It is early evening in Judea. Just outside Jerusalem, Peter, James and John are walking with Jesus to the olive grove, to the place of crushing: Gethsemane. Jesus begins to stumble. He is in obvious pain and turmoil. Jesus is staggering because He is so troubled in His spirit. His heart is breaking. He is literally at the gateway of death. He is being sent on a course of action that will separate Him from His Father.
Jesus was one with the Father. He did and said only what the Father instructed. Now He faces the total loss of His Father’s presence. Jesus falls to the ground and begins to pray. “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:42-44).
We Have Casually Left the Presence of Our Father
Unlike Jesus, most of us have been able to casually leave the presence of our Heavenly Father. It is so casual that we suffer no apparent agony of heart or deep distress of soul. We experience no sorrow to the point of death. In fact, just the contrary is true! We act as though we think we are still in His presence, enjoying His favor. But to all outward appearances, we live the way the world lives. Most of us enjoy its favor and privileges. The world loves us. Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:19).
Most Christians enjoy the same TV shows, the same movies, the same books, the same magazines, even the same leisure-time activities as those who do not profess that Jesus is their Lord. We have given into an indulgent, free lifestyle that reflects the values of the world and not of Jesus Christ. Money has become our god of choice. We, too, are caught in the rat race of working to earn an income that will buy all the privileges of the world.
We are in a terrifying position! We claim Jesus as our Savior, but we serve the world as our Lord. We walk with pride, arrogance, and haughtiness before the living God of heaven. We even deny our sinful condition in order to maintain our innocence, insisting with great intellectual arguments, that God’s presence is with us.
Jesus was utterly crushed by the loss of intimate closeness with His Father. The impending separation was so devastatingly painful that Jesus was overwhelmed to the point of death from a broken heart. He could not, in His human spirit, see through the darkness of separation. The separation created a chasm so wide, and the ugly tenaciousness of the world’s sin was so powerful, that He despaired of life itself.
What crushes our spirit? What seems utterly unbearable? What causes us to sweat blood and cry out in anguished pain? We are usually crushed by the worries and responsibilities of this life, by our love of money, or by our desire for the great American lifestyle: the mortgage payment, the car payment, the credit card bills, utilities, food, and all the other things we consider so vital to our well being. Financial loss is unthinkable! Just the thought sends a chill of panic through our systems. A friend recently confided in me that her worst fear is that she will become a homeless bag lady. Every time she drives her new Mercedes-Benz downtown, past the homeless, she is stricken with terror.
We are crushed by sickness, by a mate who proves unfaithful, or by our families’ rejection. We are crushed when we do not reach our goals for successes, when failure or loss removes our illusions of security. Today, we who call ourselves Christian, live with the same fears as those in the world. We know the right words to say; conceptually, we have all the right answers. Many of us even find comfort in God’s Word and the rituals of our Christian faith. But do we imagine that those of the world do not also find comfort in the memory of God or in the god they have created? They, too, have their beliefs and rituals of faith.
We have left the presence of our Heavenly Father, of Jesus, and even the Holy Spirit. For so many years we have chased after the world that we think our behavior is “normal Christian behavior.” We have sold out to the world so that we could enjoy its rewards and favors.
Jeremiah Identifies Six Steps into the Pit
Step One:Forsaking God. Straying from His holy presence. Not asking, “Where is the Lord?” No longer drinking from the spring of living water. No longer reading God’s Word in the early morning, or seeking His presence on our knees late into the night. Losing our sense of historical perspective. Casually leaving His presence. No longer crying out for His mercy or provision. Taking for granted our salvation. (Jeremiah 2:5-6,13).
Step Two:Choosing to provide for ourselves. Digging our own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Putting our confidence in our skill to care for ourselves and provide the necessities of life for our families. No longer being willing to wait upon the Lord or to walk in the darkness by faith. Trusting in business strategies or marketing campaigns to accomplish the work of the Gospel. (Jeremiah 2:13-18).
Step Three:Losing our sense of awe for God. We preach forgiveness without requiring confession and repentance. Speaking of love but not discipleship, grace without taking up our cross. We become sentimental, permissive, and no longer exercise tough love that disciplines and holds accountable. God becomes a “doting father” who gives His children whatever they ask for, and above all else, He no longer disciplines or brings up the ugly subjects of sin, compromise, or hell. (Jeremiah 2:19).
Step Four:Losing all shame for sin. Not being concerned about how we use our time or money except, “Are we enjoying the fruits of our labors?” Running here and there to pursue a new business deal that we hope can forever free us financially. Plunging into the dissipation of professional sports on television. Consuming large amounts of filthy movies, music, novels, or whatever pleases our senses. We have lost all sense of “shame.” We choose to be broad-minded. (Jeremiah 2:20-24).
Step Five:Following other gods. Forgetting the God of heaven, we follow after the gods we have come to love. We say to our work, “You are my provision.” To our money, “You are my comfort and security. In you I trust.” We roam with freedom to whatever pleases us. We love pleasure and the wonderful lifestyle of the modern church, which has a memory of God, a form of Godliness, but no sacrificial obedience. (Jeremiah 2:25-33).
