Watch and Pray

Just before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus went to pray at one of his favorite places, a grove on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, called Gethsemane, which means “oil press.”

     We all use olive oil, and some of us prefer cold pressed virgin olive oil, the first press from the olives that renders the smoothest taste. After that, the olives are heated and pressed again, to squeeze out every bit of oil, leaving little more than the skin of the fruit. Today, as we adjust to the danger and pressures of living with the threat of Covid-19, some of us may feel like olives in a press, our optimism and even our faith being squeezed as daily reports of newly infected citizens and resulting actions worsens.

     So how do we handle it? We look to our example. As he contemplated his agony on the cross, Jesus told his three closest friends, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” I love that scripture includes this very human reaction. It tells me that Jesus understands what we feel because he’s felt it! Jesus asked them to keep watch and pray with him, but they were weary and fell asleep. He warned Peter, whom Satan had singled out personally (Luke 22:31), to “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

      As we think about our immediate futures, it’s difficult not to fall into the temptation to be fearful, critical, selfish, and angry. Jesus understood how frail even the strongest among us could be. He told Peter—arguably the most single-minded and tenacious among the apostles—“The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Fear would drive Peter to react with violence at Gethsemane and later deny he even knew Jesus. That wasn’t God’s will for him, and it isn’t God’s will for us to host fear in our hearts. In 2 Timothy 1:7, we are reminded that “God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

      As we are repeatedly pressed by the Covid-19 pandemic, let us face it as Jesus faced the cross, knowing that what looks like the worst possible fate will bring glory to God. How is that possible? One obvious way is that many who have never contemplated their mortality may be willing to hear the truth that causes us to smile at strangers as we maintain social distance; make or celebrate the amazing sacrifices being offered by so many instead of dwelling on the mounting numbers of sick; carry out our new responsibilities without complaining; and discipline ourselves to stay in the Word, which transforms our minds and protects our hearts.

     What an example Jesus gave us of how to face whatever threatens to overwhelm our souls. We do not have immunity to Covid-19 (named for the year it appeared), but as Christ followers we are vaccinated against hopelessness by what Jesus did on the cross in circa AD30-36. No earthly event has ever been or ever will be a match for the miracle of the cross.

     Watch and pray for the strength to do God’s will without fear. Guard your joy!