Not My Will

I promised last time that we would look at what joy and victory in the midst of anguish look like, and we will. We’ll examine the best example the Bible gives us about Someone who went through incredible anguish and yet remained whole, even while His body was torn apart.

The scene takes place in a garden. Jesus and His disciples have come to this favorite location because Jesus is in anguish over what is about to happen to Him. He knows what’s coming and can barely stand it. So He takes His three closest disciples apart from the rest of the group and asks them to pray for Him in His hour of need. He then goes on a little further to be by Himself, and He pours out such anguish to His Father that blood vessels in His skin burst, and His blood falls to the ground like drops of sweat. But as if this weren’t enough to convince us that Jesus knows true agony, Jesus Himself provides a further detail, telling His disciples, “”My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matt. 26:38).

Did you catch that? Jesus was so anguished it felt like the pain could kill Him. And that’s before the cross, before the physical ravages He endured. This is emotional pain He’s talking about.

Have you ever felt that kind of pain? If you have, you know what Jesus is talking about. Sometimes, grief and suffering are so great that it seems like they’re killing us. But did you know that Jesus understands? Not because He’s God and understands everything, but because He’s felt that way?

So then if Jesus knows the kind of pain we’re talking about—because He’s experienced it—yet He made it through, He is our best example for how we can still experience joy and victory even when circumstances are so bad we feel like we’re dying.

First, we need to realize that joy doesn’t mean we don’t feel pain, or that we like our circumstances. Jesus felt plenty of pain, and He sure wasn’t thrilled about what He was about to suffer. So what did His joy look like? It looked like worship. Jesus chose to worship His Father by being obedient even in the midst of incalculable anguish, thereby demonstrating that He believed His Father was still good and still worthy of worship even when His ways cause “sorrow to the point of death”.

When tragedy shatters our happiness, it’s easy to change our view of God. God must not be as loving as we thought, or not as caring, or not as good. But just as Jesus did in the midst of sorrow, we must hold on to our knowledge of who God is and not allow our emotions to determine what we believe God’s character to be. True joy comes only from God Himself, and worshipping Him is the only way we can experience joy in the midst of mourning.

What did Jesus’ victory look like? We know, of course, that He died on the cross and was raised by the Father three days later. That certainly was victory. But that victory began to be won in the garden, when Jesus determined that no matter the cost, He would still worship God no matter what. In that moment, the battle was won, and all that was left was for the details to play out.

We might not experience the victory of triumph over our circumstances until we reach heaven. But we can experience another kind of victory—triumph in our circumstances—even while they still rage around us. This is the kind of victory God offers us now, even though we may have to wait for the ultimate kind. It is not a kind of victory that erases our sorrow, but it is a kind that means we’ve won the battle.

In the midst of terrible circumstances, I would usually prefer that they had simply never happened. You probably would too. But that’s not a choice. We can’t go back and change what happened. The only thing we can do is cling to God and find our joy in Him, even while the tears stream down our faces. We can rely on what we know to be true about Him—that He loves and cares for us deeply, despite the circumstances He has caused or allowed—and derive our joy not from a perfectly designed situation, but from the only One who is a source of true joy no matter how life is going. And we can choose, as Jesus did, to worship Him no matter what, and experience a victory we never would have chosen, but the only one that can comfort our soul in the midst of pain.

I don’t know what kind of pain you are facing today. But I do know that God is there to meet you in it. Choose Him as your joy and victory now, in the midst of your sorrow. You can’t choose different circumstances. But you can choose to worship. No matter what.

Hebrews 12:2—looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

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