A manager once told me I was great “out-of-the-gate” at the beginning of my shift but less enthusiastic as my shift wore on.
I had to admit the truthfulness of his words. As a coffee barista, I had to start early morning shifts that required me to roll out of bed around 4:30 a.m. Once I got through the first few hours of my morning shift, including the early morning rush of coffee-drinkers, I couldn’t wait to go home and take a nap. My eyelids and limbs felt heavy. The minutes ticked by so slowly. My manager observed me wind down energy-wise as my shift wore on.
Spiritually, I tend to operate in the same way. I am really good “out-of-the-gate.” I start an assignment God gives me with energy and enthusiasm. I have a lot of good ideas. I tell everyone around me what I am doing. As time goes on, though, I tend to get worn out, discouraged by trials and the opposition of others. I get frustrated and want to quit when the journey takes much longer than I expected and the hardships pile up. Maybe you can relate?
The Bible offers us guidance for those places where hardships have worn us down, and we can’t find the strength and endurance to continue on in the assignment God has given us. We can look to the example of Jesus to help us know what it looks like to keep going when our road is hard and long.
In Matthew 27:46, 50, Jesus had been hanging on the cross for several hours. During that time, he endured physical pain, thirst, and the sneers of onlookers below Him. Prior to that, he endured an unfair trial, a beating, and the humiliation of being nailed to the cross. In this moment, He was exhausted and in physical and mental agony. He said very little while on the cross, but when He spoke, His words revealed much:
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’). … And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
In looking at Jesus’ words and actions in His last moments on the cross, what can we observe about enduring difficult circumstances?
1. He held onto God, though it appeared God was letting go of Him.
We see in Jesus’ words, “My God, my God” (emphasis mine), the words of a man who obviously still trusted in God enough to hold onto Him even when He felt abandoned to a terrible fate. Jesus wasn’t merely left behind or forgotten at the cross. God deliberately led Him there. Jesus knew what was coming. He knew what He would have to do and why He had to do it.
Yet, even though He understood the reasons for why He had to go the cross, the human side of Him struggled with the agony of the moment. Even in the struggle, though, He did not let go of God. I love what one commentary I read suggested about His words. The word “lema” can be translated to mean “to what — to whom — to what kind or sort — to what purpose or profit.” Therefore, we might understand “Why have you abandoned me?” to mean something more along the lines of “To what have you abandoned me to?”
Those of us walking through fierce flames most likely might have asked this very question of God. We might wonder how or why God would allow what He has allowed. We might question or feel a sense of betrayal that God is leaving us to “fend for ourselves” against great odds and those that would harm us. It feels impossible in those moments to hold on tenaciously when we question why God would permit us to experience the terrible circumstances we are in. And yet, Jesus shows us what it means to hold on to God even when our flesh demands answers of God and rebels against the places He brings us to when we walk in obedience to Him.
2. He didn’t save Himself, though He could have.
The second takeaway we have here is that Jesus exhibited incredible self-control in the middle of this agonizing experience on the cross. Can you imagine creating the entire world and all the people in it and not saying a word when they put you on trial for crimes you didn’t even commit? How about when they crucified you on a cross? When He was hanging on the cross, people walked by and shouted at him to save himself and prove he was God. He could have come down from the cross, but He didn’t. As Chuck Smith says, “It was only by not saving Himself that He was able to save you.” Similarly, in our own trial, we oftentimes have the choice whether or not we will save ourselves from the agony we are in.
We can just stop serving God and give in to what others want us to do. We can compromise. We can just act like the world and agree with the world and find acceptance. Or, we can take the example of Jesus and remain in the fire knowing that His will has taken us there. By remaining, we will positively impact the lives of those around us and bring others to salvation. Jesus is the only One who could take the sins of the world. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Though Jesus is the only One who could take our sin, as Christ-followers, we have a cross we pick up in following Him. We experience a crucifixion of self daily in our lives when we follow Him. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” In other words, when we follow Christ, we allow Him to dictate our choices and no longer live to serve ourselves. Jesus shows us here that hanging on tenaciously means choosing not to get out of suffering or hardship that comes in doing God’s will.
3. Though He wrestled in His agony, He continued to do God’s work.
Right before Jesus died, the passage tells us that He gave out a loud cry and “gave up his spirit.” This last action of Jesus on the cross was significant because it shows us once again how Jesus never lost trust in His Father. He clung tenaciously on not only in His words but His last action — He “gave up” or surrendered His spirit to God. He never stopped doing the Father’s work because of the hardship He faced. He continued on until He breathed His last breath. Too often, we can lose our resolve in the process of following God, but God wants us to complete what He has given us to do.
I remember writing a few years ago a series on trials, and the main point in one of my posts was simply that we should continue on no matter what happens to us. I remember thinking when writing it that I would always push through in the work God had given me. I would never give up. And yet, I could never have imagined the types of trials that would come my way or how weak I would feel in the midst of those tribulations. I recognize myself in Peter who claimed he would never deny the Lord and did it the same night. And the question comes to me all the time when I am tired and worn out , waiting for me to answer: Will you still continue to follow me? Will you continue the work I asked you to complete still?
We most likely all believe we would stick through to the end, but we never could have anticipated how deep the betrayal would cut us, how tiring the chronic health problems, how humiliating the lack of success, how impossible the circumstances. And yet, even in those, we can hold fast to Jesus. Even in His final moments on earth, He provided an example for us, when He surrendered His spirit to God.
Remaining Strong in Our Trials
One last tidbit we can find in the passage is that Jesus called out “loudly” when he said “My God, My God” and gave a “loud cry” before He gave up His spirit. He wanted others to hear what He was saying. He could have muttered these words under His breath or kept His thoughts to Himself. I believe He said what He did loudly because He wanted us to note His inner thoughts and take courage in our own difficult valleys. Even in His worst moments, Jesus thought of us and left behind an example so that we would know what to do when our own journeys took unexpected twists and turns.
Friend, I don’t know where you are as you are reading this, but have you let the darkness of your circumstances overwhelm you? Are you loosening your once tight grip on Jesus? Not only do we have the example of Jesus to strengthen us, we have something else that is even better. We have Jesus’ very presence with us. When we are weak, we can call out to Jesus. We can ask Him for help in our struggle. We don’t have to turn away from Him.
We can accept that though the trial is fierce and we don’t understand, God is good and our trial will only last for a little while before God restores us once again (1 Peter 5:10).