I recently had the opportunity to travel to Israel to study the life of Jesus, and since returning I have been so overwhelmed with the wealth of information and spiritual principles that I’ve been left to process.
The term ‘overwhelmed’, is clearly an understatement. I mean, imagine nearly 2,000 years of history squeezed into an eight-day trip. It’s a lot to take in, to say the least.
Coincidentally — or rather very strategically planned by God — I found myself on this trip exactly one year after losing my father to brain cancer. Wrapping your mind around that specific contextual detail is important towards understanding the lens in which I viewed every element of this experience.
Each moment — each scene, location, story, and fact — was viewed through the perspective of my grief.
So with that in mind, let’s reflect on my experience at the Garden of Gethsemane.
Praying here was the most humbling encounter for me. There’s nothing quite like getting to pray in the very garden that Jesus once prayed His last prayers at 2,000 years ago. There’s something so sweet and unique about sitting at the garden and reminiscing on the Biblical account of Jesus’ pre-crucifixion prayers, while also wrestling with the reality of your own very-real-yet-small-in-comparison complexities.
You see, there’s this beautiful parallelism between the Olive trees and Jesus’ prayers. The word “Gethsemane” comes from a root word in Aramaic (shamani) that LITERALLY means “oil-press.” The process of pressing olives is what creates olive oil, and what struck me about this process was the three levels of purification forming the three classifications of olive oil.
- Extra Virgin
The principle is that the more pressure an olive undergoes, the purer the oil becomes. The same thing happened with Jesus. Each of the THREE times He retreated to Gethsemane in prayer, more pressure was bestowed on Him and His prayers become increasingly purified as well.
Notice His prayers.
- Prayer one: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
- Prayer two: “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)
- Prayer three: the Bible says He, “prayed the third time, saying the same thing.” (Matthew 26:44)
Each time, Jesus genuinely and desperately just wanted God’s will in His life — despite how hard the situation was. We can see this because, no matter how He felt or what the beginning of His prayers said, He always ended by surrendering to God’s will above His own.
With the understanding that the cup represented God’s wrath, we can better relate to Jesus’ prayers. In the first prayer, Jesus asks for the cup to simply be taken from Him.
This reminds me of those situations in life that we try to avoid dealing with altogether — like the death of my father for example. We kind of just ask God to take it from us — to have the result of an empty cup without having to undergo the process required for actually emptying the cup ourselves. Yet, even though Jesus desired this, He still ended the prayer with, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” This reminds me that it is okay to desire things in life, as long as we always desire God’s will first, because it will always put God’s will in perspective, prioritizing the Spirit over the flesh.
In the second prayer, the pressure and purification increases. Jesus realizes that it’s not possible for God to just simply take it away; Jesus comes to terms with the reality that He is going to actually have to actively partake in emptying the cup for it to result in genuine atonement. If Jesus isn’t a willing agent, then an empty cup is not accurate evidence of the process.
This reminds me that when we go through those aforementioned life situations — we must be active and willing agents in God’s healing process. We can’t neglect the realities of life and hope that one day they will just heal themselves. In the same way, I can’t choose to ignore the fact that my father died and then one day choose to later remember it again in hopes that I’m healed and whole.
In the third prayer, Jesus repeats the second prayer. I think it’s because He realized that He had the principle right the second time, but He wanted His passion to match the prayer. In the Bible, repetition is usually a sign of importance and emphasis. I think that any time we mean something — like REALLY MEAN IT — we aren’t afraid of repeating it.
We believe in our words so much so that we are willing to say it again, because we know without a shadow of a doubt that they are true, and real, and PURE.
One thing that really struck me about the journey leading up to, during, and even after Jesus prayed at the Garden was the increasing isolation and abandonment that Jesus endured while also facing the hardest trial and pinnacle decision of all time.
He went from 12 disciples, to 11, to 3, and then the three that actually came with Him while He prayed didn’t even stay away LONG ENOUGH to support Him in prayer. Looking forward, He also knew, that at His death God would ultimately have to “forsake” Him as well. He was ALONE, and yet, each of the three times He prayed, His level of faith and willingness increased all the more, as He said “Not my will, but yours.”
For me, every detail of this account is significant. Let’s rewind back to my lens of grief. Being on this trip nearly a year after losing my father REALLY built my faith. Like Jesus, I also faced “the hardest trial and pinnacle decision” of my life. Yet, in the midst of my suffering and loss, UNLIKE Jesus, I was literally surrounded by THOUSANDS of people to support me in prayer and love. On August 7th 2015, God put me on a stage in front of 20,000 people as it was nearing my fathers death. I got to share my story and the entire 20,000 were led in prayer over my father and my circumstance. Yet the 12 that Jesus had couldn’t even stand with Him when it mattered most, and the God who would eventually stand with me in the midst of my own trials had to leave Jesus in the heat of His.
I say ALL OF THIS to say, that when I sat at the Garden of Gethsemane, I just followed Jesus’ example, surrendered, and began reciting similarly structured prayers over my life.
“Even when I’m lonely …. ‘not my will, but yours.'”
“Even when I’m sad or depressed …. ‘not my will, but yours.’”
“Even when I’m lost …. ‘not my will, but yours.’”
“Even when I’m confused, hurt, or abandoned .… ‘not my will, but yours.’”
“Even when I miss my dad so much it hurts like Hell …. ‘not my will, but yours.'”
It’s a powerful principle, to take back what the enemy intended for destruction and repurpose it into something that God can use for re-creation.
If I could some up my experience into four simple lines, it would be:
“I stood at the gates of Gethsemane,
it was just Him and me,
and I realized that the enemy
had no place in the Garden.”
Nomatter what I go through in this life, not my will, but GOD’s.