Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has said, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.”
We can put Jesus in her category of one of the most beautiful people because he struggled and wrestled with the sin of humanity and what to do about it.
He struggled with his own suffering and death. Through death and his resurrection, he found his way out of the deepest of depths, emerging literally from the depths in order to bring us hope and life.
As we conclude a study of the prayer life of Jesus according to Luke’s gospel, allow me to do a bit of a rewind in order to show you that struggle was a constant part of Jesus’ ministry, which is one of the reasons Jesus prayed. This is good because I want you to understand that struggle is germane to all of our lives.
Struggle is as much a part of the fabric of life as breathing. Struggle, while not constant, is at least consistent with living. If you were not struggling with something, I’d have to wonder whether you are attempting anything new or being stretched in any meaningful way.
None of us like struggle and most of us want out of struggle once we are in it, but struggle can be a great teacher. Of course it can also master us. We can get lost and consumed within it.
One of the great mistakes we make when we struggle is that we believe we have the strength to overcome obstacles by our own power. So any time we attempt to overcome our struggles on our own without acknowledging God’s presence, we have engaged in a form of arrogant living, which is sinful. The big “I” is always in the middle of sin. We think, “I can handle this; I’ve got this; no need to consult God on this one.”
Prayer, on the other hand, is our acknowledgement that we need the power of God present in our lives. Prayer is God’s gift to us in times of struggle.
Luke starts off showing us that Jesus prayed at his baptism. You might ask, “Where is there struggle in Jesus’ baptism? I don’t read where John the Baptist had any problems dipping Jesus in the water.”
Psalm 2:7 was recited when a king was crowned and Isaiah 41:1 was a reference to the suffering servant who dies on behalf of the people.
Would you struggle stepping forward for baptism if you knew your baptism was to be one of suffering on behalf of the people you are ministering to?
As Jesus stepped forward, he knew his ministry was going to be one where he entered into suffering. So Jesus had struggle on his mind at his baptism.
As Jesus engaged in ministry, he became very successful in what he did. Everywhere he went he drew large crowds.
With the images of the Pope’s visit to the United States on our minds, this gives us an idea of the kinds of receptions Jesus was receiving in the places he visited. Luke shows us that because of his success, Jesus began to struggle with his own popularity so he had to constantly withdraw to the wilderness to escape the crowds and pray.
Success always brings a special kind of struggle. It’s easy to become full of ourselves, lose our priorities and focus, and forget our principles and values. In order to stay focused and grounded, Jesus pulled away from the crowds and prayed.
When Jesus struggled with a decision he had to make, he prayed. Narrowing down a list of disciples to a small group was a struggle, so he prayed all night long.
How often do we run headstrong into decisions, large and small, quick to pull the trigger without taking time to soak our decisions in prayer, allowing them to marinate in the Holy Spirit long enough that we can make a decision with greater confidence that we are moving toward God and not away from Him?
In Luke nine, Jesus made the disciples struggle with how they would feed a multitude of people that had followed them out into the countryside. The number of men alone was about 5,000. The disciples were a bit miffed at what to do and thought Jesus was out of his mind because he instructed them to find them something to eat. All they could do was come up with five loaves of bread and two fish.
Jesus’ miracle of feeding these people with that small amount of food is a story of taking obstacles and turning them into opportunities. As Jesus took the food, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples to distribute, he taught them how prayer creates channels for God to bless the church in times of struggle.
When we go through times of struggle as a family or as a church, our tendency is to complain instead of cooperate and condemn instead of confess how we have contributed to the problem. Instead, we should be diligent in looking for answers to the problem, have faith that God will help us solve the problem, and see His power in solving it. Prayer plays a pivotal role in this process.
The closer that Jesus got to the cross, the more he struggled with the end of his life. How did he deal with that? He prayed.
He once asked Peter, John, and James to go up on a mountain with him as he prayed for direction. As he was praying he met Elijah and Moses. Even the disciples experienced part of this vision, but it was Jesus who clearly heard what Elijah and Moses were saying as they talked about his death.
In our struggle, we don’t always emerge with the answer we want or like or wish for. Jesus was no less human than we are. He didn’t want to die a death on a cross and suffer. He struggled with being obedient in going to the cross.
He began to teach his disciples that he had to suffer. He began to try to explain that he was the Messiah but he wasn’t the kind of Messiah they thought he was. This, of course, caused the disciples to struggle. How could a dead savior lead them into a new kingdom?
The news of his upcoming death might have been enough struggle for the disciples that one of them finally came to him and asked, “Lord, will you teach us to pray like John taught his disciples to pray?”
