What I Discovered in Gethsemane
by Lucinda Secrest McDowell
A few years ago I had the great privilege of spending time during Lent in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. In the Easter story, Jesus’ time in the Garden is one that pierces my soul every time I think of all He encountered. So it was especially poignant to be there amongst the olive trees and in the shadow of the Church of the Agony. Gethsemane means ‘pressed down’ and that’s exactly how Christ felt in that night of his betrayal.
- He goes through the whole range of emotions as He first tries to bargain with God for ‘another way’ (Have you ever tried to bargain with God?),
- then He cries out for friends who aren’t there for him (Have you ever felt abandoned by those you’re counting on?),
- then finally, He surrenders with great peace to the will of God, the One who knows and loves Him best and created Him for this very moment (Have you ever finally said to God, ‘nonetheless not my will, but Thy will be done’ and really meant it?)
As I observe Christ’s obvious peace in the midst of agony (that church is most aptly named), I realize that Jesus’ whole life was preparing Him for this moment and the way He was able to stand in it was in direct correlation to how He spent His days. I want to be more like Christ — it is a longing of my heart. And so I simply must do what Jesus did.
Here are 5 ways God is directing me on that path during this Lenten season. (for more about Lent, see last week’s blog “It’s Not Just About Giving Up Chocolate…”)
1. Embrace Silence – listen to God’s ‘still small voice.’
We read in God’s Word that Jesus withdrew from others and prayed often to his heavenly Father. In recent years God has literally opened up whole new vistas of prayer for me by teaching me how to embrace silence. It is a growing discipline of mine to begin morning devotions by having 3-5 minutes of complete silence and listening for God’s still small voice. You would not believe what I have heard in those times. Silence and solitude go against the grain, but offer great benefits for those who seek them. “As we remain in the silence, the inner noise and chaos will begin to settle. Our capacity to open up wider and wider to God grows. The Holy One has access to places we don’t even know exist in the midst of the hubbub. Lean into God, trusting that being with Him in silence will loosen your rootedness in the world and plant you by streams of living water.” (Adele Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines)
2. Incorporate prayers of the church in my devotions.
i am a firm believer in praying extemporaneously. But I have also increasingly learned to appreciate praying the prayers that have been around simply for ages and ages. Prayers by King David found in the Psalms. The Lord’s Prayer. And prayers by many, many followers of Christ through the centuries. It has been my great joy to introduce my readers to some of my favorite prayers as I included one in each day of my “Live These Words” 40-day devotional. This week I was on Sirius Family Talk Radio interviewed by Rev. Jim Wood and we both agreed that it’s not the fact that a prayer has been written down before that can occasionally make it seem ‘rote’ or ‘meaningless’. It is always what is in the pray-er’s heart that affects prayer. If you truly embrace words such as these, then your prayers are definitely heartfelt, even though what you are doing is aligning yourself with prayers of fellow believers centuries before now.
3. Keep short accounts – forgive easily, offer grace, accept God’s mercy.
Many of us will attend an Ash Wednesday service today or tonight and receive the ashes in the form of a cross on our foreheads. As the pastor says “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” I am always reminded of my own mortality and how fragile life is. Are you? If so, then how important to keep short accounts with others, to not let the sun set on our anger. To reach out in love and friendship both to those we know and those whose path we cross unexpectedly. I am daily grateful for God’s grace to me and this season I want to be a grace giver to others. Offering forgiveness quickly is one way to do that. But also, we must learn to accept God’s forgiveness of us and therefore live each day under His mercy.
4. Fast during Lent from something in order to focus on Jesus and His work on the cross for us.
Fasting is one of the spiritual disciplines of Lent which begins today with Ash Wednesday. One definition of fasting is “the voluntary denial of something for a specific period of time for a spiritual purpose.” The intent is that we give up something in order to focus more prayerfully on Christ. One spring I gave up reading novels because I found that I was using them to ‘escape’ from other things.One of my fasts this Lent is that I have decided to abstain from technology on my Sabbath so that no interruptions such as email, facebook, internet research, etc. will distract me from rest and worship.
5. Surrender…Relinquish… Lay it/him/her at the foot of the cross, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”
Finally, I hope we can all learn from Christ in the Garden that the place of surrender is truly the place where our wills meet God’s. In 40 short days believers will gather all over the world in places of worship and lay our concerns at the cross of Jesus. Did you know that during Lent we can do that daily? Even folks like me. I’m a recovering control freak, so letting go of anything is pretty difficult for me. But I’m aiming for surrender and relinquishment this season and I hope I can do it as Christ did, with great peace and serenity “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”
Jeremiah 6.16 reminds us to “Ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” May we all do that in this holy season of Lent.
“Heavenly Father, Forgive those things we have done which have caused You sadness, and those things we should have done that would have brought You joy. In both we have failed ourselves, and You. Bring us back to that place where our journey began, when we said that we would follow the way that You first trod. Lead us to the Cross and meet us there. Amen.” (unknown)
©2015 Lucinda Secrest McDowell
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