Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Wilderness, the Mountain, the Garden & the Cross, Pt.2

     Then there was the garden, the garden of Gethsemane.  You would actually have to ascend the Mount of Olives first to get to this special place where Jesus often met with his disciples.  On the night of his betrayal Jesus invited Peter, James and John to accompany him for a season of intense prayer, knowing his life and ministry were coming to a close.  Unfortunately, their own fatigue overpowered their willingness to support Jesus in his time of need.  This is indicative of our need for the Spirit to enlighten us and to empower us in our prayer lives, no matter how good our intentions may be. 
     Jesus knew he didn't have it in him to follow through with Calvary without a fresh dose of God's life and strength. Through the surrender of his will to the Father he received the passion to persevere all the way to the empty tomb.  It was there in that garden that Peter tried to resist the arrest of Jesus by cutting off the ear of the high priests' servant.  But Jesus knew through "surrender" that it was all part of God's plan, therefore he submitted to their agenda and even healed the servant's ear in the process.  What grace!  Jesus learned that prayer was just as much about submission to the Father's will as it was  speaking forth His will to change circumstances.
     As Jesus hung on the cross prayers still flowed out of him.  His relationship with God was made open for all to see.  It started in the wilderness where he was alone with God and then proceeded to include some disciples at times and now became apparent for all to see.  Three crucial prayers came forth there on that tree.
     The first was a question:  "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  I believe God answered him with a vision of you and I.  Hebrews 12:2 says "that for the joy set before him he endured the cross."  This prayer should inspire us to honestly ask God the difficult questions in life and to allow Him to answer us with wisdom that defies human understanding. 
     The second prayer was a plea for the Father to forgive not just his executors, but all of humanity, "for we know not what we do."  It was all of our sins that put him there, not just the Romans who crucified him or the Jews who handed him over to the Romans.  This prayer for the forgiveness of others not only applies to our need to forgive those who wrong us, but also to the necessity of putting others into God's hands.  Exercising our faith in God's ability to move in the lives of others helps us to relinquish control and walk in His grace.  It's liberating for us and empowering for others.   
     And the third prayer was a committal of his spirit into the hands of the Father.  They didn't take his life, he laid it down.  These were the last words out of his mouth before he died.  We should take this as our cue to continually present our spirits and our lives to the Father, willingly accepting what He thinks is best and humbly asking for His best for us.  Even as the clay is on the potters wheel, we should invite our heavenly Potter to have His way in our lives in concrete ways. 
     From the wilderness to the mountain to the garden to the cross, Jesus walked in relationship with God continually.  Yes, the Spirit of God helped him do what he did, teach what he taught and endure what he endured.  But it was because he looked to heaven for help.  He got away from the busy-ness of life and ministry to recoup his strength, to refresh his spirit and to hear what God was speaking to him in each moment of his journey.
     With so much spiritual ministry available to us, it's easy to bypass our true need to connect with the Father just like Jesus did.  We can easily convince ourselves that we don't need to spend quality time with the Father because we have received His life through the ministry of others.  But this is a trap!  Dependency on the ministry of others never produces true spiritual maturity.  God wants you to learn to be dependent on the Spirit on a daily basis.  What better way to train you for this than spending quality time with the Lord under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
     Others who devote much of their time ministering to others can fall into another trap:  looking for ways to minister to others only to neglect their primary need to receive spiritual life directly from the Father.  When this happens, bible study is dominated by the pursuit of the next Sunday morning sermon.  And prayer time is consumed with lifting up the needs of others.  Not that these things are wrong, but when God takes a back seat to "ministry" something is wrong!  Without putting God first, spiritual life will eventually wane and spiritual burnout will occur. The needs of people will weigh you down because you weren't meant to carry others' burdens to the neglect of your own and that of your family.
     I would encourage you to dig in a little deeper.  Look at Jesus' prayer life and its corresponding effects on his relationships and ministry.  He didn't force things to happen.  He recognized them as they were happening and cooperated with the Father's desire to express His love to others.  As Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, "come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." 
