“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.’ And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.’ And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.’ Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.
– Matt 26.36-44
Have you ever considered the fact that Jesus did not want to go to the cross? In reflecting on the authoritative statement of Scripture that all who desire to live godly lives will be persecuted (2 Tim 3.12), our command to be satisfied and content while actively pursing a life of eternal significance (Col 4.2-6), and the temptation to glorify suffering in an ascetic mindset, I am remembering the fact today that Jesus Christ, our Savior and greatest example of a godly lifestyle, despised the cross and asked God for another way out.
Jesus asked God for another way out.
Do you feel un-spiritual when the trials get too intense? Do you think, “Someone with stronger faith wouldn’t think this or feel this”? One of the most godly and mature men I know told me a part of his story: after over twenty years of a happy and godly marriage and working with his wife in the ministry, she walked away from everything – her faith, the family (him and two children) and their life. There was never a reason given, she simply fell in love with the things of the world and no longer wanted the life that they shared, or the faith she proclaimed for so long. Much like Demas in 2 Tim 4.10. His life was rocked, his support system crumbled and living out on a farm in the country, he said “I could have hung myself in that barn and not been found for weeks or months”. And the thought crossed his mind. I know few people of deeper faith and conviction than this man.
Paul and Timothy suffered such hardships on their missionary journey to Asia that they despaired of life. They “had the sentence of death within themselves” – they longed for death (2 Cor 1.9)! And God used that to teach them to trust Him for deliverance and hope (2 Cor 1.9-10).
Suffering is not fun. The vanity and hardships of life are a curse of God because of sin (Rom 8), and while we can rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for Christ when we are persecuted, it is normal to be sad, grieve and even despair at times (James 1.2).
And it is not a sign of lack of faith or spirituality if you ask God for another way out. Jesus did that. But it is essential that we immediately put our emotions and desires in check. Jesus prayed for an entire evening that God would allow the cross to not happen – so intensely that he sweat drops of blood. But He submitted to God’s will. He knew the Scriptures, He knew His role and the fulfillment of prophecy. He knew that the next few days of tribulation would result in the salvation of all who believe. And even though He despised the shame, He endured the cross (Heb 12.2).
Are you in a life situation where you never expected to be? Is there something looming on the horizon which you dread? Are you tired? Or despairing of life? You are not alone. The King of Kings walked where you are walking. The patriarchs and forefathers of the faith wished and longed for death at times. Many of your brothers and sisters have walked through the valley of the shadow of death and have come through with hope on the other side. If you cannot rejoice today, you will someday. If not here on this earth, in eternity. Cling to your hope. Cling to the promises God gives us in Jesus Christ. Join in His sufferings and endure persecution. Walk through dark valleys knowing that God has it all under control. He loves you.