Troubled by Trouble

I wonder if you can hear this song in your head as you read these lyrics:

“Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble – trouble been doggin’ my soul since the day I was born. Worry, worry, worry, worry, worry – worry just will not seem to leave my mind alone.”

We are a people who are troubled by trouble. It interrupts, it inconveniences, it distracts and devastates. It comes in small, medium, large, and XL, but it never seems to fit. And it always seems to cost too much.

I’ve been reading the gospels as we head into this Advent season, and I’ve been struck afresh by the mentions of the fact that Jesus experienced trouble, and He too was troubled by trouble: In John 12:27, Jesus says of His impending crucifixion, “Now my soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’?” 

Not much later, He washes the disciples’ feet, and then speaks of the betrayal He knows is coming: “When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.'”

Matthew 26:37-38 records the words of Jesus as He spoke to His troubled disciples in Gethsemane: “And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.'”

Luke goes into even more detail: “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground” (22:44).

Hebrews 5:7 says that Jesus “… offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears…”

I think we can safely say that Jesus knew trouble. And He was honest about the trouble that His followers would encounter in this life. As many times as I have read the book of John, I was stunned by a verse that I had never stopped to ponder before. In John 16:2 Jesus tells the disciples: “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.”

That verse stopped me in my tracks. Jesus was telling the disciples that they would be killed. But the ironic thing is that in the previous verse, He had just said these words to them: “These things I have spoken to you, that you may be kept from stumbling.” The ESV says, “… to keep you from falling away.”

I don’t know about you, but being told that I’m going to be killed might make me stumble or fall away. A little earlier in this same conversation (14:1) Jesus had told the disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in Me.” There’s that word “troubled” again. It gets a little confusing. The Scriptures say that Jesus Himself was troubled, but He was telling His disciples not to be troubled.

John Piper explains it this way: “When something drops into your life that seems to threaten your well-being, remember this:  the first shock waves of the bomb in your heart, like the ones Jesus felt in Gethsemane, are not sin. The real danger is in yielding to them. Giving in. Putting up no spiritual fight. Jesus is telling the disciples: Counterattack! ‘Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in Me.’ He’s not saying that this first shock wave that can knock you over or pull the plug out of your life won’t be there. He’s saying, ‘Believe, take My peace, listen to what I’ve said, look at the Word of God. I will show you the path of life.'”

When the bomb fell into Jesus’ life, and the shock waves rolled menacingly over Him, He went to the One whose faithfulness had sustained Him in every other trial and challenge of His earthly life. As you know so well, He asked His Father to take the cup from Him. He knew the very real suffering and separation from His Father that awaited Him. He knew the unthinkable reality of bearing the weight of the sin of the world. And so He did what He had asked His disciples to do. He went to the throne of grace to find the only help that would carry Him to the cross. He walked resolutely forward, while His disciples (who had slept instead of prayed) fled and denied Him.

In all likelihood, those of you who are reading this are probably experiencing the shock waves of some S, M, L, or XL bomb in your life. Maybe it’s an unexpected diagnosis, a financial challenge, a broken relationship, the loss of someone you thought you’d never have to live without, a toxic workplace, a wayward child. The list is as long as the days which bring no relief.

When Jesus told the disciples that they would be killed, He wasn’t trying to frighten them. He was telling them the same thing that is said so many other times in Scripture: In this world, there will be tribulation. He didn’t want them to be surprised, unprepared, or undone by their trouble. He wanted them (and us) to experience His abundant grace and tender mercies. He wanted His people to experience Him.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “The world must be shown – shown the very guts of faith. Does our faith rest on having prayers answered as we think they should be answered, or does it rest on that mighty love that went down into death for us? We can’t really tell where it rests, can we, until we’re in real trouble.”

During this Advent season, I’ve been thanking God for our Sympathetic High Priest (Heb. 4:14-15) who bids us to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.”

This invitation to the throne is not uttered lightly – it comes from the heart of a Savior who entered this sin-broken world as a Babe. He was subject to the same troubles we face, but He never crumbled under the back-breaking weight of temptation and trial, and He never sinned in response to the pain and humiliation of His suffering.  And He is here now, alive in the hearts of His children, to be known, loved, and experienced, no longer as a Babe, but as a trustworthy Savior, a sovereign Lord and a mighty King.

May every heart prepare Him room!