Bible Study, God, Jesus & the Holy Spirit

Agony Of Spirit

Ruth O'Reilly-Smith

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He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.

Luke 22:44

I walked up to the airport check-in gate with my two young children in tow. We were travelling back to England from South Africa where we’d lived for more than four years. My husband was already in London and had started a new job, while I’d stayed back to allow our children to complete their school year and tie up any loose ends. I’d quit my job, given notice to the school, let the rented accommodation go and sold our car at the airport and now as the attendant looked carefully through our passports my mind wandered to the new adventure that lay ahead. As she came to my passport, she looked troubled. My heart began to race. I’d been living and working in England on a permanent residence visa and was used to the ease of travelling in and out of the country. The woman glanced at my eight-year-old twins and asked when I’d last entered the UK?

I’d travelled back for work a couple of times, but probably not for at least three years.

My world slowed as I realised everything was about to change. I’d never looked into the restrictions of my visa and the ramifications of my foolishness now hit me full force. Too much time had lapsed since my last entry to the UK, and we would not be flying to London tonight.

The devastating impact of my oversight played out over many months, and we still bear the scars of that traumatic day years later. I can’t begin to describe the crushing shame I felt every time I looked at the faces of my children or heard the brokenness in my husband’s voice as we remained apart for almost a year while I secured another visa. For months it felt like I was holding my breath. I was numb. The walking dead.

I wept. I poured out my heart in a language no human can comprehend and with agonising groans from a depth of sorrow only my Creator could fathom.

He carried me. He strengthened me. He sustained me. He made me new. From a place of utter brokenness, my God rebuilt my life.

I thought of that day recently as I read of the final moments of Jesus before his death. His prayers in the garden of Gethsemane were so impassioned, with deep sorrow and in “such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44).

I wonder if we give up too soon in our prayers. Perhaps I’ve yielded too quickly, without pressing in and earnestly seeking a greater depth of relationship with God. Don’t get me wrong, I do always want God’s will for my life, but I’m talking here about a kind of intimacy with God that leaves you changed. I think of people like Jacob who wrestled with God, Abraham who, out of humility and in reverence, sought to change God’s mind about destroying the city of Sodom, Moses who would not continue to the Promised Land unless God went with him and the two on the road to Emmaus who implored Jesus to join them for the night, rather than go on to the next town.

If the Son of God prayed three times from a place of deep agony for his heavenly Father to remove the need for him to endure the suffering of the cross, and then ultimately surrendered to his will, should we not too linger a little longer in some of our prayers before we casually default to an almost fatalistic surrender of whatever God’s will is.

Depth of relationship is really what God is after.

Prayer is the way we talk with God and those prayers come in lots of different forms. Sometimes they are thoughts or quick ‘arrow prayers’, shot up to heaven in a moment. Sometimes though, we have an opportunity to linger in our prayers. Let’s be free to wrestle with God. Let’s lean in with heart-felt cries to a heavenly Father who hears all our prayers, whether we use language that can be understood by another human or groans and sounds that can only be comprehended by our Maker. And after we’ve poured out our hearts and we are truly spent, let’s breathe out a beautiful surrender and rest knowing that we are deeply loved.

© 2022 by Ruth O’Reilly-Smith

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