The keen awareness that his time was short spread like pale light filling the dome of Jesus’ conscious mind. No decisions remained; everything was in order, and nothing was catching him by surprise. He was prepared. He understood what God was working for.
I go to the record of Jesus’ last private hours, when he knew the storm was about to hit, finding it never more important than to sit quietly and learn from him there.
Jesus called himself the son of man, choosing that identity because he loved being one of us. But as he prepared for death, he drew strength by turning his thoughts to the immortal glory he had with his Father before time began. He spoke from a perspective that we never can, but I see this . . . As the power of darkness was mounting against him, his focus was not on his personal survival or even the survival of those closest to him — he focused on what God was working for. That vision held him fast, becoming an ark of surreal calm holding him high above the flood.
What is God working for?
In a trying time, no matter how out of control things seem, the golden thread of God’s purpose is flowing like a river through our circumstances. In every situation, God is working to bring about something. Focus on this, stabilizing yourself, and you will find yourself being lifted above the power of the storm.
With each altercation, each disappointment, we can practice asking, “What is God working for?” This is not a psychological technique, but a spiritual practice, a prayer. The moment my focus shifts from defending myself, I find the stillness, the clarity of poise where I can think, hear, see and be led . . . the divine dialogue unfolds in the space I’ve provided . . . showing me what God wants from me, so that I can become a part of what He is doing.
Yes, Jesus walked as the incarnation of God in human flesh, bringing the knowledge of God, and that perspective of reality, time and eternity with him to earth. Yes, he was able to remember his glory from time immemorial, able to see into the future and into souls with x-ray vision from which no thought could hide. But equally true, he was a mortal, like us — limiting himself, so that he had to function within the same constraints.
I am persuaded that one of the reasons Western Christians remain spiritually soft and a pretty much powerless force in this world is that we have been recruited, but we remain untrained. Our Captain leads by example, but we fail to follow, making the lame excuse, “Yes, he did that, but he was God.”
We refuse to believe him, as Jesus tells us that he had no more power to do what he did than we. The difference between us is that he was always looking for what God was working for. Focusing on that kept him in divine dialogue with The Father, so that he could see what God was doing, and carry out his part in what God was working for.
Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. (John 5:19)
I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge . . . because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (John 5:30)
For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. (John 5:20-21)
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. (John 14:12-13)
I have a vision of what God is working for:
- those who will be sons as Jesus was a son
- those who will straighten their backs and take their place in the ranks of warriors lining up to serve under him
- those who recognize the hardship of their lives as their training and welcome it, running their hills without complaint;
- those who see in their commander a working example of what they are meant-to-be;
- those who believe that the impossible is possible with God in a fully mortal man.
Soft, sloppy, and inept? Or hardened, trained and powerful? You decide. The transforming moment distinguishing the two is when we stop making excuses and commit to the process of becoming what God is working for.
the purpose of the divine dialogue
The divine dialogue coaches us. The divine dialogue coaching Jesus forward is never more evident than in his last hours as he zeroes in on what God is working for . . . as he chooses the final things he will say to his disciples . . . as he prays, demonstrating his internal connection with God as a mortal man, sweating blood, asking friends to stay awake and watch with him, as he digs into his reliance on God for the clarity, input and strength he needs . . . knowing that everything depends on him completing his mission.
We see this divine dialogue at the last supper. As Jesus breaks bread with his friends, scripture washes over him, “He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me;” and he recognizes prophecy fulfilling itself in that moment. Jesus became “troubled in his spirit,” relating to his disciples that one of them is going to betray him. The warrior was not unfeeling or emotionally detached from the events that were unfolding. He did not repress what “troubled” him by “spiritualizing it away.” Jesus ached over what was to befall those he loved, wailing — we are told — as he beheld Jerusalem knowing her coming destruction. Even though “it was written” . . . even though everything was taking place just as it had been prophesied in Scripture . . . Jesus was troubled in his spirit as the reality of its coming swept over those he loved.
