Are We Asleep?

The Garden of Gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mt. of Olives gives us poignant images of Jesus as He seeks his Father in anguish and travail as what we know of Holy Week nears the climax at the cross on Good Friday.

The place itself carries so much symbolism. The name of the garden represents an olive mill or olive press. Here, surrounded by olive trees harvested and pressed into oil, the passion of Jesus would begin.

He too would be crushed.

On this night, He would feel the crushing agony He was about to face and would plead with His Father to consider if there was no other way that His will might be accomplished. It was a deep crushing of His heart and spirit that would precede the crushing of His body as He would be beaten and then crucified.

Jesus and his disciples would have walked here after the Passover meal they have shared together. Passover was always at the time of the full moon so the moonlight would have illuminated the path they took. He had already spoken of what was to happen to Him when He had broken bread and poured out the wine, but what did the disciples really understand?

He had invited them to share this night with Him, this elite group who had walked with Him during His three years of ministry. They had heard His teaching, seen His miracles, and enjoyed the intimacy of His company that was theirs alone.

And of course there were the three closest to Him (Peter, James, and John) who even on this night were singled out to go farther with Him into the garden where He would fall on His knees. These three had been chosen to be with Him and observed His transfiguration. They were perhaps His closest companions and now they had been invited into another very sacred moment.

As I read the passage and how the disciples responded to His need and how Peter, James, and John fell asleep, I can feel anguish for Jesus in His loneliness. I confess to feeling very judgmental of the disciples for their failure to watch with Him, pray with Him, be truly with Him.

Jesus had told them He would lay down His life and be taken from them and asked them to watch and pray. We have a similar image when Elijah tells Elisha he will be taken, but Elisha does not depart nor take his eyes from Elijah.

Peter, James, and John, however, have fallen asleep despite the Lord’s attempt to awaken them more than once. Even though He has shared with them that His soul was exceedingly sorrowful even to the point of death, their concern for Him does not keep them alert to minister to Him.

What about this troubles me so much?

I think there is something inside of me that wonders if I too fail to be concerned about His heart, His desire for my companionship. How often do I think about or even consider it?

Perhaps we are more like those disciples than we would desire to admit.

They were tired. They had been with Him ministering day after day doing the business of ministry and caring for the people. Now they fail to care for Him, for His heart, in this dark hour.

Have they been so busy doing the work of ministry they were insensitive to His desire for a relationship with them above all else?

Am I?

Are you?

Can we be caught up in doing so many good things for Him that we have little energy to simply be with Him?

Ultimately, He offered them grace even as He does us, but I am drawn back to the reality that He left off praying and had gone to them. What was He seeking from them, hoping for?

We will never know.

What I am reminded of as I read the passage out of Matthew 26 is this:

I don’t want to be too tired, too weary, too involved with the busyness of life or ministry that when He comes and simply wants to spend time with me that I fall asleep and miss that time He has carved out for me.

This passage isn’t the only passage in scripture that speaks to being available and ready for being with Him. We see it when Mary chooses the best part. We see it in the parable of the foolish virgins when they have no oil and miss the Lord’s appearing.

Lord, help me, help us, to be available to you, to be alert, and to be ready and make time to be with you the priority. You gave us all you had, sparing nothing. Awaken my heart, our hearts, to what you most desire of me, of us.

Are we asleep?

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Would They Recognize Him Now? Would We?


Jesus had been in their midst for three years. They had watched Him heal the sick. They had watched Him feed the 5,000 and the 4,000. They had seen Him send the moneychangers fleeing from the temple, but was He the king they had been looking for?

There were doubts here and there because He did not appear as royalty. He had no kingly trappings. He had not gathered an army to stop Roman domination. Could this truly be the Messiah?

God had used many things to confirm the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus. Somehow doubt lingered, but then on Palm Sunday He gave them another image unlike the others and they quickly responded in their behavior even though days later their hearts would be far from Him.

The ride into Jerusalem on a donkey fulfilled one more prophecy from Zechariah. He came on a lowly donkey, not in a chariot with runners ahead clearing the way and bidding people to bow.

