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LIFE IS A MAZE(ing): All the Feels    Matthew 26:36-46       (1st Service)

February 13th, just this last week, flight 5763 took off from the Orange County Airport on its way to Seattle.  It didn’t quite make it there, because over the High Sierras, it hit what you might refer to as a little bit of turbulence.  One of the passengers reported that, along with the flight attendant, the drink cart hit the ceiling of the aircraft.  Another passenger said that the plane did not one but two nosedives, sort of ninety degrees down.  Just imagine being at 34,000 feet, cruising altitude, having your plane, that’s sailing through the air, immediately doing a ninety degree nosedive, and the flight attendant next to you in the air.  Five people were injured.  The plane had to land in Reno and didn’t make it to Seattle because five people had to be hospitalized.

If you’ve ever been in a situation of turbulence, either in an airplane or in life, you know that you don’t just have thoughts in your head that affect the way that you interact with that situation.  Your whole body gets into it, doesn’t it?  If you were to take your pulse, it would be elevated, would it not?  Your palms might be a little bit sweaty.  You might be yelling things uncontrollably.  My parents were in a turbulent situation in an aircraft and somebody grabbed the hands of the people next to them and started praying “The Lord’s Prayer.”

We are holistic beings.  Our bodies get into it when we are in situations like that.  It may not just be extreme situations, like an aircraft that might crash in the High Sierras.  Our body gets into also maybe walking through these doors on a Sunday morning.  We have a little bit of anxiety and our heart starts to beat quicker, doesn’t it?  Or maybe you know you have to have a conversation with somebody and you’ve got to pick up the phone and call them instead of just texting them.  Your hand shakes a little bit, doesn’t it?  Or maybe you’re at work and you just sense this invitation from God—that person needs to know about the hope you have in Jesus.  You start to sit on your hands a little bit or you start to get a little bit distraught.  But it doesn’t just happen in your head, does it?  It happens in your body.  Or maybe you get a phone call from the doctor and the situation isn’t what you thought it would be; not the news you hoped you’d hear.

I think sometimes, in circles of Christians, we want to minimize the role that our feelings and our emotions play.  The reality is that we are ‘feeling’ beings.  Every single one of us.  We have emotions.  There are emotions attached to what God is doing in our life.  I don’t know if you noticed this, but in the series where we’re talking about God’s will, last week we talked about what’s in our heart, our desires, what we want.  Today I want to pivot a little bit and say what happens when God does something we DON’T like and what happens when God does something we DON’T want?  Even our body starts to go I don’t want this and I’m not choosing this.  What do we do then?

I was reminded of the Apostle Paul.  He’s heading back to Jerusalem after his missionary journey.  He knows that he’s heading towards probably what will be his death. There are well-intentioned followers of Jesus in Caesarea and they grab him and listen to what they say to him in Acts 21:13.  They tell Paul that if he goes to Jerusalem he will be in chains and enslaved, and that it won’t end well for him.  This is how he responds:  Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?  For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”  It’s easy for me to read passages like this and take the emotion out of it.  Paul is surrounded by people that he loves.  They’re saying, “Don’t go!  Please don’t go!”  And he says why are you breaking my heart?  Just let me go.  I know I’m going to my death.  The Spirit of Jesus told me that too.

How do we handle when God has us walking down a path that we wouldn’t choose and we don’t like?  Let’s be honest, that’s life sometimes, isn’t it?  There’s a number of things that would happen in our life and we’d go, “God, if your world was perfect like your heaven is, this wouldn’t be the case right now.”  Death wouldn’t be the case.  Sorrow wouldn’t be the case.  Pain wouldn’t be the case.  But that’s not the world we live in.  We live in a world where we’re often taken to places and we go, I don’t want this and I wouldn’t choose this.  I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of church being a place you have to pretend you want things you don’t.  I’m tired of church being a place where we have to pretend we’re not afraid because we know we’re not suppose to be afraid, but what happens when you’re afraid?  What do you do then?