When we get to the Lord’s Prayer as told by Luke, we see evidence of struggle in Jesus’ prayer.
For example, we struggle praying, “Your kingdom come,” because we really want to live by our own rules. We’d rather not love our neighbors as we love ourselves, or love our enemies, or take care of the poor, or turn the other cheek, or go the extra mile, or do good to those who persecute us, give a tenth of what we have to God, or welcome the stranger. We struggle with all of these things, which is the reason we must pray.
Asking God for daily bread reminds us that it can be a struggle to find resources to pay the bills and to buy the necessities to live in this world.
Praying to have our sins forgiven is a struggle because we don’t like to acknowledge that we have done anything wrong and it is always a struggle to forgive those that have wronged us.
Asking God not to lead us into temptation reminds us that there are things that tempt us. That is an admission that there are things we struggle to overcome in our lives.
It is safe to say that the Lord’s Prayer is a lot about struggle and our quest for God to help us overcome our struggles.
Jesus began to teach the disciples that “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and he must be killed, and on the third day be raised to life” (Luke 9:24 NIV).
In introducing this topic, Jesus introduced what we all ultimately struggle with: death.
Many of you have experienced what it is like to stand in a cemetery and look over in a freshly dug grave and struggle with releasing a loved one to an unknown world. Death claims all of us and the thought crosses our minds, “Is this it? Is this life all there is? Are the things my faith teaches me about heaven real? If so, what is it like there? How can we comprehend eternity? How does the body decay in the ground, yet we believe those in Christ have gone to heaven? What happens when Jesus returns?”
Jesus struggled with his own death. Even though Jesus believed that his death would result in victory and new life, he still struggled with suffering and death and that his why he prayed.
His disciples struggled with the entire concept of Jesus not establishing a kingdom they had created in their minds. How could a crucified Lord establish a kingdom?
Despite knowing that Peter was going to deny him, and because he knew that Satan wanted to sift Peter like wheat, a phrase that meant that Satan wanted to do all in his power to make Peter’s faith fail, Jesus prayed for Peter. Jesus entered into Peter’s struggle through his prayers.
James 5:16b says that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. We see that Jesus’ prayer for Peter was answered and Peter was not consumed by the evil of Satan but he emerged from his denial to become a leader of the early church.
In Luke 22, Jesus knelt down at the Mt. of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane knowing that he would be dead by the next afternoon. There he engaged in agonizing prayer. The subject of his prayer: “Lord is this your will?”
How deep was his struggle?
In KJV of the Bible, Luke 22:44 reads, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.”
The Greek word used for “blood’ in the King James Bible is “Thrombos.”
An interesting note here is that when the 1946 Revised Standard Version of the Bible was printed, verses 43 and 44 were left out. Since 1611 when the KJV was written, there have been over 5,000 Greek manuscripts discovered going back to the second century and the majority of them do not have verses 43 and 44. (Fred Craddock: “The Prayer Life According to Jesus,” CD 4).
Because the oldest and most reliable manuscripts do not contain these verses, scholars believe that scribes might have later added them at a later date.
However, because the church had become used to these verses, there was an outcry to keep them in the Biblical text. Now most translations have them, noting them as a textual variant. However, the church has also confirmed, and so can we, that these verses are consistent with and tell the story of Jesus’ great struggle in prayer. (Ibid).
Had he struggled any less, might he have changed his mind about the cross?
Perhaps this is the reason why we pull back from some of the opportunities we have to represent Jesus when there is a cost involved. We don’t stay on our knees long enough; we don’t invest enough time in prayer. We don’t struggle enough.
If you don’t like struggle then you are like most of us here. However, it’s not the struggle that’s the problem as much as whether we are struggling with the right things in the right ways. To live is to struggle. However, the most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.
Would that person be you? It could be if you have a discipline of prayer. It could be if you know Jesus and you walk with him each day.
From the cross Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
While the world looked up at Jesus and believed his cross represented defeat, Jesus was praying. He was praying for us. The cross is about the Son of God entering into our struggle. It was the culmination of a lifetime of prayer. He was determined to defeat evil so evil would not have any claim over us.
Luke has shown us a Jesus who prayed through his struggles. His life is a model of how we should pray through our own.
If you are not praying in your life I know it’s not because you do not struggle.
It must be because you choose not to. If you choose not to, you choose not to access the Power that is greater than your struggles.
That can change today.
Repeat these words with me.
I struggle, therefore I must pray.
I pray because God is bigger than my struggles.
I pray so that I might help others who are struggling.
I pray so I might have victory in Jesus. Amen