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The Time of Trial

Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. Matthew 26:41

Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane with three of his disciples. It is his last night on earth, and he came to the Garden to pray. A few hours earlier, Jesus and his disciples were sharing his Last Supper. At this meal, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and instituted the sacrament of Communion. In the Garden, Jesus is agitated, knowing what will soon occur. The disciples are tired – perhaps from the late hour, a big dinner, worry about what is about to unfold, or some combination of reasons. He asks them to stay awake while he prays, but they fall asleep.

Times of trial come to all of us – sometimes several times in a day! There are at least two ways to handle life’s challenges. First, we can avoid them as diligently and for as long as possible. Second, we can face them head–on, resigning ourselves to the fact that we are not going to avoid them. The first method makes us a victim, often reacting to our difficulties kicking, screaming, and fruitlessly begging for things to return to the way they were. The second method allows us to become a co-creator, or co-controller of the challenge. We face what we need to address with our eyes wide open and our senses fully engaged. This does not have to be a masochistic act. Rather, it is accepting what is to come and knowing, with God’s help, we will make it through. It is seeking help when necessary. Regardless of the trial – surgery, interpersonal strife, financial hardship, depression, serious illness, or job dissatisfaction – people chose to either run from the problem or to journey through it. Too often, the most destructive effect of a looming trial comes from our worry about it. Research consistently shows that most of our worries do not happen, and what happens is seldom as bad as we imagine. When we do not know what is coming, we imagine the worst. We make ourselves physically and emotionally sick from worry long before our specific challenge manifests itself, if it ever does.

I believe Jesus’ message to the disciples to “Stay awake!” was a reminder to remain present and faithful in each moment. Jesus knew he was about to suffer a horribly painful death. Jesus also knew that, with God’s help, he would make it through to the other side. We are assured of the same. Jesus wanted his disciples to be fully present to the events of that moment in time, for they would be establishing his church for the generations to come. It is in the moments of our lives that we find the power and strength to handle our times of trial, not in the pre-trial anxiety. We must learn to stay awake to those moments.

Come home to church this Sunday. Bolster your spirit, for the flesh is weak.

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The Blessings Ledger

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. Matthew 5:3-6, 12a

A blessing is a special favor, mercy, or benefit. A trial causes difficulty or suffering. Here is a test, with respect to blessings and trials:

  1. Are the blessings of today greater than those of yesterday?
  2. Are the blessings in your life increasing or decreasing?
  3. If your life were to end today, would the weight of your blessings outweigh the weight of your trials?

Everyone receives a mix of blessings and trials during their lives. How one experiences those blessings and trials, however, varies greatly from person to person. Some people seem happy regardless of their difficulties. Others seem perennially unhappy, even though their problems may seem trivial to others. One of the primary determinants of how we experience the ups and downs in our lives has to do with the perspective from which we view them.

There are times, particularly during times of trial, when we need to expand our perspective in order to see beyond the difficult moments. We need to look forward to a happier future or to remember a joyous past. Other times, especially when we are bored, call for us to look deeper into the moment for blessings we otherwise miss. For example, when we walk a route we usually drive, we allow ourselves to see in more detail that which is normally a blur to us. We slow down our experience in order to expose hidden or subtle blessings. January in Kansas can be a dreary, cold month. But even now, buds are swelling on the trees. In the middle of the dead, brown stems of grass, green crowns waiting patiently for their time to explode. The seeds of spring are preparing to burst forth. If I focus on the bigger picture – trees without leaves, brown grass, cold temperatures – January is a month without blessing. The blessing is there, but I must look closer to find it.

Here is the irony: our trials are often the stepping stones to our blessings, like traversing winter to arrive at spring. Granted, some of our blessings will not manifest on this side of the grave. Our lives are bigger than the days we walk the earth. But no matter our situation, there are blessings to be found in abundance, if we learn how and where to seek them. If our blessings ledger weighs heavier on the trials side, we may need to use a different scale. As Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!”

Come home to church this Sunday. Add a church family to your blessings ledger.

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