#TalkingThursday – If you don’t talk about Jesus who will?
*P.S: This is a really really really long post, so please sit tight, or take breaks and come back to it lesson by lesson. I’m also trying out a new format for the posts on the website, so kindly let me know what you think!
Central Truth: When we humble ourselves, God gives us the grace to remain faithful to Him. A proud person cannot submit to the will of God.
The grace for obedience is the ability to do the will of God, no matter how much your flesh struggles against it. Obedience in this context doesn’t just mean following God’s instructions, it also means living a life that is holy and devoted to God.
Therefore, the grace for obedience is better understood as the grace for Holiness, because more than just doing what God said like a mindless robot (i.e. Pharisees), true obedience is to do it with the right heart, motives and mindset. Knowing this, the reason I still chose to call this post the grace for obedience is because I believe establishing a habit of obedience is the first step towards holiness.
The Apostle Paul, in Romans 7:14-25 gives a good explanation of the problem and the solution. In summary:
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind, I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
As Christians, we often find that we’re struggling with obedience! We love God, and we want to obey Him with all our hearts! but somehow we find ourselves walking in the opposite direction of what He’s called us to do. We know what we ought to do, yet we struggle with doing it. Like Paul says, it’s like there’s another power within us, wrestling with our desire to do God’s will…how then do we overcome?
Paul says the answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
To understand the grace for obedience, we will look in depth at Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, to see how He was able to overcome His own desires and declare that the will of God be done in that situation.
Jesus Prays in Gethsemane
36 Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” 42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. 44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”
– Matthew 26:36-46 [NLT]
Lesson 1 – Location: Gethsemane.
Our location can be a great influence on whether we obey or disobey God. If we are at the wrong location, we may find it difficult to overcome the struggle between the desires of our flesh and spirit. We must go to a place that will give an advantage to our spirits, not to our flesh.
When His desires were in conflict, Jesus went to a garden called Gethsemane. This garden was an olive mill; a place where olives were crushed to make oil. This is symbolic of our Lord Jesus going into to have his fleshly desires crushed so he would find the strength to do God’s will.
We too find ourselves at Gethsemane, our place of testing. Will we allow our desires to be crushed? Or will we fall captive to our the weaknesses of our flesh? Will we win or lose the temptation of disobedience?
Gardens are beautiful locations but they are also places of great temptation. In our garden of Gethsemane, we will likely be faced with temptation, just as Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Gardens are also places of preparation for our purpose. Adam and Eve prepared for their work and fellowship with God in the garden of Eden, so also Jesus sought out the garden of Gethsemane to prepare himself for his ultimate purpose – the cross.
What is your reaction when you find yourself at Gethsemane?
From our passage, the location that Jesus sought out to pray, was the same location the apostles found good for sleeping. We can get carried away by the beauty of the garden and fall asleep or we can choose to watch and pray.
We prepare ourselves for the tasks of our purpose by overcoming the temptation at Gethsemane. It is a place where our earthly and carnal desires are crushed for new oil to flow from us and benefit others. Just like new wine is not placed in old wineskins, we too must pass through Gethsemane and come out purified, refined and strengthened for the journey ahead.
Lesson 2 – Company: Peter, James, John.
Although Jesus took all the twelve disciples with him to the garden, He only took Peter, and James, and John, into the corner of the garden. Jesus was really careful about who he took with him to Gethsemane. He knew he was having a difficult time and needed people to pray with him.
Those who Jesus knew would be a distraction, he separated from those he believed could help him focus on the task ahead. We too must do the same. Take heed of anything or anyone that can become a disturbance to your alone time with God.
After all this, Jesus still went further away from his chosen disciples to pray alone. Despite having true friends to pray with, it is important to recognise the need for isolation to properly discern God’s voice and leading. Sometimes the best company is God and God alone. Prayers with our friends and families must not excuse us from secret devotions with our maker.
In essence, the people and friends we have around us or have relationships with can definitely affect our ability to obey God’s instructions. Iron sharpens iron. Choose wisely!
Lesson 3 – Emotions.
Our emotions can get the better of us when we struggle with obeying God. We may become heavy and sorrowful, just like Jesus did. He became agonised, having a conflict of mind, troubled within himself. However, what was the cause? What was it that put Christ’s emotions into disorder? And how can we see similar causes in our struggle with obedience?
A – The Powers of Darkness: One cause of Jesus’s emotional heaviness was that he was engaged in an encounter with the powers of darkness via his betrayer (Judas), who was being controlled by the enemy. The same goes for us in our struggle with obedience. Knowing that emotions caused by the circumstances of life (such as loss and betrayal etc.) have weakened our flesh, the devil comes to test us, just as he did Jesus (and Job) – if our spirits are not strong and desperate to do God’s will, we lose the fight. You must have nothing in you the devil can latch on to; no bitterness, unforgiveness, lust or pride – so you can stand strong in the face of the enemy just like Jesus did.
B – The Guilt of Sin: Another thing that can affect our emotions is the guilt of past/present sins. For Jesus, he was about to bear the iniquities of all generations across all time, be separated from his father’s love, and so endure the wrath of his father’s judgment. We too may struggle with obedience when we are faced with the guilt of past/present sins. We start to feel condemned and lost, and these emotions cause us to disregard God’s instructions or abandon our faith altogether. However, it should not be so. Even Jesus faced with the weight of sin, though not his own, still looked to the father, for grace to obey. We must never let emotions cloud our need and desire for repentance.
