Matthew 26:41Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;* the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’
I think this admonition from a grieving Jesus to his friends who fell asleep while he prayed in Gethsemane ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want,’ played a significant role in my own prayer life for years. It got under my skin, sort of taunting me, challenging me to think about trials, faith, my prayer life, my ego, ambition, and vocation.
During the Prayers of the People, especially my mind would wander and wonder. Do I have such faith that in a time of trial I will respond and do what God wants? Or will I be weak, and not be able to handle a trial? Will I know God’s will? Will I talk with him about it?
I would then go on to name all the possible trials that were sure to come my way: everything from a natural disaster due to living in an active earthquake zone to health issues – my children’s or my own, to loss of income, premature death of a loved one. When a fellow parishioner faced a trial and we, God’s people, were asked to pray for the person or family, I would do so earnestly and then go to a sort of dark place where I wondered if I would even know to ask for prayers were I in such a situation.
One Sunday, as I was leading the Prayers of the People, I began to weep at a petition to pray for a family who had lost a son. My mind went to the ‘could I handle this?’ place. I thought of me in that moment – not the family – ugh. How in the world? I had fallen asleep – the spirit willing but my own concern weakened me. Just as the disciples had done when asked to watch out for Jesus. It was a wake-up call. Jesus was standing over me saying, “Really? You couldn’t even stay awake for me?”
I was scared, truth be told. Life was good on all fronts it seemed to me. Comfortable, full of love and life, God-centered. But I knew a trial would be coming – maybe already had and I hadn’t responded as God had intended.
The unspoken fear that I would not stay awake during the night for Jesus prompted me to get prepared. I wanted to be one of God’s people who stayed awake, who did God’s will, who discerned God’s hand and not one who took Jesus’ presence in my life for granted, who tired of the walk and was thus unprepared for any trial to come. And so I began a season of deepening my relationship with God, with God’s Word, and with worship.
But even Peter who was as deep in relationship with Jesus as any human has ever since, fell – asleep. Jesus admonishes him, along with others, ‘You have no idea – just no idea – what it is like to obey your Lord, God when it goes against every human inclination you have. You are so not ready for any difficulty. You may think you are living by the Spirit, but news flash – not even close.’
This was one of the first wake-up calls to Peter. Others would come, as in the night he denied Jesus three times. But those trials matured Peter. Good came of them and God’s will be done was fully realized in Peter’s life.
The trial that eventually came my way surprised me. In all the years of praying through the litanies of ‘what ifs’ the one I had never considered, hadn’t anticipated, had never crossed my radar screen – well that was the one that was visited upon me. It took me awhile to recognize it as a trial at first. But when I did , I felt equipped to walk through it with God. In fact, my first thought was, ‘This is why you have done all this preparation – just for this. Don’t worry, loved one, you can handle this.‘
So, I stayed awake, I was attentive, I prayed, I asked others to pray with me. I wanted to do what God wanted. I wanted to discern what God was doing.
As I look back now, I believed I was doing the right thing, responding as God had wanted me to respond, going where God was leading me. God’s will be done. That was really my bottom line prayer during that season.
I’m through that particular trial and I am slowly coming to realize that God’s will was done. But I have not reached the point where I comprehend, why – why this trial, why this test, what was the point? I see no good that has come of the trial. I don’t see the blessing.
Which leads me to wonder whether it is really over – this particular trial. Is God still working on me – testing me. Am I awake? Paying attention? Trusting where the spirit is leading my head and heart? I’ve had others tests and trials along the way and in those I see blessings and God’s will so clearly. Why not this one?
Though I see no blessing I have endured. I am not cynical, just momentarily confused. I suppose I am stronger spiritually from having come through and accepting God’s will was done.
I had hoped not to wonder or revisit this season of trial, again. I feel so over it. And yet, by doing just what Jesus prompted me to do so many years ago – to go deeper in His Word, deeper in Worship, deeper in my relationship with God, our abba Father – the Spirit sent me a wake up call – again. Paused to remind me that nothing is over until the Lord, God says so. Paused to remind me to stay alert, to continue seeing all things through the Spirit and not the Flesh. And in so doing, His will be done.