In light of this, we need not be thrown should the unimaginable sweep over us. Destruction and heartbreak do not mean that His love and care for us are a lie, but that God is working for something infinitely more important than protecting us from what must come to pass.
We see the divine dialogue speaking through Jesus, as he tells his friends that they will all fail him in his hour of greatest need. He warns them — not to make them feel badly and not to make them fall prey to helplessness, but to condition them for recovery.
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31-33)
Peter, one of the first in the line of warrior recruits, came to his first engagement and fell apart. A servant girl seeing him in the firelight identified him as one of Jesus’ followers, and three times he denied he even knew the man. Jesus had warned Peter before it happened, telling him that he would deny him 3 times, before the cock crowed . But failure isn’t final. We can’t afford to let failure paralyze us, taking us out of action. Our brothers need us, and we need to focus on what God is working for, to get our act together.
In that last hour with his own, Jesus tells them he is going to be taken, scourged, and put to death. He exposes them to sorrow, but when the unthinkable takes place, there is a measure of preparation — he had told them it would happen. This gave them strength to endure, and they did not fall apart.
Being taught, being led, being forewarned, being held up when you think you cannot stand, being comforted by a perfectly worded message to meet your specific need in a given moment of time, being shown what God is working for — this is what the divine dialogue makes possible. This is what was taking place in Jesus’ last hours, before the storm hit: between him and God, and between him and his disciples.
The purpose of the divine dialogue
is to enable us to lay hold of God, so that He can lay hold of us
Knowing the end was near
Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. (John 13:1)
As we sense a chapter closing, nothing is more important than to tie up loose ends with those we love, loving them to the end. It helps to prepare them, as well as ourselves for what is to come. Jesus’ last moments alone with his disciples were not maudlin, but moving, with lasting memories rich in symbolism — broken bread, poured out wine, disrobing himself to kneel before them to wash their feet.
He established a mood — not of panic, but of love. He set their course — not with a call to arms but with a call to servanthood. He intentionally spent that last sweet hour with those he loved, not bracing himself for what was to come, but serving with undeterred commitment to strengthen these raw recruits who were not yet ready, still needing to be taught what they needed to know. He spent that last hour loving those who would be taking their position on the front line when he was gone — knowing they needed to be strengthened by his love, teaching and example.
As the hour of the power of darkness bore down on him, Jesus faced his enemies with mastery, not malice. With his own hand, he dipped a piece of bread and gave it to Judas: a last intimate gesture toward the one he knew was his betrayer. It was not a final appeal to Judas to change his mind, but a demonstration of his undeterred love for even his enemies. Jesus was showing us how to conquer our fear of what our enemy can do to us
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. (Matt 5:44-45)
But I say to you . . . love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other . . . whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. (Luke 6:27-30)
When missionary Jim Elliot went to the fierce, unreached tribe of the Auca, in Ecuador, he was speared to death. His wife, Elisabeth, learned the Auca language and went to live with that same tribe two years later, to bring them the gospel her husband had died for. She took her 3-year-old daughter with her, mastering her fear of her enemy — by loving something more than what she had lost, by loving something more than what she stood to lose — by loving what God was working for among the Auca.
In her own private dialogue with God, Elisabeth determined that God was working for something among the Auca by bringing them the widow of the man they had slain. By learning their language, by forgiving them, by going to them to bring them Jesus, she was loving her enemies, blessing those who had cursed her, giving them yet another opportunity to strike her, acknowledging that they had taken her husband’s life, she did not withhold her daughter’s or her own.
Elisabeth took her stand among the rank of those warriors, sons of the Father in heaven, against whom the power of the enemy cannot prevail — by following the example of her Captain — she focused, in the storm of her grief and loss, on what God was working for.
