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When God needs to pray

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Matthew 26:31-35

Botox is all the rage these days. Botulinum toxin is an injection which removes lines and wrinkles from the face. At $300 to $1,000 a shot, it is the most popular cosmetic procedure in America. A “face-life in a bottle,” one doctor calls it. We will apparently do anything to look better than we really do.

Physically, and spiritually. I’m good at hiding the wrinkles on my soul, and so are you. What secret are you glad we don’t know? What secret shame or pain in your past still bothers you? What sin or failure do you constantly battle and wish you could defeat? What wrinkles on your soul are you trying to hide today?

This Easter season, we’re seeking ways to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. On Wednesday of Holy Week, Jesus showed us the key to victory over spiritual failure, frustration and defeat. On Thursday his disciples showed us that we each need that key today.

Let’s learn how to defeat temptation and failure before they come, and when they arrive.

Expect the crisis of faith

We’re now to Wednesday and Thursday of Holy Week.

On Wednesday Jesus did nothing which is recorded in the Scriptures. In a moment we’ll discover why that’s so, and why we each need Silent Wednesdays for our souls.

On Thursday Jesus gathered with his close friends for one last meal together, the Lord’s Supper as we know it. This night, Judas left the band to betray our Lord. Jesus and his disciples retreated to the Mount of Olives, and from there to the Garden of Gethsemane. Along the way the events of our text occurred.

“Then Jesus told them, ‘This very night you will all fall away on account of me'” (v. 31).

“You will all”—plural, every disciple. From Jesus’ best friend to his weakest disciple. We will all face crisis in life.

“Fall away” in the Greek means to be caught in a trap. The world is waiting to trap us. Satan is a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). And lions only roar when they’re attacking.

“This very night”—the trap is always closer than you think. The lion is in the bushes just behind you.

“Because of me”—the enemy hates Jesus, so he hates us. He will tempt us and trap us because we belong to Jesus. Don’t think that your Christian faith will keep you from temptation. It’s the reason you are tempted.

“But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee” (v. 32).

“After I have risen”—Jesus is still in charge of life and death, of this world and the next.

“I will go ahead of you into Galilee”—even though you forsake me, I will not forsake you. My love for you is unconditional and absolute. No matter what failures you have committed or will commit, I will never fail you.

Now comes Peter’s proud reply: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (v. 33).

“If all fall away” is a first class conditional in the Greek, expressing the reality of the situation. In other words, Peter is saying, “They will all fall away on account of you.” But “I never will.” “I” is emphatic in the Greek: “I myself, I especially will never fail you.”

So Jesus must warn him: “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (v. 34). Peter promised that he would die before doing so. All the other disciples said the same. All were wrong.

Expect the crisis of faith. If it came to Jesus’ followers then, it will come to us today. No one is immune. Not Jesus. Not us.

Seek God privately, before the crisis comes

But when the crisis came, Jesus did not fail. Even though it meant the horrors of crucifixion. And even worse: his first separation from his Father since eternity began and time was created. Yet he did not falter or fail.

Why not? What was his key to success over temptation, fear, and defeat?

The answer is Silent Wednesday, and all the Silent Wednesdays before it. On Wednesday of Holy Week, Jesus did nothing which is recorded in God’s word. So what occupied his day? From his known activities across the week, we can assume these facts.

Jesus was resting with friends in Bethany: Mary, Martha, Lazarus, his disciples. He needed friends to support him before the crisis came, as we do.

Before the crisis comes, get with those you trust. Pray for each other, support each other, hold each other accountable to God’s will and purpose for your lives. Redwood trees stand for centuries because their roots are intertwined. A coal left alone goes out. So does a soul.

Jesus was together with his friends, and he was alone with his Father. As he regularly was. Watch his pattern: Mark 1:35: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed;” Mark 6:46: “After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray;” Luke 5:16: “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed;” Luke 6:12: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God;” Luke 9:18: “Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him;” Luke 22:41: “He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed.”

Before the crisis of Thursday came the preparations of Wednesday. We must seek God before we think we need him. There will not be less wind in our sails, so we need more sails for the wind. If we wait until the temptation comes, the crisis hits, the world tumbles in, it may be too late.

So, how long since you’ve spent a Silent Wednesday? Are you ready for Temptation Thursday? Are you praying for your friends, and they for you? Is your soul right with your Father?

