When I write and preach, I want to simplify things for people so that it is clear what they need to do for Jesus. I try to come up with anywhere from two to five simple thoughts or actions that will help them grow in their faith. I never want to complicate what God has said or make the way of Christ more difficult than what he made it.
Yet, I always have a line from a favorite teacher in mind. After hearing a sermon about the easy steps in following Jesus, he said, “I don’t find any Gethsemane in your sermon.” It is a statement that echoes in my head repeatedly when I think about the Christian life.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came to give himself as a ransom for many. He knew what he came to do, how it needed to be done and was at harmony with God’s will. Still, the night before the cross he is found in a garden where they press olives. He leaves eight of his disciples at the gate and takes Peter, James, and John with him a little father than the rest. There he hits his knees in prayer and voices that painful phrase, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 in NIV 2011)
We find Jesus at Gethsemane praying with sweat like great drops of blood. He struggles to accept God’s will, knowing it will be a painful experience. He is grounded in his faith and yet he works through his natural emotions until he surrenders entirely to God’s will.
The truth is that sometimes following Jesus is not simple. There are no simple steps to do the right thing. There are nights of anguish that include painful prayers of surrender. There are moments when you will beg for another way to accomplish God’s will. There are times when faith is difficult, and fleeing will seem more comfortable. When this happens, take comfort in knowing Jesus endured the same struggle in his life.
I also flip this story over and think about it from another direction. If I am truly following Jesus, then I should have my times in Gethsemane. If my journey of faith seems easy, then maybe I am doing it wrong. Jesus said that the way to destruction is broad and dark. The way of Jesus is narrow and difficult and winds through shady gardens where we want to give up on trusting God. If a struggle in our faith demonstrates that we are on the correct path, then when was the last time I wrestled with God in prayer?
Being in Gethsemane with Jesus is dark and scary because it leads us to the cross of sacrifice. This is the way of Jesus, and he invites us to walk with him. Where is the place where your life is being pressed in your faith?