He had always walked among them so this scene (so modest in many ways) still became a triumphal entry which abruptly caused those watching to cut palm fronds and throw them on the path before Him and wave them in the air, saluting Him with shouts of “Hosanna”!

It was a day of great joy and celebration at the outset of what would be a dark and tragic week.

It was also a day that points to the changeableness of the human mind and heart. It paradoxically points to the very reason He would be put to death later in the week and why His death would be necessary to pay for the sinful condition of humanity.

How could they have forgotten so easily what they had witnessed with their own eyes, heard with their own ears?

This pivotal week in the Christian faith stirs many emotions and thoughts. We look back and consider, but do we also take note of the now and the not yet?

Do we now recognize how tepid our own responses to Him can be and where He fits into the priorities of our life?

Do less committed brothers and sisters around us cause us to pursue a more casual relationship with Him and easily sway us?

Are we tempted to lay aside His principles, and truths for a more popular path?

Would we prefer an easy stroll behind Him rather than walking with Him?

I don’t think that most of us ever plan to do any of those things.

But ANY relationship left unattended falls into disrepair and distance.

The crowd saluting Him would be influenced by their priests to deny what they had seen for themselves. It is an important reminder of personal accountability for our relationship with Him and the need not to allow others to deter us from what our hearts have responded to and confirmed.

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What about Palm Sunday reminds us of the “not yet”?

As we look back and take note and learn, we also should remember to look forward to the next time He will arrive in Jerusalem in triumph. He will come as risen Lord and King. Will we be ready to ride with Him? Will He find us steadfast and unwavering?

Many places in scripture point to that “not yet” in the future. One that speaks to me as I close this is from Phil. 2:9-11:

“Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Phil. 2:9-11 (ESV)

Let us look back and celebrate, take stock of our hearts now, and prepare for the greater celebration yet to come when our voices join in Hosanna to the King!


More That is True

God’s listening heart is like no other, but we are being made and shaped into his image. What is the path to developing a listening heart like his?

It can be easy for any of us to say that He is perfect so of course He has a listening heart as described in my previous post ( Perhaps that heart stems first of all from being the only one who loves perfectly. There is not one smidgeon of love in Him that is tainted with sin or self. He simply is love. He is omnipresent and yet is never too busy to listen to the heart of any of his creation that calls out to Him.

If He calls us to love, to be like Him, then how do we finite humankind fixed in time and space develop a listening heart? How do we begin since it is evident that we cannot say we are simply born this way or not?

There are many ingredients and no true recipe since He likely adapts the path according to the design of each one of us and his purposes.

One thing on the list would surely be acquainted with suffering. Isaiah 53:3 (ESV) says in part, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…” God gave us a graphic image of his willingness to suffer when He came as Christ and endured a cruel tortuous cross alone. He gave up Himself for us while knowing those disciples then (and now) would often let Him down, stumble, walk away, and not model that perfect love and listening heart He modeled. It was the cross that was the test of obedience.

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He chose to be poured out and broken for any and all who would receive Him based on who He is, not who or what they were. He already knew He would pay the price for many more who would betray and reject Him. He learned obedience by first listening and then suffering.

“Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.”

Hebrews 5:8 (NLT)

Christ’s listening heart was shaped through suffering, but first and above all, He listened.

To be like Him, the path for us starts there as well.

Learning to listen to Him moves beyond listening to the preached Word or trying to be obedient to the commands we see there.

We get to know someone best by listening carefully to them. We are not distracted by our environment, our own thoughts, how we want to respond, what we hope to get from the other person, or what we want that other person to think of us. That requires a good bit of practice and dying to self on every level. It means we aren’t first listening so he or she will then listen to what we want to share, but rather selflessly listening to come to know the heart of the other person.

And it starts with our vertical relationship with God. It goes beyond “hearing” the preached Word or reading the Bible. It goes beyond praying to Him and moves us to make the time in prayer a time of relationship development where we don’t do all the talking. We pause and take time to really listen and practice it, so we come to learn to know his voice within our own hearts, minds, and spirits as if He were right there enjoying a conversation with us.

How much do we want to really know Him and his heart? We “hear” Him in multiple ways, but as we speak and pause to listen for that “still small voice” we will come to know Him best. We will know more about the depth of his love and affection for us and that will shape us more into his image and hone obedience.