     Religion will wear you out but Jesus will refresh you with the flow of God's Spirit!  If there's one thing we need to learn from Jesus, it's how he made prayer a priority and how that prepared his spirit to cooperate with God's Spirit in his life.  Even as the disciples of Jesus asked Him how to pray, ask the Lord to lead you by His Spirit in your time with Him!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Wilderness, The Mountain, The Garden & The Cross, Pt. 1

     As the Son of God, Jesus came to reveal who God the Father is.  But as the Son of Man, Jesus demonstrated how we can walk in relationship with the Father.  It's all too easy to assume that the supernatural life and ministry of Jesus were a result of his divinity, but keep in mind that he didn't do any miracles until the Spirit came upon him after his baptism at age 30.  And Jesus even said that he couldn't do or say anything that he didn't first sense his Father leading and empowering him to do or say.  The divinity of God was revealed through the humanity of Christ, and the same opportunity awaits you and I.
     It's amazing when you think about it.  We are also called sons of God and are given the same invitation to participate in God's life that Jesus demonstrated for us.  It only makes sense:  if Jesus depended on the Father for a continual supply of divine life, then so should we.  Unlike the children of Israel in the wilderness, divine life didn't fall from the sky for Jesus to find and eat.  Jesus had to make a concerted effort to get away from the multitudes and even away from his closest disciples at times to maintain his connection with the Father through consistent prayer.
     Scripture gives us insight into the prayer life of Jesus which should inspire us to follow in his footsteps.  If Jesus did miracles because of his divinity then there wouldn't have been a need to stay connected to the Father through prayer.  But that was not the case.  Consider this:  Luke 5:16 reveals that Jesus "often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed."  Prayer wasn't something that he occasionally did as the need arose.  It was something that he consistently did because he knew that as a man he needed God's strength, refreshing and guidance to fully participate in divine life, which enabled him to resist temptation and to fulfill God's will.
     We know that Jesus spent 40 days praying in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry, which actually set a precedent for the next few years.  It was this same wilderness that Jesus returned to time and time again, knowing that "man doesn't live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."  Jesus made it a priority to talk to God and to listen for His voice because he knew that there is life-giving power in God's words, whether they are heard, meditated on, confessed, prayed, prophesied, sung, taught or proclaimed.  Living off yesterday's Word will eventually lose its power just as manna gathered by the Israelites grew stale if not consumed within 24 hours.
     When Jesus sensed a need in his human spirit for a divine reload he would attempt to find a quiet place but the crowds often hunted him down and made it difficult to get alone with the Father.  But he persevered nonetheless and found time and a place to spend with God.  There is an obvious lesson to be learned and applied here.  There are many hindrances to prayer, even noble ones that need to be set aside for the priority of receiving divine life from the Lord and cooperating with His will for our lives through prayer.
     Then there were special times Jesus spent on the mountain with the Lord, sometimes all night long.  Luke 6:12 says this was the case the night prior to choosing and identifying the twelve disciples from the larger group of disciples.  Jesus also took Peter, James and John with him to the mountain (probably Mount Horeb) for a season of overnight prayer on what is known as the "mount of transfiguration."  Toward the end of his earthly ministry Jesus would teach in the temple by day but at night He went and stayed on the Mount of Olives (Luke 21:37).  Luke 22:39 says that this became his regular custom, possibly in preparation for what he knew was his last season of ministry.
     It's interesting to note the special privilege that Jesus extended to his close disciples in terms of letting them know where he was praying so they could find him if need be.  He kept this information private because of the crowds.  After feeding the 5000 "Jesus was praying alone and his disciples joined him" because they knew right where he was at (Luke 9:17,18).  Also, Luke 11:1 tells us that "as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray..."  Once again, they knew right where he was.
     It seems that Jesus placed great importance on getting away from the many needs of people long enough to get his own needs met by the Father, so that in turn he could be empowered to meet other peoples' needs.  It also seems that he thought it important enough to involve his disciples in his prayer life at times so they could get a glimpse of what a dynamic interaction with the Father looks like.  It was through this access into his prayer life that his disciples developed a hunger to know God for themselves.  Hence they asked him to teach them to pray.  And Jesus did just that.  He gave them an understanding that prayer isn't just our way of getting God to do what we want or to twist His arm to meet  our needs.  It is the opportunity to know Him, to be transformed by Him and to make Him known.