C – The Prospect of Suffering: The final thing that can affect our emotions is an awareness of the problems that lie ahead. Jesus had a full and clear prospect of all the sufferings that were before him. He foresaw the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter and the hatred of the Jews. He knew in a few hours he would be whipped, spit on, crowned with thorns, nailed to the cross and face death. Yet, Jesus, knowing what was to come, chose not to be discouraged, instead, He braced himself and prayed three times for grace to persist in the Father’s will.
Knowing there’s a rocky road ahead can discourage one from climbing it. In the same way, knowing that following God’s instructions have certain “negative” consequences may sometimes discourage us from obedience. For example, you don’t want to shy away from certain social gatherings because you may lose your “friends” and become an outcast. However, earthly consequences should not discourage us from godly obedience. Just as Jesus found the strength to persevere unto the end, we too must gather ourselves and ask for the grace to carry on. For the same that endure unto the end shall be saved.
Lesson 4 – Ask For Help.
Jesus, finding himself with a heavy heart, goes to his disciples, and lets them know how he is feeling: “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.” For Jesus, having a friend to confide in and vent his sorrows to, other than his heavenly father, gave some ease to his troubled spirit. He is not ashamed to ask for their company and comfort: “Stay here and keep watch with me.”
If Jesus, great as he is, was humble enough to ask for help in his time of need, I see no reason why we shy away from doing the same – if not because of our egos and pride.
There is nothing wrong with asking for help in the struggle for obedience. In fact, there’s nothing wrong in asking for help in the struggle with anything on this Christian walk. I cannot emphasise how important it is to realise that we do not walk the narrow path alone! Everyone needs a confidant!
We ought to confide in the Holy Spirit daily about our struggles and ask Him to guide us to those amongst our friends and family who can counsel and comfort us in our struggles and needs. If you’re struggling with obedience, Ask. For. Help!!!! (Matthew 7:7).
Lesson 5 –Pray.
There is no doubt that prayer facilitates obedience. You’ve probably heard it said that Jesus started with prayer and ended with prayer! Prayer is the master key to obedience. In happiness or agony, Jesus prayed. Prayer is never out of season!
When we are struggling with obeying God’s will, its best to speak to Him and be upfront about it. He alone can give the clarity, understanding and strength needed to break through and move forward. Why can’t I dress this way? Why can’t I associate with these people anymore? Why can’t I masturbate anymore?
If you are struggling with obedience because you do not understand the reason for the instruction, take it to the instructor in prayer. He may not answer every why, but He will surely give you the strength you need to trust and obey every instruction.
Lesson 6 – Humbly Submit Yourself.
Now we come to the part everyone picks up on in this passage, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
Who can obey the will of God without first being submitted to his authority?
Jesus, knowing that he desired something different, admits this fact and forcefully submits to the Father’s will. In his moment of conflict, he grounds his will upon the Father’s will.
“The only thing I am willing to do is what my father wants me to do, and nothing else, not even my own desires.”
When we pray “Not my will but thine will be done”, we not only offer up our desires, we also submit them to the authority of God by exchanging our desires for His will. It is a two-way transaction that becomes complete when we cheerfully submit to God’s will. It is perfectly alright to inquire about our will, but it is more important submit to (and trust in) God’s sovereign decisions.
This is where our second bible passage comes in:
James 4:5-10 [NLT]
5 Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him. 6 And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honour.
God is generous with the grace of obedience because he wants us to be faithfully obedient to Him. He doesn’t desire for us to struggle with obeying his instructions. However, he gives grace generously to those who humble themselves before Him. Jesus at Gethsemane was a picture of humility. He did not consider himself too big to humble himself before the father and ask for help in doing his will. Humility is the grace for obedience.
In James 4:7, humility especially goes a step further to mean submission. We must have the same attitude of humble submission that Christ had. (Philippians 2:5-11). A proud person cannot be submissive to anyone. If you can’t submit, then how will you obey?
Lesson 7 – God’s Response.
Note that the first time Jesus finds the disciples asleep, he scolds them: Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? The second time, Jesus did not further scold them for their inability to stay awake. The third time, however, he says somewhat sarcastically: Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. As if to say, I will see if you can sleep now that I am about to be betrayed. Then he wakes them from their slumber and directs them to face the danger he had been telling them to watch and pray about, rather than run from it.
As we have seen earlier, God will empower us to live lives of obedience as long as we humbly submit ourselves to Him. This is His response in our time of temptation: my grace is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians 12:9). We must keep this at the forefront of our minds. As long as we stay humble, God’s response will always be the grace to persist in obedience.
Prayer: Dear Abba Father, I submit myself to you in prayer. Please empower me to do all that you expect of me, no matter where I find myself. Give me the insight to choose my friends with great care, the strength to overcome the temptation of disobedience, the wisdom to discern emotions and the humility to ask for help. Most of all, generously empower me with grace, to faithfully obey your will, no matter the cost, at all times. In Jesus name, I pray, Amen.
~ GRACE & PEACE ~