Jesus And Our Stress
From the 14th chapter of the Gospel of Mark, I read for you the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. That reading will begin at the 32nd verse.
“And they went to a place which was called Gethsemane. And He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ And He took with Him Peter, and James and John, and He began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And He said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.’
“And going a little farther, He fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee. Remove this cup from Me. Yet not what I will but what Thou wilt.’
“And Jesus came and found them sleeping. And He said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’
“And again, He went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again, He came and found them sleeping. For their eyes were very heavy and they did not know what to answer Him.
“And He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough! The hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us be going! See My betrayer is at hand!’”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the Glory. Let us pray.
Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
One day the great Scottish poet Robert Burns was out plowing in the fields. And as he did so, the blade of his plow chanced to slice into and to destroy the underground nest of a tiny gray field mouse, causing the little field mouse to go scurrying away for his life. Later that day, in thinking about what had happened in the field, Burns was led to write some lines. Some lines which have since become immortal: “The best-laid schemes o’ Mice and Men, / Gang aft agley, / And leave us not but grief and pain, / For promised joy!” Have you ever felt like that? Like your best-laid plans and schemes and hopes and dreams have been somehow ripped up and plowed under by discouraging circumstance? Have you ever known the sting of setback in your life? Have you ever felt that way or are you feeling that way now? If so, then I would ask you to note that you are standing in noble company.
Think, for example, of Job. A righteous, fine man living in the midst of all that he loved most in life, a wonderful family, good health, material possessions, and on and on the list could go. And then one day there came the plow, and he lost it all. So that he was left sitting in the midst of the ruins of his own happiness and crying out, “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, / and they are spent without hope.” My friends that is the sob of discouragement. If you’ve known discouragement in your life, then shake hands with Job. Or what about Moses? The greatest leader Israel ever produced. A mighty man by any standard of measurement. He managed by sheer dent of his own extraordinary personality, together with the gift of the Spirit of God, to lead the people out of the slavery of Egypt. And yet halfway across the wilderness suddenly those people began to chafe under the burden of now being free. Wandering in the desert was not all it was cracked up to be. And they began, quite frankly, longing once more for the tasty fish and cucumbers of Egypt, and they made their wishes known. It was like a plow to Moses. He felt the sting of discouragement. So much so in fact, that he cried out, “Lord, I cannot bear these people. They are too heavy for me.” If you know discouragement in your life shake hands with Moses.
Or what about that great spiritual powerhouse named Elijah? One bright afternoon he did to death some 450 of the priests of Baal, and he thought that by so doing he had purified the whole nation forever. Not so. Practically overnight the wicked Queen Jezebel was back in control once more. She set a price upon Elijah’s head. And we see Elijah running off into the desert pleading, “Lord, Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my Fathers.” If you’ve ever known discouragement in your life, shake hands with Elijah. Or what even about Jesus? Even Jesus experienced discouragement. I mean, how else can you describe the scene which is set before us here in the Gospel of Mark? Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Let’s remember, please, that here was one who had poured Himself out everything He had. Everything He was. Every ounce of strength and energy He possessed. Every hour of every day He had poured Himself out seeking to win His people to the Heavenly Father. And now at the end, the crowds have dwindled away to virtually nothing. His enemies are plotting His final death, and Jesus in the midst of it comes to what had to be a most crucial, spiritual moment. As a matter of fact, the Scriptures say quite specifically that Jesus was greatly distressed and troubled. And in the midst of that personal agony, Jesus asked three of His disciples to stand with Him in support. That’s all He asked. Stand. And what did they do? They fell asleep. He came and woke them, and they fell asleep again. He came a third time, still sleeping. And Jesus cries out, and I tell you, you can hear the pain in His voice as He cries, “Are you still sleeping? Enough. I’ve had it.” Talk about discouragement. If you’ve ever known discouragement in your life, then fall on your knees and take the hand of Jesus.
You see the point is that discouragement comes to every single one of us. Discouragement is not a very exclusive club. But oh, my it is an expensive one. For discouragement costs. It costs dearly. And yet the Glory of the Good News is that Jesus Himself, I believe, shows us three steps that we can take to defeat discouragement. And I want to share those steps with you today in the hope that when discouragement comes to you as it will sooner or later that you will not have to pay so great a price.
The first step is this. Take a short look at your discouragement.