If you have your Bible, I’d invite you to open to Matthew 26, because what we want to do this morning is take our cue from Jesus.  It’s always a great place to start.  If we’re going to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, let’s look at what Jesus did with these feelings of ‘I don’t like this’ and these emotions that started to rise inside of him.  Matthew 26:36-46 — Then Jesus went with them {With his disciples.  He’s just gotten done the Passover meal.  This is the night Jesus is going to be betrayed and taken to the authorities.}  to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”  And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”  And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will but as you will.”  And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping.  And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”  And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.  So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.  Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on.  See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

If you were to go back and study this text, what you’d see, front and center, are three emotions that Jesus wears on his sleeve.  The first is sorrow.  Sorrowful even to the point of death, the text says.  It’s this picture, in the original language, of being engulfed in grief.  Like a tsunami that just washes over him of despair.  Second word: troubled.  If you go and look in the original Greek language, it’s this word that means anxious.   You could imagine Jesus in the garden bouncing his knee a little bit.  Maybe biting his bottom lip.  That’s not the picture we have of our Messiah, is it?  He goes I’m troubled.  I’m stressed.  This word isn’t in there directly, but I think we can get it pretty easily when we read through the Scriptures…..I think he’s frustrated with his disciples.  I mean, he’s like, you guys, come on!  You can’t stay awake with me one hour?  Let’s not be too hard on the disciples, grief is hard, isn’t it?  Sorrow’s hard.  Sometimes it’s easier to sleep through it than it is to engage it.  And that’s not a knock on people who need to sleep a lot in seasons of grief, that’s just how we deal with it.  I get it.  I probably would have fallen asleep too.   Let’s be honest, you would probably have too.

He’s sorrowful.  He’s troubled.  He’s frustrated.  What does he do with his emotions?  It’s interesting, if you’ve been around church at all, my guess is you’ve probably seen at some point, this real convenient train that tells you what to do with your emotions.  Here’s what it says:  The front of the train is FACT.  Middle of the train — FAITH.  The caboose is FEELINGS.  Oftentimes we’ll be in church and go that’s right, that’s how it should be.  Well maybe, but is that the way it actually is?  Or life is a little more complicated than that?  Are there seasons where emotion is out front and the pain is so thick and the hurt is so prevalent and instead of feeling like, “Well, I’m going to make this decision based on fact and faith and then feeling,” I think we feel a little more like, “No, I’m trapped in a glass case of emotion!” {Will Farrell, Anchor Man}

It’s not quite as simple as we’d like to make it out to be, is it? In the garden, the night that Jesus is betrayed, as he’s praying….yeah, certainly he knows the facts and certainly he has faith, but his feelings aren’t something that are lagging behind as though there’s some inhumane attachment to his journey to the cross, they’re right out front.

There’s been a number of heresies that have risen up in the church over the years.  One was in the second century.  It was called Docetism.  Another in the fourth century called Apollinarianism.  Both of these heresies had at their core this lie:  Jesus was less than human.  Lean in for a moment, it’s a lie and it’s actually the exact opposite of the truth.  Jesus wasn’t less than human.  Jesus wasn’t the least human person to ever live.  Jesus was actually the most human person to ever live.  Our journey as followers of Jesus is not become less human, it’s actually to become more human.  Christian spiritualityis grounded in the full range of our humanity, which includes our emotions.

What is an emotion?  Without getting too scientific, here’s what an emotion is:  A thought that we have in our mind that’s linked to a sensation.  We have this thought that’s linked to a sensation that often elicits three things.  It triggers something inside of us so that we respond to it, or we have an experience and then we have a response.  So, when I get a phone call and the news isn’t good, my mind has a thought—my mind does something with that—that elicits some sort of trigger inside of me.  I experience that thought—I don’t necessarily detach myself from it, I’m fully in it—and I have a response to it.  That’s an emotion.

So to say that emotions are sort of at the back, they’re just the caboose…..we’re far more integrated than we often give ourselves credit for. But, emotions can be uncomfortable, can’t they?  We have to do something with them, and here’s four things we often do with our emotions.  I’d like to propose to you, after this, that there is a better way.  We can be directedby our emotions.  They’re at the front and we just follow them.  Have you ever been around someone in adolescence; sometimes they’re directed by their emotions.  That’s not a knock on anybody in adolescence; your brain is right there.  That’s part of the development of your frontal lobe.  Eventually we’re suppose to grow out of that so we’re not just directed by our emotions.  Second, we have a tendency to detach.  This would be like an eastern philosophy, an eastern spirituality.  The thought at the core of eastern spirituality is often every pain we experience in life is a result of a desire unmet.  If we can get rid of our desires, than we can get rid of our pain.  So, push it away.  Secularism’s response is to distractourselves.  Have you ever wondered why the entertainment industry is so huge?  We need to do something with what’s going on inside of us, even in our physical body, so let’s see another movie, let’s binge another show on Netflix, let’s go out to a really nice dinner, let’s try to forget about it.  Or, here’s what we’re really good at in Christian circles….let’s displaceAll things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.  God is in the process of renewing and restoring all things.  It’s all going to turn out okay, just keep moving forward.  Put one foot in front of the other.  Get the facts out there.  Is all that stuff true?  It’s all true and it’s all really, really helpful in its season.  But if we try to go there too soon, we actually start to circumvent the work God actually wants to do in our life.

