Sweating Blood

Being in Holy Week has made me think more on Jesus moments in the garden during prayer. I could not even begin to work through the theological debates surrounding Jesus prayer in the garden, and that is not my goal in this post. In these moments we see a beautiful moment in Jesus where he is legitimately facing the weight of the burden he is beginning to carry.

The pressure is enormous. This is a powerful moment. This has been the moment on my mind this past week. It has not stuck out to me for its theological conundrums of Jesus asking for the cup to pass him. It is not even primarily from the fact that he willingly chooses to follow God’s will. It is the humanity to it all the has captivated me.

In this moment I am struck with the reality of it being ok to recognize that hardship exists. Scripture says Jesus was sweating great drops of blood. This is what the world would call weakness. Some would even say fearful. Can Jesus even be afraid? Is that really a thing? Those questions have been running through my head. What really is fear though? We treat it in a negative context because it is often something that controls our actions and behavior. This is an obvious problem, but should that deny us the right to acknowledge when things are difficult?

I have felt surrounded at times over the past few weeks to be encouraged to ignore how difficult things are. Don’t pay attention to the burning building because God is watching out for you. Here is the thing, it is true God is watching out for me. I have no reason to believe He will abandon me. However, it doesn’t change that I might be in a point in life where things are just difficult, maybe even unfair.

Jesus in the garden reminds us that it is ok to recognize when hardship is entering your life. Jesus felt the pain of what he was going to experience. He knew it would be unimaginable to anyone else. Yet he persevered. Anyone can walk into a burning building that they are forced to believe is not coming down. It is the one who runs into the inferno as the roof is collapsing that is showing true grit. Maybe you are reading this through a time of difficulty. Perhaps the world is telling you to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and move along. Maybe the ones saying that are even the people causing you difficulty. I would suggest a different piece of advice. Go into the garden and be transparent. Sweat drops of blood. Call out this period of life for what it is. Name it as a hardship. Once you do that you can look up and give it over to God. I think that is what Jesus has been teaching me through this moment in His life throughout this week. I can only give something up to God when I willingly acknowledge how painful it really is.

Joy on the Cross.

“You just need to learn how to be more joyful”. Such a common statement most of us have heard when we express our frustration, sadness, and discouragement over a difficult situation in our lives. James tells us to count it all joy when we face trials of various kinds. Count it all joy. Believers are commanded to respond to trials and suffering with joy.

This would mean Christ had to respond to trials and suffering with joy. He had to face the cross with an element of joy. That sounds strange doesn’t it? We read the Scriptures, and the last thing we would describe of Jesus as he prepared to die on a cross was joyful. Is it possible that our definition of joy is off? Is it possible that joy can still make way for expressing emotions of grief and sadness?

We make this mistake to often. There are many in Christianity that tell us there are some emotions we are meant to shut off. Any sadness must be overridden with happy thoughts. I don’t like that. I don’t think it’s Biblical. Certainly we do not want to live in despair and grief, but I think it is natural and acceptable to acknowledge those feelings of grief and sadness. Christ showed those emotions in the garden. Was he joyful in that moment? Was he count it all joy in that moment? I believe He was.

It is our understanding of joy that is the problem. I would argue Jesus was filled with joy on the way to the cross. I believe he was filled with joy during that period of grief in the garden. I believe this because of how we see Jesus handle the whole situation. He does focus his vision on the moment of grief. he does not focus his vision on the trial and suffering itself. he focuses on what lies beyond that. he sets his eyes on the result of the trial and suffering.

That’s what James is really getting at when he tells us to count it all joy when we face trials. He tells us to count it all joy because of the beneficial results of that trial. I don’t know about you, but this changes my perspective on the whole being joyful issue. Joy doesn’t mean putting on the fake smile. It does not mean we ignore any of those “bad” emotions. It does mean we don’t live in them. it does mean we focus on what lies ahead rather than on our present circumstances.

We focus a lot on that singular event of the cross. It is a good thing. It is a powerful moment in the history of humankind. I think Christ focused more heavily on what came after the cross though. He focused on that resurrection. He focused on what the death and resurrection meant for His creation. He focused on how He was going to be able to rewrite the history of creation. He was able to be joyful because of that. He was able to weep over his present circumstance, but be joyful about what would live beyond it. Joyful does not mean acknowledging the pain you are in during your suffering. it means we remember that it doesn’t end hear. The story keeps going. The final chapter in the story is the best one. Suffering and trials culminate towards getting us to that final chapter. It is in our future that we can find joy in the present.

