Posted by: jcwillyams | November 5, 2009

Are You Sleeping?

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”
And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.
Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?
Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:36-41

The garden of Gethsemane is not much of a garden. There are about 10 olive trees. The ground is mostly mulch with a pathway winding through. In the corner is a plastic table and some plastic chairs for groups to gather. We wandered our way to the seats while trying to picture Jesus taking the same footsteps. I debated which tree he may have touched (since trees live 2000 years) and decided it must be the one with the cross laying at its base. I wonder if his blood-filled sweat still lingered in the soil?

We recounted the events that led to this moment. We recounted the scripture above. We recounted the betrayal that would soon follow. In this garden Jesus prayed a prayer of agony, sorrow, and acceptance. He prayed in earnest. And while he prayed, the disciples slept. While he suffered, the disciples slumbered. As the weight of the sins of the world began to come upon him, the disciples dreamed. Our Savior set an example for us in that moment. He accepted God’s will – knowing the outcome. Even as his disciples slept, the very people for whom he would suffer, he willingly accepted his fate. There was no grudge or ill will. No self-glorification. It was a definitive act of grace.

After a group prayer we had time to reflect, journal, and pray individually. We spread throughout the garden, but with the sounds of cars driving by, the bright sunshine, and the voices of other groups, it was hard to imagine the nighttime events of Matthew 26. As I scribbled in my journal our guide asked me a quiet question, “Are you sleeping?” At first I thought he was crazy, my eyes were open and I was looking right at him, did it look like I was sleeping?

Of course it didn’t look like I was sleeping. I am the typical Christian after all, a master of the façade. A mask wearer and hypocrite. It didn’t look like I was sleeping at all, but was I? While Jesus agonizes at the weight of my sins, am I sleeping? While Jesus is bruised, beaten, teased, and taunted, am I sleeping? While Jesus dies on the cross, am I sleeping? Am I living to glorify my savior and redeemer? Am I living with the motivation of a perfect love? Am I “watching and praying”? Or am I sleeping?

 

I didn’t know what to expect when I went to Israel. I do know that I didn’t expect to be changed. I didn’t expect to have an “Aha!” moment. I ended up having several. The Lord revealed himself to me in the most profound and concrete ways I have yet encountered. It all began with the voice of a child. “Abba” was the one word that small child sweetly spoke to his father. Daddy. That shaped my trip. That redefined my faith.

As we drove by orthodox Jews in their suits and hats, as the little boys played in their kippahs, as the women kissed the western wall, I kept hearing that word. I realized what it means to be a Christian. I realized the depth of the grace Christ presents. We are no longer bound by ancient law. We no longer need a temple to encounter the presence of God. We simply need to open our mouths and proclaim, “Abba…father.” God now dwells within us, among us. Without ritual, Christ has made us clean.

Returning to Jeff Street was bittersweet. Israel lingered on my skin – I could still feel the warm October sun. But it was cold outside in Louisville. I was eager to see my teammates. I was eager to tell my Jeff Street Family about my experiences. I was eager to see how Israel would apply to my daily life. How thrilling to hear the words, “We missed you.” It is an immediate testimony to a relationship…and I missed them too. While in Israel I would wish Ron could see this or Paul could see that. I would find myself praying for Ryan or Clint. In the same instance, however; there was regret: that I didn’t know them better.

My final “Aha!” moment came in a shocking wave. It came in a force of shivers and tears. It came in joy and conviction. Driving to Jefferson Street the morning after my 24 hour trip home, I reflected in awe on the last 10 days of my life. I remembered the feeling of the rough stones of the Western Wall. I remembered the feeling of pitch black in the tunnel of Hezekiah. I remembered the child who whispered, “Abba…” Memories flooded me. Sights, sounds, sermons, feelings, tears, smiles…it overwhelmed me. The realness of Israel. The undeniable truth of the Bible. The evidence of God in such blatant beauty. The evidence of a savior in such a simple word…Abba. In that moment I woke up. I had been sleeping. I had slept through the miracle of God’s perfect love. In that moment I knew that there was no higher purpose in my life than simply to love others as Christ has loved me. In that moment the conviction of my selfish pursuits hurt. I was pierced and liberated. I was given a new motivation.

The last verse above reads, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” My spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak. I need your support and supplication. Thank you for your encouragement. Thank you for your convictions. Thank you for your prayers. Please continue to give them in abundance. Please give to the full extent the Lord compels you. Pray that I will overcome the limitations of my body, and exceed the expectations of my spirit. My prayers are always with you. Relationships are budding even as autumn descends upon Louisville; while the trees and flowers whither, let’s work together to help our city bloom.

…and maybe ask yourself the question…Are you sleeping?

He is Risen,

JC Williams

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