Lessons Learned from… the Garden

Scripture reference: Matthew 26:36-46

Further reading: Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46

Easter, or Resurrection Day, as I like to call it, was yesterday, and that put me in mind of the Garden of Gethsemane. There is so much to learn from the time Jesus spent there just prior to his betrayal and arrest (which came just before his crucifixion, burial, and rising from the tomb). Our focus today will be specifically on the prayers of Jesus in the Garden, though there are a couple of other things I’ll be pointing out.

Once Jesus and his eleven disciples (by this time, Judas had already separated himself from the group in order to betray Jesus) came to Gethsemane, He left most of them there but pulled aside Peter, James, and John to go deeper with Him into the Garden.

“Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.
Stay here and watch with Me.’”
Matthew 26:38 NKJ

Mark says Jesus “began to be troubled and deeply distressed” (Mark 14:33 NKJ).

Exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Troubled and deeply distressed.

That’s pretty strong, quite intense. It also lets us have a small glimpse of the soul-pain Jesus was in during the moments before He was to face His greatest trial. His heart ached at the pain and suffering of the world, at the weight of the sin of every human being ever born. Maybe some of the pain He experienced was for Himself, for what He was about to endure, but I have a feeling that a large chunk of His sorrow was for us, because He knew just how much we also would suffer in our lives, because of our sin but also because of the trials Satan would hurl at us to try to persuade us to his side of the fence. Jesus knew we’d be facing heavy trials, and, as John reveals in John 17, Jesus prayed for Himself, His disciples, and all other believers (which I believe includes the ones of us living today, in 2019, and those who will come after us).

After He asked the three disciples to stay and watch with Him, He went a bit farther into the Garden and “fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will’” (Matthew 26:39 NKJ).

I also like how Mark recalled this event: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36 NKJ).

The cup Jesus spoke of was the crucifixion, dying on the cross and all that entailed, from being whipped and ridiculed to having a crown of thorns jammed on his head after having been nailed to a wooden cross. Pure misery and torture in every aspect. So much more difficult to bear than anyone on earth can imagine, especially when you factor in the weight of the world’s sin upon His innocent shoulders.

Jesus asked (or demanded, if we take Mark’s account of Take this cup literally) that God remove the hardest trial from Him if He saw any other way for His end-goal to be achieved.

Isn’t that what we also want? For God to take away our pains, sorrows, fears, etc. if He sees any other way for His end-goal for our lives to be achieved? For me, personally, the answer to that is a resounding Yes, please!!!

However, we have to take Jesus’s next words into serious account: nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.

It wasn’t about what Jesus Himself wanted, just as it’s not now about what we want. It’s always been and will always be about what God the Father wants. What He knows we must go through in order to fully glorify Him in the end. That His perfect will may be accomplished in all things. He has a master plan that only He knows every detail to. We must trust that He has factored in every ounce of our suffering along the way and has a purpose for it. Whether that’s to make us stronger or give us the experience we need to help someone else through whatever they’re going through that feels too hard to bear up under or if it’s a blessing in disguise to hold us back from making the biggest mistake of our lives… We don’t know the reasons why we suffer the way we do, at least we aren’t always given the reasons (sometimes we are, though it may be after the tough experience), but we can always count on this:

God knows.

He knows every reason for every pain or trial or sorrow we suffer. He knows what He’s giving us through it (strength of character, patience, or a fresh outlook or perspective, or something else completely that only He can imagine). He knows exactly how much it costs us, how much of ourselves we lose (or choose to let go of) in those moments. He also knows how much we stand to gain if we just hold on to Him and stand as best we can in His strength through it.

Take a look at what Luke mentioned directly after Jesus prayed for His Father’s will to be done. This is pretty powerful, folks, so read it a couple of times if you need to in order to soak it in. (I have read it a half dozen times already and am planning on reading it more throughout this coming week.)

“Then an angel appeared to [Jesus] from heaven, strengthening Him.
And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly.”
Luke 22:43-44a NKJ

God sent an angel to strengthen Jesus for the trials He was about to face. How amazing is that? Listen, God provides exactly what we need exactly when we need it, especially if we are seeking His will above our own, as Jesus was here. That’s not to say we won’t still have to suffer for a while. Jesus did too, since He still had to go through all those trials of misery I mentioned a few moments ago, including a cruel death. Just because God gives us what we need does not mean He takes away the pain or sorrow or suffering right away, if ever. Sometimes, like with Paul, we end up with a “thorn in our side” for the rest of our lives. I’m also reminded of Jacob, whose hip socket was put out of joint when he wrestled with God. He would have most likely suffered from pain and a limp every day of his life after that.

What we need is not always to be pain free.

That’s a tough lesson to learn, yet it’s sometimes true. Sometimes our greatest blessings are on the far side of the suffering we go through. And, like Jesus, we can allow our agony to inspire us to “pray more earnestly.” When we do this, God does provide the strength and hope we need to make it through the trials we face. He helps us to stand firm in our faith in Him when we lack the strength to get out of bed or to take that next step or to fulfill our obligations when we are in such excruciating pain that we just might pass out.

God knows our suffering.

God sends angels to strengthen us.

God provides what we need even if it’s different from what we want.

Lessons Learned

* When we suffer, it’s crucial that we seek and submit to God’s will. This takes great will power to lay down our own desires for the suffering to end, but I promise you it’s worth it to see God’s will done in your life even if the pain must still be endured.
* Even Jesus suffered and wanted the cup of crucifixion to be taken from Him. The lesson here is that our Savior understands that human desire to be pain and suffering free. He can relate to everything we experience on this front, because He went through it Himself, long before we did. So if you’re suffering from something, take your worries and concerns and fears and pains directly to Jesus. He knows just how to comfort you through it, because He’s been there.
* God has a master plan that includes every ounce of our pain. As hard as it is to release control (we humans crave it so often!), it’s vital that we trust Him through each moment we suffer. Trust doesn’t always come easy, but saying to God, “Not my will, but Your will,” is a great place to start.

How may you apply these lessons to your daily life this week?

The next Lessons Learned article will be on Stones on Fire on Sunday, May 5.
April’s reading challenge features small shops.

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