Friday 16 November 2012


“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).   

Believers who care about cultivating a deeper inner life in Christ should have a “secret garden” experience.

I don’t mean they should take up gardening as a hobby in a secluded corner. Or tend their garden only at night.

No, I’m not encouraging them to be fans of the musical group, “Secret Garden” – though if they were to listen a few times, they probably would be hooked like me. Whenever I need to slow down the hectic pace in my life, I would listen to their unique brand of soft, relaxing music.

What “secret garden”, then, is this?

A “secret garden” reminds me of the struggles Jesus, the God-man, faced when He travailed in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His crucifixion at Calvary.

As God He knew what awaited Him. But as a man, he was fearful of the prospect of a slow, agonising death at the cross and, more so, being forsaken by God when all the sins of the world were heaped on Him. He wanted to know whether such suffering could be avoided.  Besides going to Calvary, did God have any other alternative plans for Him (Jesus)?

Nevertheless, Jesus was willing to set aside His own desires – if death was the only way by which sinful men can be forgiven of their sins and be reconciled to God. Once Jesus was convinced God would have it no other way, He would drink the cup of sorrow down to the dregs.

Jesus prayed that, if it were possible, the cross might pass from him: “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:36).

In a sense, it was a secret encounter: No human being knew about His travailing in prayer in the garden. Those disciples who were supposed to give Him moral support were fast asleep. Only God and the angels knew about the passion He was experiencing.

The essence of the “secret garden” experience is solitude – which was always part and parcel of Jesus’ life even in his busy schedule of preaching, healing and deliverance. 

The sea of humanity constantly thronged around Him with their needs and petitions. But He always made sure He had his personal retreat to connect with God the Father.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).

We all need to have a “secret garden” experience, especially when we are at the crossroads in life. For example, should we stay on in the marketplace or go into ministry? Or when a significant relationship issue crops up: Is this person going to be my life partner and soul mate?

Jesus rebuked Peter because the latter was fast asleep: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). Peter did not keep Him company in prayer when He greatly needed support.  

And that brings us to the next point – our vulnerability. Even supposedly strong believers and leaders can fall. So a “secret garden” experience is essential.

If Jesus, who is divine, needs to set aside time to “recharge” and “reconnect” with God the Father, how much more we believers who are frail and weak.

It’s no coincidence then that Peter, who was spiritually weak through lack of prayer, did all the wrong things when Jesus was arrested: he was rash by cutting off the ear of a member of the party who came for Jesus; even worse, he denied his Lord three times.

Similarly, Paul issued a warning: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). We certainly need to wait on God to renew our strength (Isaiah 40:31).

Believers need to have a “secret garden” experience at least for two important reasons:

  •         When it’s crucial for them to know God’s will at the crossroads of life.
  •      Whenever they need spiritual refreshment and rejuvenation.

But building a strong “inner man” takes time, effort and plenty of patience – the same qualities a gardener would need if he really wants to create a masterpiece which all can appreciate.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

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