Now, the emphasis there is on the word short. Take a short look. Just a quick look. Just a glance, if you will. In other words, don’t major on the minors. Don’t focus on the failures. Don’t accentuate the negatives in your life. Rather, when discouragement comes give it nothing more than just a short, quick look. That’s all. Now, I say that for good reason. Because you see the plain and simple truth of the matter is that in most cases that which causes us to be discouraged is not our own faults. In most cases, that’s true. You know how it is, though. When we become discouraged, the first thing we want to cry out is, “What did I do to deserve all this?” It’s almost as if we felt that there was some great heinous sin hidden away down inside somewhere and God is lowering the boom on us for it. But that’s not usually the case. That certainly wasn’t the case with Job, or Moses, or Elijah, or Jesus. What I want you to understand is that discouragement like the rain falls on the just and the unjust. In those times in my own experience, when I’m in the grip of discouragement, I’ve always found it heartening to read a remarkable little incident in the Gospel of Luke where the disciples come to Jesus.
Perhaps, it was early in the morning. We don’t know. And they were carrying in their hands, as it were, the front page of the morning newspaper. And there they pointed to the headlines. The headlines which read that some Galileans had been murdered by the governmental authorities. The headlines which read that in the town of Siloam, there was a huge tower and that tower had accidentally collapsed, and it killed 18 people in the process. And the disciples said to Jesus, “What do you say about that?” And Jesus said – I want you to listen very closely here – Jesus said, “Do you think that those Galileans were murdered because they were more evil than other Galileans? I tell you no. Do you think those people killed in Siloam were killed because they were more evil than other people? I tell you no.”
The point that Jesus was simply trying to make is this – that things like tragedy and hardship and difficulty and discouragement, these things are going to come to all of us at some point along the way. Discouragement falls like the rain upon the just and the unjust. We need to be remembering that. So when discouragement gets us in its grip, we need to take a short look at what’s causing that discouragement. For just a glance will reveal if it’s our fault. In some rare instances, it may be our fault, in fact, and then we’ll know that we have to do something to straighten it all out. But in most cases that quick look at whatever is causing us to be discouraged is going to reveal for us that, in fact, it is not our fault.
And I want to tell you something. It’s hard enough to defeat discouragement without taking on the added burden of blaming yourself for it. So what Jesus wants us to understand is that we don’t have to take that burden on ourselves. Take a short look at your discouragement. That’s what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. The plow of discouragement ripped into His life, yes, and it hurt. Make no mistake about that. You can hear it in His voice when He cries out. “Are you still sleeping? I’ve had it with you.” But then very quickly, the Scriptures note, Jesus took just a short look at the discouragement. Very quickly Jesus said, “Rise. Let’s be going. Let’s get on with the business of living.” And He calls us to do the same thing. When we’re caught in discouraging circumstances, give it a short look yes but then let’s get on with the business of living.
And that leads us, I think, to the second step we can take to defeat discouragement, and it’s this: take a close look at yourself.
Now, when I say take a close look at yourself, I mean by that be prejudiced in your own favor. When you’re caught in discouragement, begin to look for those things in your life which are still working in your favor. Take a close look at yourself. I’ll never forget the day a man came into my office. He was obviously troubled and said that he needed to talk, and he sat down. He said that all of the meaning had gone from his life. He had no reason to live. Nothing was left. He proceeded then to pour out his story and in so doing, to pour out his heart. And I listened very carefully as he went through paragraph after paragraph, chapter after chapter. And I noted that three different times in pouring out his story to me – three different times – he said, “I have nothing. I have nothing. I have nothing.”
When at last he finished, I said to him, “It’s quite obvious that you are caught in the terrible grip of discouragement, and it’s killing you. And I think there are good reasons for that discouragement. We can talk about that in a few moments. But first, I want to ask you a question. Is your wife all right and does she still love you?”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “She’s fine. Yes, she loves me. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t get along without her.”
“Oh, then,” I said, “it’s your children who are bringing you grief?”
“No. No,” he said, “it’s not my children. They’re grown now. They’re married. They have families of their own. They’re perfectly happy. As a matter of fact, they’ve become a real source of joy in my life.”
“Oh, well. It’s your physical health. That’s bad. You got a bad result at the doctor, and the doctor said nothing can be done for you?”
“No,” he said. “As a matter of fact, not long ago I had a physical examination, and the doctor said I’m healthy as a horse.”
“Well, then when did you lose your job?”
“I didn’t lose my job. I’ve got a good job. I’m going to lose it, though, if I can’t get over this depression, I’m in.” “Oh, I know what the problem is then you’ve given up on this country.”
“No. Heavens no. There are lots of things that are wrong with this country, but it’s the grandest nation on earth. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
“Well, then, you’ve turned your back on God.”
“No, I haven’t,” he said. “No, I haven’t. But I think I’m beginning to see your point.”
And so we went on to talk about the things that there were in his life that were working in his favor. As a matter of fact, we did more than talk about them. We got out a piece of paper and a pencil, and we began to list them. And when we got finished, there was a whole long list on that page. And I’m convinced that as he began to look at those things that were working in his favor that helped him to turn the corner on his own discouragements. That’s what I mean when I say take a close look at yourself. That’s a great biblical principle, did you know that? Just one example. King David. He experienced discouragement a number of times in his life, but one time was far worse than the others. He was engaged in a war, and he made the mistake of failing to provide adequate defense for one of the key cities in his realm. As a result, the enemy army came in. They moved into that city. They leveled it, and they carried away everything of value, including the women and the children.
