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From Panic to Peace

From Panic to Peace

The Burden of Fear

I will fear no evil. — Psalm 23:4 NKJV

It’s the expression of Jesus that puzzles us. We’ve never seen His face like this.

Jesus smiling, yes.
Jesus weeping, absolutely.
Jesus stern, even that.

But Jesus anguished? Cheeks streaked with tears? Face flooded in sweat? Rivulets of blood dripping from His chin? You remember the night.

Jesus left the city and went to the Mount of Olives, as He often did, and His followers went with Him. When He reached the place, He said to them, “Pray for strength against temptation.”
Then Jesus went about a stone’s throw away from them. He kneeled down and prayed, “Father, if You are willing, take away this cup of suffering. But do what You want, not what I want.” Then an angel from Heaven appeared to Him to strengthen Him. Being full of pain, Jesus prayed even harder. His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. — Luke 22:39–44

The Bible I carried as a child contained a picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. His face was soft, hands calmly folded as He knelt beside a rock and prayed. Jesus seemed peaceful. One reading of the Gospels disrupts that image. Mark says,

Jesus fell to the ground. — Mark 14:35

Matthew tells us Jesus was “very sad and troubled... to the point of death” (Matthew 26:37–38). According to Luke, Jesus was “full of pain” (Luke 22:44).

Equipped with those passages, how would you paint this scene? Jesus flat on the ground? Face in the dirt? Extended hands gripping grass? Body rising and falling with sobs? Face as twisted as the olive trees that surround Him?

  • What do we do with this image of Jesus? Simple. We turn to it when we look the same.

We read it when we feel the same; we read it when we feel afraid. For isn’t it likely that fear is one of the emotions Jesus felt? One might even argue that fear was the primary emotion. He saw something in the future so fierce, so foreboding that he begged for a change of plans.

Father, if You are willing, take away this cup of suffering. — Luke 22:42

What causes you to pray the same prayer? Boarding an airplane? Facing a crowd? Public speaking? Taking a job? Taking a spouse? Driving on a highway? The source of your fear may seem small to others. But to you, it freezes your feet, makes your heart pound, and brings blood to your face. That’s what happened to Jesus.

He was so afraid that He bled. Doctors describe this condition as hematidrosis. Severe anxiety causes the release of chemicals that break down the capillaries in the sweat glands. When this occurs, sweat comes out tinged with blood.

Jesus was more than anxious; He was afraid. Fear is worry’s big brother. If worry is a burlap bag, fear is a trunk of concrete. It wouldn’t budge.

How remarkable that Jesus felt such fear. But how kind that He told us about it. We tend to do the opposite. Gloss over our fears. Cover them up. Keep our sweaty palms in our pockets, our nausea and dry mouths a secret. Not so with Jesus. We see no mask of strength. But we do hear a request for strength.

Father, if You are willing, take away this cup of suffering.

The first one to hear His fear is His Father. He could have gone to His mother. He could have confided in His disciples. He could have assembled a prayer meeting. All would have been appropriate, but none were His priority. He went first to His Father.

Oh, how we tend to go everywhere else. First to the bar, to the counselor, to the self-help book or the friend next door. Not Jesus.

  • The first one to hear His fear was His Father in Heaven.

A millennium earlier David was urging the fear-filled to do the same.

I will fear no evil.

How could David make such a claim? Because he knew where to look.

You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Rather than turn to the other sheep, David turned to the Shepherd. Rather than stare at the problems, he stared at the rod and staff. Because he knew where to look, David was able to say, “I will fear no evil.”

I know a fellow who has a fear of crowds. When encircled by large groups, his breath grows short, panic surfaces, and he begins to sweat like a sumo wrestler in a sauna. He received some help, curiously, from a golfing buddy.

The two were at a movie theatre, waiting their turn to enter, when fear struck again. The crowd closed in like a forest. He wanted out and out fast. His buddy told him to take a few deep breaths. Then he helped manage the crisis by reminding him of the golf course.

“When you are hitting your ball out of the rough, and you are surrounded by trees, what do you do?”

“I look for an opening.”
“You don’t stare at the trees?”
“Of course not. I find an opening and focus on hitting the ball through it.”
“Do the same in the crowd. When you feel the panic, don’t focus on the people; focus on the opening.”

Good counsel in golf. Good counsel in life. Rather than focus on the fear, focus on the solution.

That’s what Jesus did.
That’s what David did.

And that’s what the writer of Hebrews urges us to do.

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. — Hebrews 12:1–2 NKJV

The writer of Hebrews was not a golfer, but he could have been a jogger, for he speaks of a runner and a forerunner. The forerunner is Jesus, the “author and finisher of our faith.” He is the author — that is to say He wrote the book on salvation. And He is the finisher — He not only charted the map, He blazed the trail. He is the forerunner, and we are the runners. And we runners are urged to keep our eyes on Jesus.

I’m a runner. More mornings than not I drag myself out of bed and onto the street. I don’t run fast. And compared to marathoners, I don’t run far. But I run. I run because I don’t like cardiologists. Nothing personal, mind you. It’s just that I come from a family that keeps them in business. One told my dad he needed to retire. Another opened the chests of both my mom and brother. I’d like to be the one family member who doesn’t keep a heart surgeon’s number on speed dial.

Since heart disease runs in our family, I run in our neighborhood. As the sun is rising, I am running. And as I am running, my body is groaning. It doesn’t want to cooperate. My knee hurts. My hip is stiff. My ankles complain. Sometimes a passerby laughs at my legs, and my ego hurts.

Things hurt. And as things hurt, I’ve learned that I have three options. Go home. (Denalyn would laugh at me.) Meditate on my hurts until I start imagining I’m having chest pains. (Pleasant thought.) Or I can keep running and watch the sun come up. My trail has just enough easterly bend to give me a front-row seat for God’s morning miracle. If I watch God’s world go from dark to golden, guess what? The same happens to my attitude. The pain passes and the joints loosen, and before I know it, the run is half over and life ain’t half bad. Everything improves as I fix my eyes on the sun.

Wasn’t that the counsel of the Hebrew epistle — “looking unto Jesus”? What was the focus of David? “You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

How did Jesus endure the terror of the crucifixion? He went first to the Father with His fears. He modeled the words of Psalm 56:3:

When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. — NLT

Do the same with yours. Don’t avoid life’s Gardens of Gethsemane. Enter them. Just don’t enter them alone. And while there, be honest. Pounding the ground is permitted. Tears are allowed. And if you sweat blood, you won’t be the first. Do what Jesus did; open your heart.

And be specific. Jesus was. “Take this cup,” He prayed. Give God the number of the flight. Tell Jim the length of the speech. Share the details of the job transfer. He has plenty of time. He also has plenty of compassion.

He doesn’t think your fears are foolish or silly. He won’t tell you to “buck up” or “get tough.” He’s been where you are. He knows how you feel.

And He knows what you need. That’s why we punctuate our prayers as Jesus did.

If You are willing…

Was God willing? Yes and no. He didn’t take away the cross, but He took the fear. God didn’t still the storm, but He calmed the sailor.

Who’s to say He won’t do the same for you?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. — Philippians 4:6 NIV

Don’t measure the size of the mountain; talk to the One who can move it. Instead of carrying the world on your shoulders, talk to the One who holds the universe on His. Hope is a look away.

Now, what were you looking at?

Excerpted with permission from Traveling Light by Max Lucado, copyright Max Lucado.

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Your Turn

Are you in a Garden of Gethsemane time right now? Jesus understands. He longs for you to experience His presence, kindness, and empathy. You’re not alone when you bring it to Him. Look to Him! ~ Devotionals Daily