As Jesus prayed to his Father in Gethsemane, Luke describes Him as being in “agony.” The fear and pain was so intense “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). This is not the image of a serene Messiah accepting His fate, but of an agonized man wrestling with the darkest evil our world can dispense.
But through prayer, Luke says, Jesus was strengthened. The power given to Him, however, was not like the world’s power. When the soldiers arrived to arrest Him, His disciples were terrified and in their fear some fled and others attacked. Peter drew a sword and severed the ear of one of the men. This is what the world’s power looks like. It fights. It attacks. It kills.
The strength Jesus was given through communion with His Father was different. Displaying a power not of this world, He knelt to the ground, picked up the severed ear of His enemy, and healed him. “Put your sword back,” He told Peter. “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). Through prayer Jesus’ fear had been transformed into faith. His faith gave Him strength. And this strength was revealed in love.
“Jesus’ faith gave Him strength. And this strength was revealed in love.”
This same transformation of fear into unworldly strength is available to us and to all who follow Christ. Consider the story of Praying Jacob, a slave who lived in Maryland before the Civil War. It was his habit to stop his work periodically in the fields to pray. This practice gave Jacob his nickname, and it also enraged his owner—a cruel and terrible man named Saunders. One day Saunders came up to Jacob while he was praying and put a gun to his head. He ordered him to stop praying and get back to work.
Jacob finished his prayers and invited Saunders to pull the trigger. “Your loss will be my gain,” he said. “I have a soul and a body; the body belongs to you, but my soul belongs to Jesus.” Saunders was so shaken by Jacob’s strength and unnatural lack of fear that he never touched him again.
Praying Jacob’s serenity came from the assurance of his identity. He knew he belonged to Jesus, and nothing would ever remove him from His hand. Not even death. This was the same faith Jesus displayed in the garden and throughout His journey to the grave. He knew He belonged to His Father. Despite the betrayal and abandonment of His friends. Despite the injustice of the authorities. Despite the mocking and torture of the Romans. Despite the insults and ridicule hurled at Him from the crowds. Jesus still found the strength to love because He knew who He was and whose He was.
Like Jesus and Praying Jacob, if we learn to listen to the voice of God in prayer, our pain can also be transformed into love. As Henri Nouwen said, “You can deal with an enormous amount of success as well as enormous amount of failure without losing your identity, because your identity is that you are the beloved. . . . Long before you were rejected by some person or praised by somebody else—that voice has been there always. ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love.’ That love is there before you were born and will be there after you die.”
(Read more in Luke 22:39-46; Matthew 26:47-56)
by Skye Jethani
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