Moments in Gethsemane
There are periods in all of our lives where grief, trial, tribulation, and hardship become a focal point of our lives. This generally occurs with little warning seemingly sideswiping us and leaving us completely disoriented. If you have ever been caught in a wave, or fallen off of an inner tube while tubing, or been water skiing and crashed…than you know this feeling. It hurts, your world is spinning, and it happens far faster than you could possibly react. Instinct takes over and the need for oxygen becomes a primary concern. In many ways hardships strike in a very similar manner, they become immediate and materialize from what appeared harmless previously. This is true of any hardship whether it be a broken relationship, a tragedy, depression, or any other life event that seemingly throws us back onto our heels. In those moments, we see what we are really made of. 1 Peter 1:6-7 reads,
“6 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. 7 These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”(NLT)
Peter is writing to a community that has been dealing with some hardships and to encourage them he reminds them of what is ahead. He reminds them of their place in Christ and that a faith that stands many trials is one that brings much glory when Christ does finally return. Peter here is speaking of hardships in general not just persecution; otherwise, the metaphor of gold being refined wouldn’t really fit. These trials then occur so that we may become stronger in Christ…that we learn what it is to press into Him and into His people when times are tough. Now obviously there is risk involved in this…when we open ourselves to people we open ourselves to disappointment, hurt, and possible betrayal…but we also cut ourselves off from fellowship, loving relationship, support, and wise counsel. In my opinion the tradeoff and risk is worth the reward…and I think Jesus agrees.
In scripture, we see Jesus live in loving community with people. He opens himself to imperfect people even with the foreknowledge that one of them would betray him. Imagine that…bringing a person into your inner circle, worshipping with them, teaching them, eating with them, and knowing the entire time that they were going to betray you. This is what Jesus did with Judas…and to be honest it says a lot about who Jesus is. Perhaps one of my favorite passages within the Scriptures is where Christ is his most vulnerable (at least emotionally).
Matthew 26:36-46 is the telling of Jesus and apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane a story that has vexed me for years, until more recently (I suggest that you read it real quick). Within this narrative we see a distraught Jesus bring his apostles to the garden to pray, he then brings in Peter, John, and James deeper into the garden and then goes further in himself, requesting that the 3 pray while he goes in to pray. Jesus prays fervently regarding the events that are about to transpire and then goes out to check on the apostles…finding them sleeping. Jesus in his hour of need finds the people he has relied on for 3 years…sleeping. You can tell the irritation in his voice as he says, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” He goes back into the Garden prays again to God but this time adds that he prays that God the Father’s will be done and not his own. He goes back out and again finds them asleep. I lets them sleep goes back and in and prays a third time, then coming out and letting the 3 know that they time has come for him to be betrayed. We all know the story from there…Jesus is betrayed, flogged, and crucified all because a man he trusted betrayed him.
There are times when we all feel this way. That in our hour of need we have no one to lean on, no one to count on. Jesus himself must have been tempted to feel this way when he came out distraught to find his closest friends sleeping. There are times where we go through this as well. We pray to God regarding a situation with our hearts and stomachs in knots, tears streaming down our face and look around to find that no one you counted on was there. I can assure you…that how you feel in that moment…is not the reality. In fact, there is a God who has been through the same thing…and because of that, He can come to your aid, empathizing with you and loving you in the midst of your pain.
Many times God does this through fellow believers…people that we trust…people that are in our inner circle. For my wife and me, our inner circle of friends is the most important people in our lives. They are people that we count on every day for prayer, encouragement, and friendship. There have been times where we have been tempted to keep people in the dark out of frustration, pain, embarrassment…but we have done everything we can to resist that urge and seek help. This is especially difficult for me…being a trained theologian I am supposed to have all the “answers.” So asking for advice and assistance can (at times) be incredibly embarrassing. But even Jesus…in those moments brought those who were closest with him in…sure they let him down…but he knew that…and brought them anyway. If Jesus then didn’t even go through this period…this “garden moment” alone…what makes us think we can? Perhaps it is pride…perhaps it is arrogance…perhaps it is embarrassment. None is an excuse though…the King of Kings even requested that his friends pray with him…even he shared with them what was about to occur (even if it was a little cryptic). So if the Son of God needed people…you do too…don’t shut down and close out. Bring people into the Garden with you as you plead with God. Having the love, care, and support of those people will spur you on to continue in the faith in a way that honors Christ and shows you genuine in your faith.
In America, a culture of isolation and individualism permeates how we deal with issues such as these. A person was only involved in the problem if the person within the problem invited them in. This at times has caused great strains on relationships between churches and their members as people going through struggle acquire a, “it’s none of your business,” stance. While a person can certainly decide to deal with issues in this manner, it is generally unwise to do so. Scripture seems to indicate at almost every turn the importance of community…especially during trials of hardship. Some who read the previous post read that my wife and I went through a rough patch early in the summer. During this rough patch, I wanted nothing to do with other people’s opinions or thoughts on the issue. I was angry, hurt, and even a little bitter. I thank God for people who did not allow me to stew in that…people who called me out on my sin for what it was and didn’t cater to my emotional whims. I needed that (as much as I didn’t want it). That is why community is so important it helps to keep us where we should be…not where we feel like being. I pray that if you are going through trial that you tell those closest to you, that you allow them to assist you if they can…or just be present in the moment. In the end, this is all that the apostles could do for Jesus (even if it was an unconscious presence). They were there…and while they weren’t necessarily alert, they were still there…and on some level…that had to be comforting to Jesus, as it is to all of us. With this, I leave to you Hebrews 2:18, “18Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” You are not in it alone…not ever. Peace and Blessings.
In Christ’s Love
Justin (AKA The Nerdy Theologian)