How do you spend a Silent Wednesday? Fast from certain foods or activities so you can concentrate on God. Turn off the television, the cell phone, the computer. Read the Scriptures, in depth. Listen to their words; imagine their scenes. Meditate on their truths. Take a walk with God in his creation. Feel his presence, his love for you , his delight in you.

Pray specifically about the future as you know it, its problems and temptations. Give tomorrow to God, today. If the Lord of the universe needed a Silent Wednesday, don’t we?

An elderly woman began showing up in a church’s sanctuary. She sat alone in a pew, for a long time, each morning. After several days, the pastor asked her what she was doing in those hours of silence. She smiled and said, “I look at him and he looks at me. And we tell each other that we love each other.”

When was your last Silent Wednesday? When will be your next?

Seek God honestly, when the crisis comes

So we learn to seek God privately before the crisis comes. And we seek him honestly, when it comes. When Silent Wednesday becomes Temptation Thursday.

Peter was convinced that he could not fail his Lord. The other disciples were just as sure of themselves. They were wrong. That night Peter denied he had ever met his Savior, before a serving girl in the outer court of the high priest’s home. The others didn’t even follow Jesus that far. The crisis is inevitable. Seeking God when it comes is not.

Sometimes we think that the problem doesn’t really matter, that it’s not worth seeking God about. But we’re wrong. Jesus was clear: an adulterous thought is adultery; a murderous thought is murder. There are no “small” sins with God.

My friend John Haggai, in his January diary, quoted Bishop A. M. Fairbairn: “Every time we engage in a thought or action that falls short of our highest values, we weaken our character, no matter how seemingly miniscule the decline.” He’s exactly right.

Go to God honestly, the moment the temptation appears. Because it is cancer. And there’s no such thing as a minor malignancy.

Sometimes we think we don’t need his help, that we can go it alone. We can handle the serving girls of life. But we’re wrong.

Over the years I have learned this spiritual fact: Satan will bring no temptation against us which we can conquer without God’s help. He knows our natural strengths, and will not bring against us temptations, sins, and stress he knows we can defeat. So whatever you’re facing today can only be conquered with God’s help. Satan hopes you’ll do what Peter did, that you’ll try to win on your own. Because then you’ll fail.

Conclusion

For every one of us, today is either Wednesday or Thursday of Holy Week. You’re either in a crisis, or about to enter one. There is no third option.

If it’s Wednesday, would you make it a Silent Wednesday? Set an appointment with the Father right now. Before the weekend is over, spend an extended time alone with him. If you have spring break this week, use some of it to break from the world and get alone with God. Build solitude with the Father into your weekly pattern. Because your soul needs a Silent Wednesday. If you’re too busy to make one, you of all people need one the most.

If it’s Thursday, would you seek God honestly and humbly? Don’t be deceived: any problem large enough to trouble your heart today is too large to face alone. If you’re facing a test or temptation, know that you’ll fail without God’s help. Give this issue to him, specifically and humbly. Ask for his strength and power. Don’t be Peter, before the rooster crows over your soul.

What Jesus did in defeating the crisis of life, we can do in his strength. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. His Spirit will empower us to do what feels impossible right now.

A Christian leader named Dietrich Bonhoeffer proved that it was so. He was teaching theology in New York in 1939, but felt compelled to return to his German homeland to join the resistance against Hitler. His friends did all they could to dissuade him, but he knew he was called to this crisis.

In 1943 he was arrested. From his prison cell his greatest work was accomplished, including his classic The Cost of Discipleship. The guards were impressed with him and helped smuggle his letters out to the larger world. They also secretly took him to the cells of despairing prisoners so he could minister to them.

And so one imprisoned English officer met him and later said about him: “Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive… He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God was real and always near…On Sunday, April 8, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in a way that went to the heart of all of us. He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians entered. They said, ‘Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us.’ That had only one meaning for all prisoners—the gallows.

“We said good-by to him. He took me aside: ‘This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.’ The next day he was hanged in Flossburg… The text on which he spoke that last day was, ‘By his stripes we are healed.'”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life of communion with his Father gave him strength for the crisis. His humble reliance on the help of God sustained him in it. What Jesus did for him, he will do for every one of us.

Which day of the week is it, for you?