworthy because of the life I was living: “Surely no God would want to hear from me.” However, I was blinded by my own insecurity and self-doubt. One of the most comforting thoughts is that when we pray, we are speaking to a God Who has also experienced intense loss. His Son, Jesus, is God, but when we pray, how often do we remember that He was also human? How often do we remember that He also faced temptations and trials, and Jesus suffered greater pain than any of us can imagine? If there is anyone who can understand every trial or temptation I have ever faced, it is the One Who gave me life.
One of the most comforting prayers ever recorded is immediately before Jesus was arrested, while He was praying in the Garden. I will share it in just a moment, but before I do, I would like to discuss another prayer that occurred in the Garden. For myself, I believe this is the most devastating but also the most remarkable prayer ever recorded.
Jesus said to his disciples, “‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.’ And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, ‘O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou will.’ And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Matthew 26:38-39 KJV; Mark 14:34-26).
Have you ever met a trial so overwhelming that you begged for God to remove it? I have; more than once. Yet, I have never been obedient to the point of anguish that Jesus suffered. The physical condition of sweating blood occurs when the body is under extreme physical and emotional stress. Vessels begin to break so that blood begins to enter sweat glands. Jesus had a choice, but while He prayed those words asking for another option, He had already chosen obedience despite the pain He would endure. He was obedient to the point of His body literally breaking before He was ever arrested.
I want to camp out on that thought for just another moment because it’s not one we want to miss. The ancient historian, Josephus, said crucifixion was “the most wretched of deaths.” It wasn’t just painful, but it was also the most disgraceful execution during that time. As one man wrote:
Can anyone be found who would prefer wasting away in pain dying limb by limb, or letting out his life drop by drop, rather than expiring once for all? Can any man be found willing to be fastened to the accursed tree, long sickly, already deformed, swelling with ugly weals on shoulders and chest, and drawing the breath of life amid long-drawn-out agony? He would have many excuses for dying even before mounting the cross. (Lucius Seneca)
Jesus gave no excuses. He was willing to do the will of the Father, no matter the cost.
Life is hard, Friends. We all face trials and will until God calls us home. Prayer is only one of many avenues we’ve been given to handle life as it comes, but if we used it as designed, if we were in a continuous state of communication with our Creator—thanking Him for our successes, counting our blessings daily and looking for His answers to the trials we face—our lives, our relationships and our hope would be transformed. May we all be willing to transform our lives in accordance to His plan for us, but I want to challenge us all to take prayer one step further.
Is there anything specific in your life at this very moment that God is asking for your obedience? Have you heard His voice crying out softly, but for whatever reason, you haven’t yet been able to set aside your will for His? We often choose to follow our own desires when following His means there will be some level of suffering involved. Maybe it’s letting go of destructive habits that are hurting those who love us most. Or, maybe doing His will would mean overcoming pride and admitting, “I might be doing something wrong.” It could also be that those closest to us may not understand our new commitment and may even react with anger. Whatever it is, I believe we all know at least one thing, if not many more, that God is asking us to give up so His will becomes our priority. Jesus suffered even to the point of death, but He also overcame death so that we can have hope in something more powerful than any trial we will ever face. Are you willing to do the same for Him? When you finish reading this, I want to request spending a moment in prayer—and maybe committing to allow His desires to take priority in your life.
Jesus knew life would not be easy for those who choose to follow Him, so may His words in this prayer to our Father give you the strength He had to endure.
Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed [“son of perdition,” KJV, NKJV, ASV or “son of destruction,” ESV] to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. (John 17:1-25 NIV)