Article by: Adam Sapelak, Community Pastor
Humanity. What do you feel when you hear this word? What thoughts or ideas come immediately to your mind?
I have been reflecting on humanity, which led me to the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had just finished His final meal with the disciples, who walked closest with him. He predicted Peter’s denial of himself and headed to the Mount of Olives to pray in the garden. For quite some time before, Jesus had been moving through cities and situations, avoiding the mounting conflict. His words and miracles tossed the religious ideas and structure of the day on its head. People had missed the heart and plan of God.
As he moved through that final meal and came to the mount, he knew the time had come for his ministry’s most intense and challenging moment. So, what was Jesus’ response to that rising pressure and knowledge of this impending conflict? Prayer. This one action alone should be a beacon to us. Jesus drew His strength and direction from God, especially in the darkest moments. If we think we can go through our struggles and conflict without coming to God, we are in for a rude awakening that will bring us to our knees in the worst of ways!
What draws me even more to this moment is the words Jesus prayed. ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.’ (Luke 22:42a, ESV). Do these words make you think or feel anything? His statement completely floors me, and it has been challenging me daily. I believe my heart is just beginning to scrape the depth of Jesus’ humanity through this prayer. Jesus, the son of God, was born of a virgin. He who knew with intense clarity why He had come to earth. Jesus had set his face towards Jerusalem back in Luke 9 because He knew exactly what He was coming up against. Jesus, who saw the coming battle, the impending suffering, approaches the end so boldly up till now. Then comes his cry for God to change his course.
God, who was man, sought a way out. Does this shock anyone else? Does this give any window into how hard life can be for humanity? Why are we shocked when we see people dropping and giving up all around us when they encounter incredible difficulty, pain, or struggle? The high levels of destructive behaviour, depression, alcoholism, identity crisis, stress, anxiety etc., we see in so many people often are the inevitable consequences of humanity facing impossible situations alone, without God and one another.
Jesus’ prayer to escape the impending pain should remind us that He understands us. He completely gets our difficult situations. He faced what I am facing and so much more, and just like me, He wanted an escape. There have been many times that I want to escape. I see many even believers looking for ways to escape. Sometimes physical; other times, it can be an emotional or spiritual escape. While he sought that escape, his prayer continued.
Humanity easily relates to the beginning part of this prayer, but we are very reluctant to accept the second half. ‘Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.’ (Luke 22:42). Red lights are flashing! This is a big prayer. A huge prayer. This seemingly impossible part of his prayer needs to be sewn into my heart. We like to think God’s will for us is always warm, comforting, and to straighten the crooked path before us. Jesus’ life reveals to us a different perspective. He desired relief but was willing to put the Father’s will first. God’s will for His own child was to go through unbelieving agony that He would then use to reconcile a whole world full of sin unto Himself. To be honest, this part of God’s will still flies over my head. He could have done it differently; he is God, after all. But He didn’t, and Jesus’ prayer constantly reminds me of what I am signing up for.
‘For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?’ (Luke 14:28). Jesus implores us to understand the cost of following him. He does not want to pull a bait and switch. Before this verse, He urges us to take up our crosses (essentially embrace suffering for Him) and carrying those crosses is a prerequisite to truly following Him. Many of us do not understand the total cost of being his disciples when we start discovering Christ. I am not sure we can count the cost fully at first, or if we could, many of us would be able to accept Him. But as we grow with Him and learn to walk as He does, our faith grows, our understanding of the life we are entering increases, and we begin to walk in power and strength far beyond human capability (this power being His Holy Spirit within us). We become walking miracles. We gain so much while surrendering everything. We will be weak, and that is ok. It is expected.
For Jesus was also weak. Hold it a minute, am I allowed to say that, to say Jesus was weak? But he was a human right? And to be human, we are weak, and his prayer reflects that weakness. What does that mean for us? Are we not to be victorious, walk-in freedom and have victory in this life just as Jesus did? Isn’t that what Jesus promises his children? To answer my statement, yes, we are…. in part. But we will not experience perfection on this side of heaven. And we are weak, much weaker than Jesus was in that moment in the garden. We almost always seek an escape in hard times, and that’s ok. Can I suggest that that is part of what it is to be human? In those moments, some of us will pray, scream, or try and deny the challenges that will come to us in this life. Our default is to try and avoid such situations. That is a normal human response. But don’t stay there as Jesus didn’t either. We must continue with the rest of His prayer. We need to let God’s will deeply penetrate our souls.
‘Not my will, but yours be done.’ Wow, that’s easier said than done. To accept His will requires His Spirit, which is why Jesus had to leave earth so that we would be able to say, mean and obey such a prayer (John 14:15-31). In the end, it comes down to choice. This choice comes down to love, hope, joy, meaning, and our future. Will we choose our own ways to cope and deal with this broken world? Will we choose our paths believing we have ultimate control in this life? Assume we have the wisdom to make the correct choices for ourselves? Or will we bring these moments to God seeking relief but then willingly surrender it all for the sake of a God who is ultimately the only one who can carry us through? He who intimately knows the situations that we cannot understand no matter how unfair and hard they are. Do we believe God loves us so much that that same love cannot be wholly understood in our limited minds? Are we seeking a God we can contain, understand, and explain thoroughly or a God who promises to be so close at the same time as being unknowable? These are thoughts we need to wrestle with.
Jesus, you know us so wholly, and you completely fulfil us if we are willing. This road seems impossible at times, yet you have shown us to be a God of the impossible. Help us pray ‘Your will be done’ in every circumstance and help us submit to You in whatever comes knowing that we will receive strength in those deep dark valleys. Like a cup of water in the desert, we will find relief in You even if we remain in the desert. You bring us sustenance in an impossibly thirsty world. How mysterious and deep are your ways! When the next trouble threatens to drown us, reveal to Your people Your will, and give us the strength to walk in it as Jesus did. Thank you for Jesus.