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How precious is the sound of the voice of a child to a parent! How reassuring and comforting the voice of a parent whispering into the ear of a child!

In my little corner of the world those words whispered as I wait are so precious that I do not want to forget them or later be tempted by the enemy to believe He never speaks to me, so my journal contains the conversation between us as a testimony of the vertical relationship we share, and I seek to know Him better.

And the enemy of our souls hates that because he knows how much deeper it will forge the bond of love between us. He knows it will allow me (us) to develop more of a listening heart.

That will allow me to be used on assignment by Him to listen to others, to come to hear his nudge about needs they may not be able to express or feel safe enough to share as well as any they do. Then my heart will look more like his because the time in his Word and listening to his voice will adjust my self focus to HIS focus. That also comes from reading the whole book about Him not just bits and pieces that I find easy. He wants us to know Him on every page from Genesis to Revelation.

A great illustration of that is found in Revelation 10:9 where John is told to take an open book from the angel and eat it. Beyond the rest of that passage, have you considered what God is saying there?

“St John is told not only to take the open book but to eat it. Eating a book takes it all in, assimilating it into the tissues of your life.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

When we have assimilated Him into the tissues of our life, our words and actions will leak in consistent congruent patterns that convey HIS listening heart because we have first listened to Him.

Not Too Good to be True

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When life comes at us sideways and we are upended, often if we are blessed with good people around us, we will hear “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help” or “How can I help?” The challenge we face at that point is that we often don’t know how to answer or what we most need at any given point. In that case we may say “I’ll let you know if I think of anything”. But how often do we call them back?

When we are trying to reorient ourselves to something unexpected or difficult we may not truly know how to answer that despite our awareness of the sincerity of the person asking. Our minds are in overdrive or totally numb or we are in so much pain that making it from one moment to the next uses most of our energy. Our world feels very small and cramped and we aren’t sure if the person asking can imagine our struggle to answer the question.

It happens routinely in the midst of loss when those around us feel a sense of helplessness of how to help ease the pain of someone. It’s even harder when we don’t even recognize the loss and there is a sense of being disenfranchised. That is so true when someone experiences a miscarriage that others may not even see or know or when someone loses a lifelong friend.

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Sometimes what we may most need is not something done for us (even though there may be things that can help, and we appreciate it). And how do we articulate that what we most need is someone to “be” with us versus “do” for us. Being or feeling alone in the midst of upheaval can be overwhelming for the best of us – especially if the cause is not easily resolved. That has happened to far too many people around the globe during the pandemic because even if we wanted to “be there”, we were not allowed to be.

Perhaps we most need a listening heart even more than a listening ear. And those are rare finds indeed.

A listening heart not only seeks to “tune in” to us but also is listening to the nudge of the Lord. A person who has you come to mind and senses a nudge to call you, fix a meal, send you flowers, write you a note, or pray is someone with a listening heart. Such a person is not so engaged in their own busy lives that they are unable to “hear” that nudge and are empathic to consider what he or she most needs perhaps if the situation was reversed. They may likely do something you ask, but they have taken relationship to another level (both vertically and horizontally).

A few of us are truly gifted in this, but many of us are not very good at it. That can be because we are far more self-focused than we realize or would care to admit, or our vertical relationship spiritually is not really an ongoing daily connection with the Lord. It can also be true that we have been doing for so many that we are burned out and have lost that once possible tuning into a nudge to touch someone (even if it isn’t in person). If our lives are flowing along, we can get caught up in the stream and be going through life on automatic. It can happen to us all if we are honest.

It is often someone who has walked through a time when life came at them sideways who has developed a “listening heart” and responds to us with unusual sensitivity. That person has suffered something, so they “get” suffering as few others do. It’s beauty coming out of ashes.

Sometimes we can be tempted to believe or feel that no one out there “gets” us, no one is listening or even cares. That very often happens during the long nights when the rest of the world seems to be asleep, and we are left alone with our pain, loss, and thoughts that can come unraveled and cause us to lose perspective and hope. It can happen also when we expect a response from someone close to us and it doesn’t happen, or it happens in a way that shows us they have no clue about where or how we are at that point in time.