Here’s the truth of the matter.  Here’s what you see with Jesus in the garden.  We don’t discover God’s will by ignoring our feelings, but rather by engaging them healthily.  Our journey as followers of Jesus, our journey as spiritual beings, is not different than our journey as human beings.  They are intricately intertwined.  As Pete Scazerro brilliantly put in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality:  “It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.”  That is worth holding onto.  We do not grow beyond our emotional maturity.  If you found yourself bumping up against a glass ceiling in your spiritual growth, may I suggest to you that you have some work to do in THIS area.

What’s the work that we should do?  Let’s look at Jesus.  Let’s let him by our teacher.  Let’s let him by our guide.  Look at what he does in Matthew 26:38 — Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death…”  What does he do?  He steps back.  He probably takes a deep breath.  My guess is he asks this really important question:  What’s going on inside of me?  What’s that feeling?  What do I call that?  Sorrow.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus has emotion.  All throughout the Scripture, we see God being an emotional being.  Exodus 20:5 says God is jealousfor you.  Jeremiah 30:25 says God has anger.  Jeremiah 31:1 says that God feels love.  Hosea 11:8 says that God feels compassion.   Luke 10:21 — Jesus is full of joy.  Wouldn’t you love to see someone do a painting of that picture…Jesus brimming with joy?  The platonic god is the stoic, unmoved mover.  The God of the Bible is distinctly emotional.  He’s in it.  He cares.

Like many followers of Jesus, I picked up somewhere along the way that almost all feelings are unreliable and they can’t be trusted.  I think most followers of Jesus have this conviction—I don’t know where we picked it up—that we don’t have permission to feel or express our emotion.  They’re just in the back of the caboose and they need to stay there.  When we minimize our emotions and feelings, we actually create a wall between ourselves and God and others.  You know this.  If you’re in a marriage or friendship with somebody who has a hard time expressing the way that they feel, it can feel cold, can’t it?  Why would we think that’s what God would want for us?

Saint Augustine, who may not strike you as an in touch with his emotion type of guy, said this: “How can you draw close to God when you are far from your own self?  Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.”  Can I invite you as we talk about discerning God’s will and there may be seasons where He leads us into things that we would not choose, that we nameour emotion.  That’s what Jesus does.  We name it.  This is what’s going on.  This is that sense that I have inside of me.

When we were in our Daily devotional writing team a few weeks ago talking about this passage, our worship pastor said to me, “It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I realized that I had more than two emotions: happy and sad.”  I thought yeah, that’s for most of us, isn’t it?  Happy. Sad. There’s a number of people doing research right now on our emotional spectrum, but Brene Brown came out with a list, recently, of core emotions.  We probably all have felt these on some level.  Love. Belonging. Joy. Gratitude. Vulnerability. Empathy. Excited. Happy. Surprised. Curious.   Some we may not like quite as much:  Shame. Guilt. Humiliation. Embarrassment. Fear. Scared. Overwhelmed. Sad. Hurt. Disappointed. Frustrated. Jealous. Worried. Anxious. Judgmental. Disgust. Lonely. Blame. Grief. Regret.

Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, in a book they wrote, said: “Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality.  Listening to our emotions ushers us into reality.  And reality is where we meet God.”  I would say, reality is the only place you meet God.

There is great power in naming your emotion.  When I say naming your emotion, what I mean is an invitation to sort of step back from what’s going on inside of you—even on a biological level—and to go okay, so I’m anxious.  But here’s what I wouldn’t do right away: I wouldn’t say I’m anxious and I shouldn’t be anxious.  What does that do?  It actually makes you more anxious.  Try it sometime.  I’m anxious and I shouldn’t be anxious and now I’m anxious about being anxious, in addition to what I was anxious about in the first place!  Sort of like trying to get patience by being more patient.  Good luck!  So, if we step back for a moment and go, well, I’m anxious.  So that’s there.  Jesus, what do you want me to do with that?  What do you have to say about that?

There’s massive power in naming our emotions.  Ironically, there’s more power in not naming them, but it’s not the kind of power that you want.  It’s the control over you that just seems to steer and guide your life.  Have you ever gotten really angry about something really small and wondered where in the world did that come from?  My hope is you had the courage to step back and go, something’s not alright in me.  My guess is that you were…..remember those splash pad water parks where the water shoots out?  My guess is that you were holding down the hole of one emotion and thinking, “I’m not going to feel that.  I’m not going to go there.”  Eventually, it starts to squirt out in other places.  Welcome to being human.  We always do something with our emotions, whether we displace, or distract, or let them direct us.  We always do something with our emotions, and true spirituality {lean in} is engagement with ourselves, with God, with his world, not as we wish it were, but as it actually is.  So we have the boldness and courage to name what’s going on on the inside.

