While the title of this blog is an old saying that most of us have heard all our lives, it also is an understatement of what our world is experiencing at this moment in time. Most of us could easily and truthfully say there has been no time in our lives quite like the present time. In little more than a month’s time, most of us have seen our lives upended in lots of ways. And for the less fortunate ones, we’ve experienced physical, familial and financial devastation as a result of the COVID-19 virus pandemic. Even if we haven’t personally contracted the virus or had a loved one suffering from it, we’ve all experienced the distress of terrifying estimates of impending deaths, the reality that we ourselves are not immune from the pernicious virus, the grim reports of a coming recession, and myriad other unsettling prospects and realities resulting from the pandemic. There has been no time like the present for most of us.
As followers of Christ, even in the throes of the global chaos, we celebrated this past Sunday the resurrection of our Savior. He rose from the dead, and simultaneously resurrected humankind’s hope for reconciliation with our Creator and Heavenly Father. As I read through gospel accounts of the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection in the last week, however, my attention was drawn to Christ’s time in the Garden of Gethsemane. John’s account states that, “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with His disciples.” (John 18:1-2)
As I envisioned the scene and meditated on this portion of scripture, my thoughts were two-fold. The first is the spiritual warfare that took place in the garden that night. I’m not talking about any warfare that involved men’s swords, such as what took place when Jesus’ enemies arrived to arrest Him. Rather, I mean the spiritual war that waged between the heart of God and an enemy desperate to defeat Christ’s making it to the cross. This warfare that imposed such physical strain on our Lord that He sweat drops of blood would’ve crushed lesser men. But Jesus endured the excruciating burden and, I believe, it was in that place that Jesus’ victory (and ours) was set in motion. Of course, He still had to walk the Via Dolorosa and endure the emotional and physical trauma, as He incurred the wrath of God for the sin of all humanity. But I believe His victory began in that garden—in prayer.
The same principle is just as true for us. As we have soberly experienced in recent days, our world can be rocked and battered about, with little or no notice. Things we have come to rely on and people we hold dear can be removed in an instant. Many have seen this with the current pandemic. Others have experienced this even before the current crisis. Just as Jesus faced the gravest of circumstances as he looked toward the cross, each of His followers can expect to face challenges. The question is will we ready ourselves for those difficult moments and seasons as Jesus did—through prayer? Our victory in the current or future crisis is won or lost in prayer. It’s in prayer where we get the strength to say “not my will but Yours,” and where we surrender our motives, agendas, desires and dreams to the Father—yielding to His plan no matter the personal cost. That’s the example of our Savior. (Philippians 2:8)
The second thought this garden passage brings to mind is the significance of the fact that “Jesus often met there” in that place. Jesus had been there many times before, and I have no doubt that He had spent many hours there in that place seeking the Father in prayer. What did He pray about all those times He went to the garden to pray? We don’t know for sure, and we don’t need to know. The important thing is His example of going there “often” to pray. By the time Jesus arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before His death, He had been there many times and had spent much time in prayer. In other words, Jesus didn’t just show up in the garden to pray for the first time on the eve of His crucifixion.
Why does it matter? It matters because His example shows us why we need to be disciplined and in the habit of prayer. We can’t wait until the eve of the most challenging moment of our lives to begin our prayer life. Jesus showed us that we need to be students of prayer and practitioners of prayer. This is not to suggest that we can’t call upon the name of the Lord in our hour of need unless we’ve already “put our time in” on prayer in the past. God is merciful and gracious and loving, and He is always welcoming when we come in the name of His Son. But He does call us to prepare ourselves in the long term through a healthy and devoted prayer life. (Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Perhaps this recent global health and economic crisis found you “flat-footed” in your prayer life. One response is that you’ve been too worried or preoccupied to pray. But that is not God’s plan. We can and should seek Him perhaps as never before during this time, not only for our own lives, but also for our world. (Philippians 4:6 (“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”))
Another response is that you’ve begun to pray for the first time in a while. His word tells us that He gladly receives us as we come to Him with our needs. (Hebrews 4:16) Perhaps we will see in future months and years how this current crisis helped to alter spiritual courses and fueled a prayer revolution among Christians. Let’s keep going! May we all use this occasion to either begin a lifelong habit of prayer, or to redouble our commitment to prayer so that we may be fully equipped and prepared to glorify the Father through every circumstance and to see His kingdom advanced. There is no time like the present.