Jane M. Phinney | October 28, 2019
In a moment of despair, I reread one of my favorite verses for comfort. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge & strength, a very present help in trouble.” Literally translated, this means that He is abundantly available for help in tight places. “Therefore, we will not fear...” (vs 2a) I love that application! I can so relate to the restriction of tight places. It’s akin to what I wrote in my journal 2 weeks ago: I feel backed into a corner while everyone else gets to walk around in the room.
These tight corner moments can come on gradually or suddenly. Sourced in physical challenges, financial deficits, or relational misunderstandings, our thoughts & emotions respond almost immediately. And we are carried away, retreating into ourselves. Frequently, these uncomfortable realizations are the direct result of a decision we’ve made. Other times, we find ourselves unexpectedly squished by a dynamic we never saw coming. But in any case, corner living seems isolating- even if you aren’t physically alone. Whether you talk about your feelings or not, the truth is that God, alone, knows the true state of your heart. When desperation strikes, I liken it to wanting to bang your head against the wall to clear your thinking. Because you know you can’t help yourself, you’re powerless to stop the progress of what ails your heart, & you aren’t likely to entrust it to people.
There is purpose in these “Gethsemane” moments, as I like to call them. There’s nothing quite so unnerving as collapsing under the weight of pain, all the while believing that God is allowing it to serve some eternal purpose in your life…ultimately, FOR HIS GLORY…even when you didn’t knowingly do anything to feed the circumstances. I’m certain a lot of you are familiar with what I’m addressing. A variety of variables can yield the same struggles of the soul. You find yourself somewhat stuck & definitely helpless -- trying to make some sense of the presenting issue.
Thankfully, the Lord doesn’t normally allow me to panic for any great lengths of time. I may carry the pain indefinitely but underneath my life are His everlasting arms. I trust Him when I don’t understand the sifting. I may war in the trusting, but I’m not condemned or rejected by Him as I work out my salvation with fear trembling.(Philippians 2:12) This is true because it is God who is at work in me(you), both to will & to work for His good pleasure.(vs13) While reflecting on my previously mentioned journal entry, I remembered anew that Jesus was very familiar with Gethsemane moments.
Jesus went there to pray often, so Gethsemane wasn’t something new to His 12 disciples. They’d visited enough times that Judas knew where Jesus was when he carried out his planned betrayal. (John 18:2) However, this last visit was different & unique, following Jesus’ sharing of the first Lord’s Supper with the 12 men He’d invested in for 3 years. (Matthew 26, Mark 14, & Luke 22) Not fully understanding the significance of these events, the disciples proceeded to bicker about which one of them was the greatest. (Luke 22) Isn’t that just like us? We focus on something incidental & miss a life-change in progress.
Jesus knew the purpose of His earthly mission was moving precariously close to fulfillment. Except for Judas, all the disciples were with Jesus in the garden. It’s clearly stated in Matthew & Mark that Jesus’ soul was distressed & grieved… to the point of death. I am particularly moved by Luke’s account of Jesus’ suffering, an agony of the soul so great, that His sweat became like blood falling to the ground. The Greek translation of agony is combat, NOT a fear that flees, but a fear that trembles when facing the issue, spurring on to the uttermost. His internal suffering became so great that an angel was sent from heaven to strengthen Him. (Luke 22:42-44) What makes the story additionally unimaginable, given what Jesus was facing, was the fact that Jesus found his disciples sleeping, not once…or twice, but 3 times! (Read the accounts in Matthew & Mark.)
Jesus’ response/rebuke to the disciples was to tell them to “Rise & pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:46) The Greek word for temptation is peirasmos, with the specific meaning depending on who does the tempting. If it is God, it’s for the purpose of proving someone & never for the purpose of causing them to fall. But, if it’s the devil who tempts, it is for the purpose of causing one to fall. Jesus knew what His disciples would be facing during His journey to the Cross, His burial, His resurrection, & His ascension. He knew, personally, of the impending ministry trials they would face without His physical support. Jesus had warned Peter of his denial, prior to Gethsemane, telling him that Satan had asked permission to sift him.
I am by no means implying that the misery of being spiritually backed into a corner, is anywhere equal to the agony Christ experienced in Gethsemane. When I pictured, in my mind, Christ’s agonizing spiritual battles--causing the sweating of blood, it brought me to tears. He obediently suffered, relinquishing His desires to God’s planned purposes. Once inconsolable, His surrender to what He knew to be His Father’s will, brought Him a resolute peace. I am steadily learning that being overpowered by panic & feeling trapped in a situation, only has one solution. And that is- to give it all up, in prayer, to God my Father. It’s waving the white flag & taking my hands off-- with no conditions attached, while believing & fighting for the Truth, instead of responding from skewed feelings. Because He just might want me to stay in that corner, until His plan has unfolded, His purposes are accomplished, & He is glorified in my life.
Lest I forget Gethsemane;
Lest I forget Thine agony;
Lest I forget Thy love for me, Lead me to Calvary.
(William J. Kirkpatrick, 1838-1921)