The third act

What we celebrate today is the culmination of a series of events. Today is a day of extreme rejoicing. It should be the most joyful celebration for the Christian. I would ask you hang there with me though as I backtrack briefly in the story. I was hit with such a simplistic yet profound element of the story that I never really focused on much until this year.

Go back with me to the garden. Jesus made the most transparent and honest prayer that He could. He asked to be spared from what was about to happening. He asked for there to be another way that did not require the agony of the crucifixion. Jesus ends this pleading with the boldest words any man could ever speak, “Not my will father, but yours”. Jesus is opening up to God’s will. God’s will requires Jesus to be lead like a lamb to the slaughter. God’s will requires pain, torture, and death. It is a will of crisis and strife. If God is the storyteller then couldn’t He come up with a better story? A happier story?

This is why resurrection day is so important. The story didn’t end in the tomb. God’s will did not find its completion in His sons’ corpse. All of that was just one big setup for the grand conclusion. All of the pain, struggles, and hardships were to provide the best possible ending to this part of the story. In truth it is the grand conclusion of the whole story, for Christ’s death and resurrection is found from beginning to end.

Why do I not willingly surrender myself to God’s will more often? I’ve struggled with this lately. God’s will inevitably seems to lead me down a difficult path. It inevitably puts me in situation where some will not think kindly of me. It is certain to put me in harm’s way. It is clear that I will face hardships. You see, when I look at God’s will the only thing I can see is the middle act.

There is a third act though. What we celebrate today is a third act. It is the act where everything is made right. It is the act that is all the more beautiful and powerful because of all the wrong there seemed to be in the second act. I find myself looking at the whole story and seeing a much different picture. Yes, this most certainly was the best story God could tell.

God’s will is guaranteed to lead you down a hard road. I can promise you it will be difficult. I can also promise you that is all just a grand setup for the third act though. It is setting you up for the best finale your life ca n have. The best finale in a life is the kind that echoes on this earth after you have gone.

Did I mention there is a bonus act? Perhaps bonus act is the wrong word. Perhaps it is better stated as the eternal act. It’s the act that I truly live for. Its beginning is a thing of beauty when I meet the storyteller to hear Him say, ‘Well done my good and faithful servant”. That is just the beginning of that act, and it was God’s will that made it possible.

The question is simply. If God’s will all those years ago is what made life worth living despite the hardship, then why do we not follow His will more often? When you fear what the second act contains, remember the greatest third act this world has ever seen. JESUS IS RISEN!

The focus on the present

Finally back to put up some posts again. The past few days have been both exciting and crazy. My wife and I have been home since Saturday as we try and get used to this new phase of life. It’s been a crazy one. Watching my son in his first few days of life has already helped me see things differently, and sometimes just a little more clearly.

Newborn infants can be pretty demanding. Their mood can change without a moment’s notice. It can almost get to be a little overwhelming. While in the hospital nurses would need to check Ezra at different points and do random tests to make sure everything was in order. Sometimes it involved cold metal objects being place on his skin while other times it required a needle being stuck in his skin. He hated it with a passion. In those moments the only thing he could focus on was the pain and uncomfortable nature of the event. He would fight hard to keep people from doing what they needed to do to him. He was entirely engrossed in the moment.

We tend to be like this with hardships in life. Sometimes it is through a crisis in life over a loved one. Other times we desperately seek Gods direction with what seems to be no clear answer. Sometimes we just face a hard trial through the loss of work, death, illness, etc. In those moments all we ever seem to do is focus on the hardship. We fail to look past it and remind ourselves that this event is serving a purpose.

When those tests were being done on Ezra they were being performed for a purpose. It was to ensure his good health. Those hardships were used to protect him, and make him stronger. The thing was that I could try and explain this to Ezra all day long, but he would be simply incapable of understanding it. The only choice he has in the end is to trust that his parents will be there for him, hug him afterwards, and keep him safe in the end. It requires a remarkable amount of dependence on his part, and a large amount of patience on mine.

Sometimes I think even if God tried to explain to us the reason for our hardship in the moment we would not be able to really understand it. Sometimes we are too focused on the pain of the present that the future is impossible to comprehend. It is in those moments that we simply need to stop to breath and trust in God. His patience towards us in those moments has to be astronomical. Imagine how much more effective our hardships would be if we took those moments to lean on God and depend entirely on Him.

I may not understand why some of the things happen to me. I don’t even understand everything that is happening to me in my current stage of life. However, I am ok with not understanding. I am going to trust that God is uses my hardships to lead me down a new road that He has set up for me. I guarantee you you will not always understand, but I can always guarantee you that you will come through when you depend on the one who fully understands.