Step Six:Saying, “I am innocent!” “Surely, God is not angry with me. I am living a righteous life. I will not blush with shame. After all, I have to be realistic! I am responsible for taking care of my family and myself. Under the circumstances, I have only done what any reasonable person would do. I have done my best.” As we continue to pursue friendship with the world we also cry, “God, My Father, we need a revival! You are my friend, why are you so distant?” (Jeremiah 2:35; 3:3-5).
Here in these six downward steps in Jeremiah is the story of the modern-day church. The Lord says to us today: “‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt—you have rebelled against the Lord your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and have not obeyed me,’ declares the Lord. ‘Return, faithless people,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I am your husband’” (Jeremiah 3:12-14a).
Jesus Reached His Limit with God
Jesus was on His face crying out with agonizing pleas to His Father. Before Him was the cross and the heavy load of sin. Jesus is being called by the Father to suffer as the atoning lamb, but He sees only the darkness of hell. With a heart that is breaking, He makes the choice to die for us. Jesus would not, could not, sell out to the evil of darkness or compromise with the world. He cried out, “‘Abba, Father,’ He said, ‘everything is possible for You. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will’” (Mark 14:36).
This beautiful act of submission to the Father’s will is what made possible the blood atonement which provided the salvation of all mankind. If Jesus had pulled back and said, “No,” all would have been lost! Through the years, Israel had offered millions of sacrifices, blood had flowed freely, but salvation could not be purchased by the sacrifice of a lamb or a bull. Only the most precious blood of the Son of God could pay the price for our rebellious sin (John 3:16). Jesus reached His limit with the Father and said, “Yet not what I will, but what You will.” What is your limit with the Father? The scriptures are full of stories about God testing His people to see what is in their hearts. You remember the stories of Job, Elijah, Jonah, David, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When pressed to the very edge, they all chose, even at the risk of death, to serve, worship, and obey only the Living God of Heaven.
Ezekiel was called as a watchman for the house of Israel. He was to speak to his countrymen the warnings of a coming judgment (Ezekiel 33: 31-32). Ezekiel was uncompromising in his obedience to the Lord. He had been pressed to the very edge. He chooses to trust God through his tears and brokenness of heart. His time of intense suffering began with the word of God concerning his beloved wife. “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover the lower part of your face or eat the customary food of mourners” (Ezekiel 24:16-17).
Ezekiel spoke to the people that morning, and by evening, his wife died. He did as God had commanded. People began asking him why he was not mourning the loss of his wife. He told them the sad news that the holy temple, the sanctuary of God, was going to be desecrated because of their sin. He continued telling them that their sons and daughters would fall by the sword, and that they would be unable to mourn their lost. Ezekiel was a sign to them of what would happen to their families because of their rebellious sin against God.
This heartbreaking story reveals a man of God that had been tried in the fire and came out shining like pure gold. He was willing to allow God to use his family in any way necessary to bring forth the character and holiness of his God. When he stood before the people, he raised up a banner of love and glory, of holiness and judgment; he burned with an awesome fire straight from the heart of God. He spoke of grace that condemns sin and of grace that justifies the sinner. He could stand with such uncompromising courage because he counted not his life as precious. He reached his limit with God and prayed, “Your will, not my will, Oh my God!”
Remember King Saul? A farm boy out searching for his daddy’s donkeys when he meets the prophet Samuel. Then Samuel anointed him the first king of Israel. The Spirit of God comes upon this farm boy king. He is given a new heart, and the people see him prophesying with the prophets of Israel. All who had formerly known him asked, “What has happened to the son of Kish?”
Samuel instructs King Saul to go to Gilgal and wait for him there seven days in order that the prophet could offer burnt offerings. The Philistines were gathering against Israel with three thousand chariots and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore.
When the men of Israel saw that they were far out numbered, they began to desert Saul and hide themselves in caves and thickets. In obedience to Samuel, King Saul waited for him seven days at Gilgal. All but 600 of his men had deserted him. Those who stood loyal were frightened and desperate. Saul thought he could wait no longer. He offered the burnt offerings, hoping that God would understand and accept his human worship. Samuel arrived just as the burnt offerings were finished. He said, “What have you done?” (1 Samuel 13:11-12).
Saul, the scriptures say, “thought,” and then went into action in order to save the day for Israel. He moved without regard to the word of God spoken by the Prophet Samuel. He moved with the very best of human wisdom. He was impatient. He was unwilling to wait in the darkness for the light which always comes after submission to our Lord’s command.
When King Saul was pressed, he would not submit to the will of God and walk in obedience before Him. We, like King Saul, have done too much thinking and not enough waiting before our Lord. Jesus was able to go to the cross because He waited before the Father and then chose to submit Himself to the Father’s will. In the church today, we lay our plans for evangelism or church programming, then spend a few minutes in the presence of the Father asking Him to bless our best effort. We then go about our business of doing church out of human thought, human effort, and human experience. Then we have the audacity, the arrogance, to say, “We are doing the work of God!” We are bringing strange fire to the altar of our Lord Jesus. He has turned aside His face from among us!
