A Lesson from Gethsemane (Passion Week)
Several years ago I was observing a small herd of elk one evening just before dark. The wind was just right, blowing my scent away from them, and I had just enough cover between the herd and myself to creep within twenty yards or so. Eventually, just to see if I could do it, I crawled very slowly, out into the open and watched them. They never saw me.
One of the things that intrigued me most was the twitching of their ears. Ever vigilant, each time they heard a sound, their ears would prick up in order to hear it even better. Whether eating, drinking or taking a step, they were always diligent to listen for a potential threat - their lives depended on it. As I watched them, the pricking up of their ears reminded me of a word I had studied. I recalled that this was the literal meaning of one of the Hebrew words for “listening.” Qashab means “to prick up the ears like an animal coming to alertness.” This live picture, painted by the elk, was indeed worth a thousand words.
One of the places qashab is used is in Proverbs 4:20-22, a fairly well-known passage of scripture:
“My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them and health to their whole body.” (Italics mine)
My understanding of “giving attention to” the Lord’s words went to a whole new level as I watched the ever-vigilant ears of the elk. Always listen diligently for His voice, as though your life depends on it, is what came to mind. No matter what else you happen to be doing, remain tuned in to Him.
Spending time with God through prayer, worship, and quiet meditation tunes in the soul and awakens the heart, enabling us to hear Him. Life is loud - make it quiet down once in a while. Everything else will scream for your attention, but not the Lord. Holy Spirit refuses to shout above the clamor and dissonance created by other voices and activities. For those who have grown to love the pleasure of His company enough to make time for Him, however, the still small voice of Holy Spirit becomes easily discernible.
Life gets fast. Too fast. The Economist contributor Dan Montano writes:
“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle; when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”1
How true, and it’s true of us, as well. It should describe the business world, however, not your devotional life. Speed has its place, and at times is necessary. But when listening for Holy Spirit, listen slowly. He is patient but won’t be trivialized by casual glances and cursory conversation. Like any lover, He wants to be valued.
Turn aside and listen for His voice. This is one of the meanings of the word “incline” (natah) in Proverbs 4:20. Moses saw a bush on fire while not being consumed, and decided to “turn aside” and see it (Exodus 3:3). When he did, the Lord spoke to Him. If we’ll turn aside, He will speak to us, as well. But He won’t speak until we are captivated enough to turn aside.
This word natah literally means “to stretch toward, as in craning the neck in order to see or hear better.” The long-necked bird we call a crane provides the genesis for this colloquialism. “Stretch” your neck toward God in order to easily and clearly hear His sayings. Show Him worth; assign Him value; demonstrate interest in His words. If you do so, He will speak.
My friend Tom Schlueter, whom God has used tremendously to coordinate prayer for the state of Texas, talks of God challenging him to be a better listener.
“On one particular night in the Lord’s presence, my whole concept of prayer changed. I was reading the story of Jesus regarding the night he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. I have read this story many, many times.
“I was by myself around 2AM and had just finished reading the story again when the Lord spoke quietly and told me He wanted me to understand this story. I made the crucial mistake of telling Him I knew all about it. I had preached it, taught it, mentored it, and practiced it. As far as I was concerned there was nothing new to see in it. Wrong answer! He firmly told me to read it again and I did. Then He told me to read it again and again and again.
‘Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”
“He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’
“Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘What! Could you not watch with Me for one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’
“Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.’ And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.
“So, He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then He came to His disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.’” (Matthew 26:36-46 NKJV)
“As the story unfolds, Jesus enters the garden with the eleven disciples. He gives a simple command to simply sit while He goes further into the garden to pray. The command is simple. In Greek the word ‘sit’ has a profound meaning: ‘to sit.’ He then took Peter, James, and John further into the garden. The command He gives them is also simple. He invited them to ‘stay here and watch with me.’ The Greek word for watch is grēgoreō and it simply means ‘to watch’ or ‘to give strict attention to.’ When Jesus returns to them, He asked, ‘Could you not watch with me one hour?’ The key revelation the Lord was showing me that night after reading and meditating on this passage for over an hour was simple – He was not first asking them to pray for an hour. He had asked them to watch Him pray. Whoa! That’s a new twist on the passage. After that revelation, He then informed them that it was now time for them to watch and pray, so that they would not enter into temptation.
Tom continues, “The effect of this revelation on my personal prayer life, the prayer life of my congregation, and the prayer life of the Texas Apostolic Prayer Network was profound. As I further studied the gospels, I noticed one simple fact. Many times, the Lord had gone off to pray, but He had always done it alone. This was the one time He had invited three of His disciples to come into that personal place where He would be talking one on one with His Father. He literally wanted them to watch and listen to Him pray.
“And they fell asleep.
“Perhaps the Lord is still inviting us to watch and listen to Him. What a novel idea! I’m not trying to be mystical and I know we’ll never hear all that occurs in heaven, but as we are seeking direction for our personal lives, our businesses, the members of our family, or the direction of our state and nation, how profound it would be if we would first ask the Lord, ‘What are you saying, Lord? What is on your heart? What are Your strategies? What is my destiny, or the destiny of my state, or my nation?’
“How often do we pray prayers that flow solely from our personal desires, paradigms, ideas, or biases? Let’s turn our eyes and ears on Jesus and allow Him to direct, not only our steps, but also our prayers, especially as we pray for the United States of America.”
Our prayer times are not intended by God to be when we present Him with our daily wish list. He intends them to be when He and His partners collaborate about one another’s plans, hopes, and dreams - just like any good parent and his/her kids.
After all, that’s what Gethsemane and the Cross were all about - Dad connecting with His kids.
Pray with me:
Lord Jesus, teach us how to pray. And primarily teach us by allowing us to hear Your heart from Your throne in heaven. Please forgive us for our long lists of requests that may not even line up with Your purist desires for our lives. What are You saying, Lord, for our nation, my state, my life, family, and job? Help us to listen to You then we can come into agreement with You.
Give ears to hear, Lord, for as we listen, You will allow us to hear. I pray that for myself and for those listening to You today. We desire to hear You.
We decree that the Ekklesia will open their eyes, ears, and heart to hear the heart of Jesus. We will then decree what we have heard from heavenly places. And we will decree that which we have heard Him decree: American Shall Be Saved!
Portions of today’s post were contributed by Tom Schlueter and taken from his book Wielding the Axe. You can find out more about Tom here.
1 African folklore, as told by Dan Montano, “Lions or Gazelles?” The Economist, 1985, p37.