Here’s what Jesus says next:  “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little father he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”   Let’s stop there.  Does Jesus know the journey he’s on?  Yes, he’s already told his disciples a number of times, hey, I’m going to Jerusalem and I’m about to die.  They’re like, wait, what?  We thought you were the Messiah.  So does Jesus know the journey he’s on?  Yeah, and yet, he says, “If it’s possible, let this cup pass from me.”  What’s he doing?  I thought a lot about that this week and what I don’t think Jesus is doing is saying, “I’m out.”  I’m out of the mission.  What he is saying is I’m so committed to the mission, but if you are taking suggestions for the methodology, may I suggest the cross may not be the most pleasant way.  So he’s saying to his Heavenly Father, “I don’t want to control this situation, but if you’re open to influence, if you’re open to suggestions, I’ve got a few.”  He goes to his Father and he simply presents his request.  That’s what he does.

Let me ask you a few questions:  Does God hear our requests?  Does he answer?  Let me ask it this way:  Does prayer change things?  I was reminded of this scene from Shadowlands, a depiction of C.S. Lewis’s life.  Anthony Hopkins plays C.S. Lewis in this film.  Lewis’s wife, Joy, has just found out that she’s going into remission and his friends are saying Lewis has been praying hard and God is answering his prayer.  Lewis answers:  “That’s not why I pray, Harry.  I pray because I can’t help myself.  I pray because I’m helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time; waking and sleeping.  It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”  Sounds really good.  It doesn’t change God, it changes me.  I’m a huge C.S. Lewis fan and read everything I can get my hands on by C.S. Lewis.  Does the Bible say that prayer changes us and NOT God?  Or maybe that there’s more going on than that.  Let me invite you to a few texts:  You’ve probably prayed this during an election at some point.  It’s 2 Chronicles 7:14 — If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray…..then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.    Did you know there are more “if-then” statements attached to prayer in the Bible than to any other thing?  Try this one on for size (Daniel 10:12) — Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel,{This is an angel talking to Daniel.}for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.   Wait! What??  An angel is released to come to Daniel’s aid—catch this, the Bible says it really, really clearly—because of your WORDS!    When you come to the elders and we anoint you and pray over you, we’ll pray this verse over you:  James 5:16 —  Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.  In the Greek, it’s literally, the energized (enegero) prayer has great enegero.  There’s this play on words going on.  The energized prayer has great energy.

I don’t know if prayer changes God, but it certainly changes things.  It changes our world.  E.M. Bounds said it like this—a great author who wrote a lot on prayer:  “God shapes the world through prayer.”  Do I understand that dynamic exactly?  No.  Anybody that tells you they do…!  We want a one-to-one relationship like we do with a diet.  If I do this than I’ll lose a little bit of weight.  If I work this exercise plan, I’ll get stronger.  We want prayer to work like that and it just simply doesn’t.  But please hear me, when you read through the Scriptures, what you’re going to find is that God, in his sovereignty, has chosen to respond to the prayers of his people.  Your prayers matter.  Darrell, when you guys gather every single Wednesday night and pray—6:30; Watchmen Prayer team prays—it matters!  Does it change you?  Absolutely!  Anybody who spends any amount of time praying knows it changes you.  I’m just saying that’s not all it changes.  I’m saying the Scriptures say that’s not all it changes.  God’s not a static, unmoved mover; that’s Plato’s god.  That’s not the God of the Scriptures.

Maybe this week your practice is……..Pray!  If you haven’t spent any time praying, maybe you just start with five minutes in the morning.  Pray a psalm.  Pray any of the psalms.  They give language to the full spectrum of human emotion.  That’s one of the reasons they’re there.

We know from the Scriptures that prayer does something, but we also know that there are times when prayer doesn’t seem to do anything….like this instance with Jesus.  Or at least not what we want it to.  There’s this caveat in Jesus’s prayer, and I often thought this caveat as sort of a copout, right?   Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.  Have you ever been in Christian circles where people were like, don’t pray that!  That’s a show of non-faith!  If you pray your will be done, it’s just saying you don’t have faith for him to do what you actually asked him to do!  Here’s a question:  If you knew God was going to answer every single one of the prayers that you prayed with an affirmative, would you pray more or less?  How many of you have a list of prayers you’re grateful God didn’t answer?  Most of them have female names attached to mine, from my teens!  No, no, no, we don’t have the full picture.  Nancy Leigh DeMoss said it like this: “God’s will is what we would choose if we knew what God knows.”  It’s what we’d ask for.

