“My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.”
Today, before I set down to write today’s Give Us This Day, I wrestled with the Lord without knowing it. For some time the writing of Give Us This Day has become a field of contest in which one worthy opponent must seemingly lose. Either I must spend adequate time and energy reading the Word today, taking time to chew it properly so that I might digest it well and gain strength and life again from the Lord who feeds me – all without writing a single word; or I must slurp and gulp down my divine food so that I have enough time and energy to write my devotion. My devotions run the risk of becoming sterile hybrids of devotion and devotional, of life and art.
But today is different, and it happened like this. My first mistake was in listening to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, cleverly disguised as the pinhole light of conscience. One of the things my conscience suggested was that I take the time to begin reading the manuscript on the works of Kierkegaard that my father had recently written. I’m not even sure how this is connected, but I know that it is. I think it has something to do with Kierkegaard’s interplay between faith and life and writing. I was especially struck by Kierkegaard’s insistence that his writing came before all else and was God’s work in his life. I’ve had similar thoughts, but never as passionately or persistently: I allow my divine muse to be tamed too easily.
I then began rummaging through the spirituality and prayer section of my personal library and was disappointed not to find the book I was looking for on Prayer and Temperament. But such disappointments are God’s means of grace in our lives, and I found three other books I wasn’t looking for instead. One of these was Peter Toon’s Meditating upon God’s Word. No sooner did I open this book than from the very first page God spoke to me and told me that part of my problem was that I was rather confused about my audience (was it myself, a nebulous audience, or God Himself). God wants me to talk to Him.
And so God has planted me today in a Garden. I feel kind of like Adam, but kind of like Jesus. Here is part of my prayer.
My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, Lord, even to death. I know that I have not been as faithful in staying and watching with You, as You have commanded me. I have missed your deep sorrow and distress because I have been too busy living a life at a distance from you that makes you look more like a Gustave Dore engraving of You than You Yourself.
While you are busy praying and preparing to be betrayed and to die, I am busy living and betraying. If someone came up to me and asked me to deny You, I would never do it (so I like to believe), and yet I practice the art of denial in my spare time and at other times. It’s almost a hobby with me. I’m like a child who, when told by a parent to get off the video game and get on with life, says, “Just a minute . . . just a minute,” as if the video game is real life, as if there is anything more important than obedience.
I’ve just read a book called Talent is Overrated, a book that by now others are sick of hearing me talk about. But God has used it to prod and provoke me into action. The thesis of the book is that if you want to become truly excellent at anything, then you must practice it with an uncompromising diligence. Not just any practice, however, but deliberate practice, under the tutelage of mentors and coaches (spiritual directors and teachers), and with the encouragement of your family.
And I have told you, Lord, that I want to be excellent at a few things, including teaching, writing, husbanding, fathering, and especially devoting myself to You. And yet I find today, when I pray with You in the Garden, that I have not loved You with my whole heart. I have not kept my appointed times to meet with You, and when I meet with You I am in a hurry to leave, often to sleep.
Can I not keep watch with you for but one hour? Look how easily even in this devotion, which was supposed to be addressed to You, I keep drifting back to write for others.
When I consider how many times I have chosen a TV show or Facebook or almost anything else over talking with You, my soul is anguished. I came to the Garden to be with You and pray with You and talk with You. But how often I have come instead to betray You.
I came as Peter, James, or John, but became Judas instead. How often I have been not the one who is praying with You but the one for whom You have prayed. Worse yet, I came as the one who would cut off the ear of Malchus but have become the one who would pierce Your heart.
But my soul praises You, Master! For although my flesh and even my spirit are much too weak, and although I have fallen asleep too many times, I know that You pray for me. Even as You offered Yourself to Your disciples on the night in which You were betrayed, even as Satan entered the betrayer, I know that You offer Yourself for me. I cling to the hope that even now, in that greater Garden which is the Paradise of the Father, You pray for me without ceasing.
My soul is in anguish Lord, for I have betrayed You, and yet it is only Your anguish I seek. I see, I smell You drink Your cup, that terrible bowl of the wrath of the Father that none but You, the Lamb, could drink.
But look how even here in the Garden I have made all things about me! Even in my prayers I can see only me, and not you, the One who prays for me today. Pray for me again, as You did in the Garden, that I may enter the better Garden with you.
Thank You, Lamb of God, that You have offered to me a different cup, the cup of blessing, the cup of wonder and eternal youth that transforms me the betrayer into me the friend.
Keep offering me Your Cup, O Lamb of God, that I may partake of Your perfect life and sacrifice. May Your Blood course through my blood and Your flesh become mine so that I may develop a taste for Life again. Now that I (the one that travails and is heavy laden) am refreshed by You and my eyes have grown clear again, may I see and remember to come to You more often and more passionately.
Watch over me and pray for me that I might not fall again into temptation but instead enjoy Your kingdom, Your power, and Your glory forever. Amen.
Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
- What activities throughout the day keep you from spending more time with the Lord, either in prayer, meditation, reading the Word, reading spiritual works, or in Christian conversation?
- What attitudes keep you from spending more time with the Lord?
- What is the thing in life that you most want to be excellent at? What if you pursued your relationship with the Lord so as to be an excellent disciple of His?
Resolution: I resolve to set aside one other activity today that I might spend time in the presence of the Lord.
Christ Praying in the Garden – Reichenau St.Georg – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license