When the temple guards came for Jesus that night in Gethsemane, Peter was ill equipped and not yet trained in mastering his fear of what his enemies might do. So he pulled out a sword, taking a swipe at a man, cutting off his ear. Jesus took the ear and placed it back where it belonged, healing his enemy, even as they took him away.
Peter was fighting for survival;
Jesus was fighting for what God was working for.
What comes across strongly in his last hours is that Jesus was the master and not the victim of the situation, even though the power of darkness hurled everything in its arsenal against him, to pull him down.
- Those he had spent the most time with, teaching and preparing them to take over when he left were clueless, timid, confused, ran away and denied him.
- Those who had welcomed him with glad shouts of Hosanna just days before, demanded his death, when he offended their Messianic expectation.
- When he came to his own, they did not receive him.
- His sheep were left without a shepherd, because their leaders were corrupt.
- And even as they nailed him to the cross, even though it was written, no one understood what God was working for
But Jesus refused to be hooked or baited by any of this. He never took his eyes off of what God was working for — bringing every gesture, every word, every thought into captivity to that.
We need to bring this home. Thoughtful people are frustrated, overwhelmed by spending and government out of control. Policy left and right, national and international appears to be setting us up for failure. Victims are suspect, while criminals garner sympathy. Government programs are bloated with outrageous budgets, hiring unqualified personnel with salaries never found in the private sector — where profit and loss have meaning. We feel betrayed by those we vote into office. Hungry for facts, we turn to the news only to find spin and incivility as networks promote their worldview. Politicians blatantly lie as if truth has no meaning.
Are we going to be hooked and baited by these things, anger thinly masking our fear, or are we going to shift our focus to what God is working for — and join Him in that ?
When the storm comes, focusing on what God is working for lifts us above the power of the raging waves. Even more, it attunes us to the divine dialogue, drawing us into collaboration with what God is working for.
As Judas walked into the night to betray him, Jesus chose that moment, before the cross, before the resurrection, before his ascension, to cry out:
Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, (John 13:31-32)
Why did he say this then?
In studying Jesus’ last hours, I realized this was his warrior’s cry, declaring his victory as the engagement began in earnest.
Now is the Son of Man glorified: in that moment his spirit was so fully surrendered and on board with what God was working for, that the glory of God emblazed the son.
Jesus’ scourging and cross were not his humiliation, but his glorification of God. As he endured, obedient unto death, he was securing redemption into human history — and it was magnificent for eyes that could see the glory of God sweeping across the black gulf home, completing its journey from God and back to him, through Jesus, achieving God’s purpose, fulfilling His plan.
Glory needs our obedience to what God is working for, if it is to shine through us.
I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do. (John 17:4)
The glory of God shot a burning path against the backdrop of darkness — in Jesus’ obedience, in Elisabeth Elliot’s obedience, in the obedience of each of his elite who love what He is working for more than their own lives.
My daddy became a Christian late in life. He did not often recognize the divine dialogue speaking in him and unfolding before him. Daddy was one of the most principled men I have ever known, but he was deeply wounded as a child, and he remained defensive and quick to take offense all his life. So many times, even though he loved Jesus, Daddy did not recognize a difficult moment as the training exercise his Captain was trying to lead him through. In the thick of things, he rarely stopped to ask, “What is God working for here?” It broke my heart that I did not see glory breaking through my daddy’s life. . . but this changed when he learned that his end was near.
When the doctor told him that he had only months to live, the impending storm broke. After that, Daddy made no more excuses. He understood that this was the assignment being given to him, and he determined to be a good soldier as he walked it out. Daddy never once complained. He never once felt sorry for himself. He didn’t allow himself to grow dark and morose, as he had been prone to. He didn’t rail at the humiliations, that came near the end. He never slipped into the victim mindset, refusing to be baited by what had so often trapped him before, because he understood what God was working for.
I saw glory in my daddy, more in his dying than in his living; but it was so magnificent . . . so precious when it shone . . . that it didn’t matter it came late.