Karl Barth called this “nevertheless”; he said this is “the defiant nevertheless.”  Where we say to God, alright, here’s what’s going on in the inside.  I’m going to name it.  And then naming it, I’m going to ask you what you want me to do with it.  I’m going to present my request.  If you’re open to suggestions, here’s what I’d love to see.  Ultimately, God, I’m going to chooseyour kingdom.  This is Jesus’s prayer that he taught his disciples to pray, that we said this morning, isn’t it?  Your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  We need to pray that God’s will would be done, that his kingdom would come, because there are places that if God’s will is that we forgive our enemies….   If God’s will is that we love those unlike us….   If God’s will is that we release our anger and release our lust, there’s moments where God’s explicit will is not being done in our lives and in our world.  So Jesus says well, pray for it, because prayer matters.  It positions you to receive from God and it makes ripple effects in the world that you will never be fully aware of.

Please hear me on this:  Your will be done.  You’ll often hear people say things like: God’s will is the safest place to be.  Just don’t tell that to Jesus!  Because for him, it was a cross.  God’s will.  It’s not the safest place to be, but it’s the most significant place to be.  It’s the most beautiful place to be.  It’s the best place to be.  To say to God, God, I’m choosing your kingdom.  You do know that the entry into the Christian life is an invitation to take up your cross, right?  To take up your cross.  To die to yourself.  It doesn’t mean the more miserable you are, the more happy God is.  It doesn’t mean the more miserable you are, the more in God’s will you are.  It doesn’t mean you should disregard your personhood, your unique gifting, your wiring, who God has made you to be.  And it doesn’t mean that the godly, good desires that you have should be completely ignored and should be completely put off.  It actually means the opposite.  Jesus goes on to say:  ….take up cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:24)   Their life will be healed.  They’ll become more fully alive as they die to the kingdom of self and live to the kingdom of God.

Here’s the ethos of kingdom of self:  It’s ruled by self-interest.  By grasping.  By achievement.  By effort.  By independence.  By holding.  By being willful.  Clenched fists and closed hearts.  Hard and brittle.  And just begrudging determination.  The kingdom of God is ruled by love.  By releasing.  By gift.  By consent.  By interdependence.  By releasing.  By willingness.  By open hands and soft heart.  Malleable.  Transformation before God.

I hope you’re asking the question:  In the battle internally—even an emotional battle that often rages—how in the world do I choose the kingdom of God over the kingdom of self?  I’m going to give you three things.  You choose it by having a different perspective.  God, there’s more going on.  I don’t understand the whole picture.  I will choose to believe that if I knew what you knew, I would want what you want.  Second, we know that we can grieve, which is an emotion, but not as people who do not have hope.  Because God is weaving together—this is peace—the frayed edges of our life and our world to make it into a mosaic, a masterpiece.  You don’t have to like it along the way, but you can know that it’s happening, and it can help you say I’m going to lay my life down that I might find true life.  Finally, please don’t miss this:  Know that you stand in the place of divine love and goodness and God’s favor over you.  You will never choose God’s kingdom unless you first are convinced of God’s love.

I’m going to play a song that caught my heart this week.  When I first became a follower of Jesus, I absolutely loved Rich Mullins.  I was on a run last Friday and I had this line from this song pop into my head.  I don’t know where you’re leading me, unless you’ve led me here, where I’m lost enough to let myself be led.  I went, “That’s it!”  I went back and Googled it.  The song is called Hard to Get.  It’s a song about Gethsemane, but I think more than that, it’s a song about God and it’s a song about you and me.  Here’s the deal:  If you’re in that moment, that season of Gethsemane.  If you’re saying to God, I’m sorrowful, I’m troubled, I’m frustrated, there’s things going on inside of me that I don’t know what to do with, I just want you to hear me say as clearly as I can, this is a safe place to name the darkness in your soul.  It’s there.  Name it.  But it’s hard to live in Gethsemane.  We live there until we name it.  When we name it, we start to get free to say God, I don’t like this, but I’m going to move forward; whatever forward means, I’m going there with you.  That’s what Jesus does.  That’s the way this passage of Scripture ends — Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.

I hope this ministers to your soul. {Ryan calls a few elders forward to help pray with others.   Song “Hard to Get” by Rich Mullins is played.}