What’s in Your Heart?
When Jesus was pressed to the very edge, He responded with tears of sorrow and brokenness. Jesus returned there three times to His disciples in the Garden; each time He found them sound asleep! He responded by falling on His face before His Father, pleading in prayer that He would not have to go to the cross. He responded by submitting to the will of His Father and boldly went to the cross, suffering its shame.
Often, when we are pressed to the very edge, we, like the disciples, go to sleep or numb out with television or sports or hard work—anything to escape facing the reality of our situation before God. If all else fails, we try to think or feel our way through, as in the case of the disciples. They deserted Jesus and ran for their lives. They did not want to be taken into custody or charged along with Jesus.
God specializes in pressing His people to their limit! He will allow sickness, business failures, loss of family or friends—whatever is necessary, to reveal what is hidden in our hearts. Paul writes to the Hebrews: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness” (Hebrews 12:7-10).
We have revealed what is in our hearts today by rejecting our Father’s discipline. We have found ways to take care of ourselves. We have hardened our hearts against the Lord. We have linked arms with the world. Apparently, many think we serve a tame God who is silent and unwilling or unable to meet with His people. Many pastors have told me in their discouragement, that they can no longer afford to wait on God. They argue that times have changed! They say to me, “We know what we must do; it’s simply a matter of creating the appropriate means to accomplish the task.” The church becomes market-driven, responding to the latest trends in the world’s culture. The church no longer shapes our society. Rather, the church has been shaped by the society. The social church is sold out to do whatever it takes to pander to its master, the world. Let us stop our rounds of useless activity. With Joel, it is time to “blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.” (Joel 2:1).
Our God says: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among My people, if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14).
It is time for us to humble ourselves before God and admit that we have failed in the work of the Gospel. Instead of being salt that transforms our society into the likeness of Christ, we have become traitors to the Gospel. We are loved by the world and enjoy all of its benefits. The grip of the world is so powerful, the illusion of success so sweet, the joy of human potential so fulfilling, that we can barely see the form of our Lord knocking at our heart’s door.
We Must Pray!
Our only hope is to get on our knees before Almighty God. When Jesus was faced with what separation from the Father would mean to Him, He did not want to go to the cross. His response was as natural to Him as breathing. He prayed! He fell to the ground praying earnestly, with tears and a broken heart. After the hours of struggle, He was able to humbly submit to the Father. Jesus prevailed in prayer. He prayed through until He could say, “Enough.” Then He was ready for the cross.
We must pray! Most find that after a few minutes of praying, their thoughts begin to wander, and they run out of things to say. Prevailing prayer begins after the first hour. That is when we have to make a decision. Are we going to get up from the floor and go about our human enterprise; or are we going to take captive our thoughts? We must choose to get honest with our Lord Jesus about what’s really going on in the emptiness of our human spirit.
This is the story of Gethsemane. Prevailing Prayer. Jesus, with His face alight by the Holy Spirit, walks without hesitation to the cross. He takes on all the vile sin of mankind and makes atonement with His shed blood. “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be My disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out” (Luke 14:26-27; 34-35).
We are called to walk with Jesus in Resurrection Power. God’s plan is to forgive our sin and to heal our land. He will do this as we turn from our wicked ways and seek His face. The long silence of a Holy God will finally be broken. The power of the Holy Spirit will be poured out. The Church will be adorned in pure white as the Bride of Jesus Christ. The Church will walk victorious through whatever suffering or tribulation lies before it.
We must get on our faces before our God. We must repent. Every private personal agenda must be laid aside, now. Our place of employment, our time, our money, our possessions, our skill and expertise, our family, our friends, and, yes, even our lives must be laid in obedience on the altar of sacrifice before the Lord Jesus Christ. He is now the boss! Regardless of the personal cost, we must not act on any decision until we hear clearly from Him.
Now is the time to pray! Ask the Lord to give you the gift of repentance for your sins. Ask Him to show you your true condition before Him. Ask Him to cut from your heart every evil and ungodly thing. Turn now. Wait upon the Lord with tears and agony of heart even as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. This will not be just ten or fifteen minutes of prayer. Jesus, who was without sin, had to spend hours praying before He was ready to go to the cross. There is no shortcut.
Move into a private, quiet place. Kneel before the Mighty Merciful Judge of all mankind and pray. Stay there until your heart begins to change and becomes soft toward the Lord Jesus. Make a commitment to be done with low selfish living! Pray through to victory. Pray until you are a changed person by the mighty power of the Holy Ghost flowing through you. Read aloud on your knees the Word of God. Claim the promises. Believe today that God is absolutely faithful to you. Pray until the tears of repentance are replaced by shouts of praise to a Holy God who is both your Lord and your Savior.
Your place of crushing and your act of submitting to the Lord will result in the flowing oil of the Holy Spirit in your life today. Praise Jesus. Bless His Holy Name!