Grace and glory at a time of struggle
God’s irresistible, irrepressible love is always right here in the midst of our struggles, strengthening our trust and rekindling our resolve.
When I think about God’s grace, I think of God’s great love, a love so unstoppable it breaks through whatever seems to hide it, like sunshine melting away the mist.
Recently, I read a Bible Lesson from the Christian Science Quarterly on the subject “Sacrament” that focused on God’s grace. Each section included a Bible verse on grace and a biblical narrative illustrating it. One section began, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). And the account illustrating this “grace to help in time of need” was of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.
My first thought was, Where was any grace in that garden? Sheer agony, it was. Jesus’ sleeping disciples were no help at all. He sweated “as it were great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44), then was arrested and crucified.
Then I remembered that the textbook of Christian Science, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, spoke of Jesus’ “night of gloom and glory in the garden” (p. 47). Where was the glory? Glory came later, during the resurrection, I thought. I was certain there was neither grace nor glory in that garden. Indeed, the very word Gethsemane has come to symbolize sorrow and suffering. Merriam-webster.com defines Gethsemane as “a place or occasion of great mental or spiritual suffering.”
Trying to orchestrate God in the name of prayer wasn’t working. I felt neither peace nor comfort.
But then came the thought that glory and grace must have been there. Mrs. Eddy saw glory in that garden. And if glory was there, grace had to be, too. To me, they’re inseparable. They’re often spoken of together in the Scriptures; for example, Psalms 84:11 promises, “The Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.”
So, I set out to find both. Jesus’ Gethsemane experience is related in three of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I read all three accounts. One passage in Luke showed me what I was looking for. Jesus prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Right after that is the verse “And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him” (22:42, 43).
We’re not told the exact spiritual inspiration (angel) God, divine Spirit, gave Jesus, but it had to have been something so pure, so sure, that even all the agony in the world did not make him give up on prayer. Whatever it was, Spirit’s tender message was just what he needed right when and where he needed it. That to me is God’s glory!
Afterward, Jesus’ prayer was even more earnest, resulting in his relinquishment of all human yearning. Science and Health says, “. . . Jesus turned forever away from earth to heaven, from sense to Soul” (p. 48). What trust he must have had in the absolute goodness of God’s will in order to have meant the words “Not my will, but thine, be done.”
Suddenly, I saw in this intense spiritual struggle the epitome of grace and glory. It assured me that God’s irresistible, irrepressible love is always right here in the midst of our struggles, strengthening our trust and rekindling our resolve.
I remembered the first time I prayed “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Of course, my need was small compared with Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane. Nonetheless, it seemed significant. I was in college, and my boyfriend had just broken up with me. I was heartbroken and drowning in self-pity. Finally, I decided to pray. Jesus’ words from the garden came to me, but I pushed them aside. Instead, I prayed, “God, if You’re Love and if You’re here, You’ll bring him back.” Now, is that human will, or what! That prayer didn’t sound right to me, but although “Not my will, but thine, be done” kept coming to me, I continued to resist. Needless to say, my trying to orchestrate God in the name of prayer wasn’t working. I felt neither peace nor comfort.
I realized that God’s will had to be all good, only good. I stayed with that idea, and my trust in God got stronger.
Finally, I thought, Who would know better than my loving Father-Mother God what’s best for me? Suddenly, memories of God’s care of me in other difficult times came flooding in. That’s when, for the first time, I began to pray—and mean it—“Not my will, but thine, be done.” What impelled me to do this was the one thing I was certain of regarding God—that He is Love. Knowing this, I realized that God’s will had to be all good, only good. I stayed with that idea, and my trust in God got stronger.
No, that boyfriend didn’t come back. But my joy returned. God’s grace—His love in action—was near, dear, and clear. By graduation, my best guy friend and I had fallen in love, and not long after college we married.
That experience taught me the importance of that “Not my will, but thine, be done” element of prayer. It’s impelled by God’s grace. It’s what gave me more willingness to want and trust His disposal of events, and it silenced human will. I learned that prayer is not about trying to get God to make something happen. It’s listening for His voice, not demanding that He hear ours. It’s trusting His constant care of all His children. It’s His grace that turns us wholeheartedly to Him, communicates His love, inspires our obedience, and demonstrates His attentive, intelligent control.
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible defines grace as “the divine influence on the heart, and its reflection in the life.” It was God’s all-encompassing and almighty love that impelled Jesus’ willingness to yield that last tinge of human yearning, an action that empowered him to fulfill his mission with victory. God’s great love warmed my heart, too, to want His will (not mine) and strengthened my trust in it. Many times since that college experience I’ve prayed to let God’s will be done, and in each instance it has strengthened me. I know it will continue to do so.