Agony (#34)

Prayer makes the Christian’s armour bright;
And Satan trembles when he sees

The weakest saint upon his knees.

William Cowper

“And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44, ESV)

The last time I saw my father, my sister and I were driving him to the airport. It was summer, and we were in Texas. My dad was wearing thick wool socks. I looked down from the steering wheel at his thick clothes and asked why he would wear wool in Houston.

He told me for the first time that he had gotten mild frostbite while training in Alaska. As an Army officer, he had walked all night as part of a training program, and it had permanently damaged the nerves in his feet. He told me that ever since then, his feet had been cold. He had been permanently marked by that Alaskan winter.

Some events mark us. Finishing school. The birth of a child. Your first trip overseas. Other events make an echo that we would rather forget. Unexpected deaths. The trauma of war. Physical abuse. These are not modern crises. These problems were not strangers to Jesus’ generation. More importantly, these problems were not strangers to Jesus. He knew agony and distress of soul better than we can imagine, and because of that he is able to comfort us in whatever we face.

The Prince of Peace was not in any war, but the Man of Sorrows is no stranger to trauma. At Gethsemane, Jesus sweated drops of blood, Luke tells us. This is a very strange fact to read, and makes the account sound mystical. But doctors have found that this does indeed happen. Bloody sweat is a mark of extreme psychological duress. It means that Jesus was enduring prolonged inward trauma as he faced his vicarious suffering on our behalf.

If Jesus faced inner agony, then he also conquered it. And Luke tells us the way that Jesus conquered it: He prayed!

From Adam to the Messiah, each of the prophets was a man like us, with depressions, doubts, and weaknesses. What made Elijah a great prophet was no special characteristic of his own. It was simply that he prayed.

Much as we seek comfort in fresh air, calm music, escape novels, or even work, none of these things can get to the root of anxiety, grief, or trauma. We must go to God in the worship of surrender. It is not enough to sing as if our problems don’t exist; talk to God. Cast your cares on Jesus.

Casting your cares on Jesus is not the same as ignoring them. It means we actively take them to the throne of God, and surrender our responsibility for our past, present, and future.

Jesus conquered the pain and grief that marks our lives on this side of eternity, and he leads the way for us to beat it.

Jesus, I cast my cares on you today, knowing that you care for me. Help me to understand your suffering as I meditate on your Passion this week.

Amen.

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