But that isn’t accurate. There is someone who “gets” us and understands all manner of suffering. He has the BEST listening heart ever.

“The world is a mob of everyone talking at once and no one is willing or able to listen. But God listens. He not only speaks to us, he listens to us. His listening to us is an even greater marvel than his speaking to us. It is rare to find anyone who listens carefully and thoroughly. It is rare to find our stammering understood, our clumsy speech deciphered, our garbled syntax unraveled, sorted out and heard – every syllable attended to, every nuance comprehended. Our minds are taken seriously. Our feelings are taken seriously. When it happens, we know that what we say and feel are immensely important. We acquire dignity. We never know how well we think or speak until we find someone who listens to us.

True speaking is made possible when there is true listening. What good are words without a listener?”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

We may be tempted to feel or believe He is not listening at all because the answer we so much need has not happened or at least not yet. It is then we most need to rest in the assurance of his love for us and that it is unfailing and everlasting.

“Important things are being done while we wait. The action on earth, seen from the heavenly place is a drama of victorious redemption.

Prayer orients us to God’s design.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

We Can Change History

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Can we really change history?

Yes, of course.

You may be thinking of ways that can happen by participating in governmental processes, voting, and a list of other things and those are true and have happened many times in the course of history in places around the world. But there is something more than that and it can defeat evil as none of these can in and of themselves.

It requires more of us. It will involve time, trust, and faith in each action, but it is what will help us stand in the face of evil. It is prayer that is the effective weapon we often leave gathering dust on the shelf.

“The real power of prayer in history is not a fusillade of praying units of whom Christ is the chief, but it is the corporate action of a Saviour-Intercessor and His community, a volume and energy of prayer organized in a Holy Spirit and in the Church the Spirit creates.”

P.T. Forsyth

Throughout history you hear the stories of prayer operating and moving in ways to sustain people and change history’s course. We know it and scripture tells us to do it, but often our prayers focus on the life we are living and asking for smaller things or urgent things of a crisis nature related to health or provisions versus the wider battle against evil operating.

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“While conflicts raged between good and evil, prayers went up from devout bands of first century Christians all over the Roman empire. Massive engines of persecution and scorn were ranged against them. They had neither weapons nor votes. They had little money and no prestige. Why didn’t they have mental breakdowns? Why didn’t they cut and run? They prayed.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

History tells us much about what they suffered and endured during that time, but because of their faithfulness and testimony carved out of the hardships they endured Christianity was not stamped out and we enjoy the legacy of that today. It can be easy to not recognize had they not been so committed in this way that all of what we take for granted might have never been birthed.

Can we do any less now whether we live in a place where our faith can operate and be expressed freely or not? Are we willing to walk in their footsteps and change the course of the future?

We see that power played out in Revelation 8 as well as prayers appear to flow upward, and heaven is silent and then an angel appears with a golden censer and what happens?

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“Out of the silence, action developed: an angel came before the altar of God with a censer. He mixed the prayers of the Christians with incense (which cleansed them from impurities) and combined them with fire (God’s spirit) from the altar. Then he put it all in a censer and threw it over heaven’s ramparts. The censer, plummeting through the air, landed on earth. On impact there were “peals of thunder, voices, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (Rev. 8:5). The prayers which had ascended, unremarked by the journalists of the day, returned with immense force – in George Herbert’s phrase, as “reversed thunder.” Prayer reenters history with incalculable effects. Our earth is shaken daily by it.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

Can you imagine?

It can be far easier to talk about what it is wrong in the world than to acknowledge we are caught up in a war between good and evil and as believers are called to play a part. Our absence of using the weapons Christ has afforded of us can change the present as well as the future for those who will come after us.

“Prayer is access to an environment in which God is the pivotal center of action. All other persons, events, or circumstances are third parties. Existence is illuminated in direct relationship to God himself. Neither bane nor blessing distracts from this center. Persons who pray are not misled by demons of size, influence, importance or power. They turn their backs on the gaudy pantheons of Canaan and Assyria, Greece and Rome, and give themselves to the personal intensities that become awe before God and in intimacy with God. And they change the world.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder
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