39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Luke 22:39 – 42 NIV
I have always been amazed by this passage. Every time I read it, I picture a savior carrying a tremendous burden. His companions are all exhausted from the night’s activities having spent the previous hours sharing a last meal with their leader. They are aware of impending betrayal but are not certain as to the exact nature of the events to unfold. They follow their leader to his place of prayer as is his “usual” custom. Even as Christ struggles with the imminence of his brutal death, He pauses to encourage his followers that they do like him and “pray”. One author describes the temptation that he warns against as a specific human tendency to default to those things that are easy and convenient. When faced with challenging circumstances there is an overwhelming pull to justify non-compliance. Christ not only warns against this, but his prayer is a demonstration of this tension. He recognizes his human desire to avoid the road that is coming, but he surrenders to the will of His Father. He does not pretend it to be easy. In fact, He admits the difficulty and impossibility of it all. Yet, His submission presents a model for us all - even if things seem excruciatingly difficult, it is God’s desire to empower us, through submission, to accomplish His sovereign (sometimes unclear; sometimes contrary; sometimes counterintuitive; sometimes unorthodox; sometimes uncomfortable and awkward) will. As I pondered this passage, I substituted the second half of verse 42 with some of the things that I have paraphrased, when faced with an unpalatable but godly directive:
“I don’t want to do this, so I won’t.”
“I don’t want to do this today. I will tomorrow.”
“I won’t do this.”
“I don’t want to do this, but I will do that.”
“I want to do that, so that must be your will then.”
“I don’t want to do that. That must therefore NOT be your will.”
“That can’t be your will. Show me the other or the “right” one.”
Romans 12:2 tells us “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” The Greek word that is translated “be transformed” is metamorpho. It is the root from which we get our English word “metamorphosis”. The usage is present, passive, imperative, second person and plural. As a plural and passive imperative it implies that the collective believers that were being addressed needed to ensure that they made themselves available to the transformative nature of the Holy Spirit, who is the agent of change in our lives. As a present tense verb, it communicates that this is an ongoing process. As a believer, I am constantly undergoing change from the inside. A good visual aid would be a situation where a builder is constantly renovating a house, attempting to make it more appropriate for changing circumstances. This kind of transformation does not come from conscious imitation, but from spiritual communion with Christ. I cannot decide to imitate Christ and then do so perfectly (immediately). I must be consistent in the time that I spend with him, particularly when I am at a distance from the fork in the road. Choosing to put this off until times of crisis results in sense of not knowing His will – because I don’t know Him. A consistent habit of daily time with God results in an acceptance of the uncertainty and ambiguity that can sometimes come with determining God’s will in a specific circumstance or for a particular decision. No matter the outcome of my choice, I will be ok, because I know my heavenly Father well.
Christ was in the habit of spending time with His Father. Because of this He was deeply aware of His Father’s will and the challenge that it presented to Him. His encouragement to the disciples was to do the same, because the most tempting thing is to sacrifice time with God for the sake of human convenience.
How goes it with you? Are you investing the daily time now so that God’s will is clear in times of decision then? If this is a place of struggle, enlist the help of others who can help you stay accountable with a daily quiet time. Share the challenge with others whom you trust. Lean on others so that you can experience growth in this area of your life.