One of those women was David’s wife. Some of those children were David’s children. He was distraught. Heartsick. Completely discouraged.
It was then that members of his own troops began to turn against him because some of them had lost members of their families because of his blunder. He was completely discouraged. And what did he do? Well, you can read about it in the 30th chapter of 1st Samuel. There it says very simply, “David encouraged himself in the Lord.” David sat down and began to try to figure out those things which were still working in his favor. And he realized that the greatest of those was the fact that God was still with him. And it was then that he sat down on paper the words that we have come to know as Psalm 42. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God.” And hope in God David did. And as a result of that, he was able to defeat the discouragements that had taken hold of his life.
Take a close look at yourself. I think that’s what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane in the midst of His awful discouragement. Here, He’d given everything to those disciples, and He asked them simply to stand with Him and they fell asleep. And I think at that point He took a close look at Himself, and He remembered that God was still with Him. As a matter of fact, in the Gospel of Luke, you can go read it for yourself. In the Gospel of Luke at this story, the story of Jesus and the Garden of Gethsemane, Luke specifically notes that at that moment an angel of the Lord appeared to Jesus and strengthened Him. And in that strength, He was then ready to go on to face anything. Anything at all. When discouragement takes hold of your life, take a close look at yourself.
And then the third step. Take a long look at God.
Anyone who knows anything about Gospel music was deeply saddened a few years ago at the death of Mahalia Jackson, the greatest Gospel singer this world has ever seen. What an extraordinary woman. She was born in New Orleans. Her father worked on the docks there during the week and he preached on Sundays. She was very poor. He managed to give her a deep love for Jesus but little else. She had no formal education, no music education either. Do you know how she learned music? By listening to the sounds of the music as it was wafted across the Mississippi River by the great steamers moving up and down that great river. And in time, so much of that music had wormed its way down into her soul and into her heart that she herself began to sing, and the rest is history. And now she’s gone. Her voice will be missed, but her philosophy of life will be missed as well, unless other people take it up. No one will ever again sing like Mahalia Jackson, but everyone can live like her.
Her philosophy of life was summarized in a single sentence that she repeated hundreds of times in the course of her living. It was simply this: my Lord Jesus Christ has taught me that we can become anything we want to be as long as we have the power of a made-up mind. Do you hear that? The power of a made-up mind. There’s a lot of talk these days about the value of an open mind. And I understand that. But an open mind is no virtue if it is so open that everything good in it falls out. Mahalia Jackson’s mind was made-up. And she would have us to know that there are some things in life on which our minds ought to be closed. Her mind was made-up on one fact and one fact alone. That God in Jesus Christ loved her, and that made her special.
There are certain things in life that we ought to have our minds made-up about. There are certain things in life that are simply beyond debate. There are certain arguments which are forever closed. And one of them is this: that God in Jesus Christ loves you and loves me. That means that no one hearing my voice at this moment, no one, is a nobody. God loves you, and God loves me. And that means that everybody is somebody and somebody very, very special. Make up your mind about this Jesus. This Jesus, who is God in human flesh come to love you through the days of this life and right into the Kingdom of Heaven. Read the Scriptures from beginning to end, and you’ll see the promise extended to you time after time after time.
Deuteronomy 33, the Lord God loves you and the beloved in the Lord shall dwell in His safety. Psalm 8, God has made us little lower than Himself and crowned us with Glory and honor. Jeremiah 31, the Lord God says, “I will love you with an everlasting love. A love that will never end.” Romans 8, nothing shall ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 1st John 4, in this was the love of God may manifest in us that God gave His only Son so that we might live through Him. Search the Scriptures and lay hold of that promise for your very own. God loves you. God loves me. You lay hold of that promise and it will change your life and it will change the way you view the tough times in your life. Make up your minds.
Well, some wag said, “When you preach, tell them what you’re going to say, say it, tell them what you said, and sit down.” I’ve told you what I was going to say, and I’ve said it. And now I’m going to tell you what I said. When the plow of discouragement comes to you, take a short look at that discouragement. Hold it always in proper perspective. And then take a close look at yourself and see all the things that are still there in you working in your favor. And then take a long, long look at God and remember that He loves you and He will never ever let you go. It’s time to sit down. But that’s all I know to say. That’s all I need to say. Let us pray.
Gracious God, teach us to overcome discouragement in our lives for we know that if Jesus experienced that discouragement, we shall too. But we know that if He conquered it in His life, He will help us to conquer it in ours. In His name do we pray, Amen.