I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered."
I stopped in my tracks upon reading verse 31. When the shepherd is struck (trouble), the sheep scatter (run). Immediately I wrote four words in the margin of my bible and began to ponder the question:
"Why do we run?"
Why are we tempted to put on our running shoes and skedaddle when trouble comes? Or at the very least, retreat from time in the Lord's presence? It's not just us. The disciples were inclined to do the same. It takes practice in trials, and experience with God's faithfulness in them, to learn to lean in instead of lean away.
I think of the verse that compares us to sheep. "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way..." (Isaiah 53:6) We run from troubling circumstances - sometimes in another's life, sometimes in our own - out of fear, feeling inadequate, or frustration. Troubles are temptations for Christ-followers to stop believing or trusting in the Lord. When pressures are great, or circumstances uncomfortable, we have a choice to make. We can lean in closer to the Father, or give in to the temptation to take a step away. Stepping away says, "I don't know if I really believe You are who You say You are, or You will do what You say You will do, because I don't see You working this out for me." Faith leans in and says, "You are Faithful. You are Good. You are Able. I may not understand, but I choose to wait on You, trusting You are working things out for my good and Your glory."
Reading further in this passage, we see Jesus contemplating "the cup". He looks at Peter and the two sons of Zebedee in garden of Gethsemane and says, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38) His words got me to thinking about the sin in my life and the price He was willing to pay to set me free. I reflected on the heaviness I have felt over a single sin, knowing my own grief over it. The sorrow and guilt of that one sin, times every single sin committed in my lifetime, times every single person in all the world, for all of time. That was the vile concoction in His cup. The weight of that is beyond comprehension. The only words He could find to describe it were, "overwhelmed to the point of death." They seem inadequate.
As Jesus converses with the Father in the garden over this "cup" He was sent to drink, carrying the weight of the sins of all mankind, He needs the disciples to hold Him up in prayer. But each time He returns from interceding, He finds His friends asleep! (vs. 40, 43, 45) In His greatest hour of need His closest companions failed Him. Trouble was at hand and they chose to retreat. The first time He found them snoozing He said, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (v. 41) Sadly, their flesh won out. Three times in a row these men of God took a nap!
Continuing with the focus on troubles, they are a trap. God calls us to be watchful and pray faithfully in the day of trouble. We must be careful not to get weary in worship or tired of interceding. If we do, we have fallen for the enemy's snare. Instead, pray "Lord. deliver me from this sleepy devil!" (M. Henry) Weariness in trials leads to laziness in worship and prayer, and opens the door for further temptation to run away in disbelief, which leads to more assault. 1 Peter 5 says, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith..."
God who willingly drank that "cup" on our behalf promises to never walk away. To never abandon us, especially in our time of need. Troubles and trials are meant to refine us. They are used to test our faith. The process is less painful when we cooperate. So put your running shoes back in the closet and lean in to Jesus, "the Shepherd and Overseer" of your soul. (1 Peter 2:25b)
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