There is a popular teaching in our country that says if you trust God everything will be fine. If you really have faith in God, you’ll be a winner not a loser, rich not poor, healthy not sick and happy not sad. We know however that Christians are not always winners or healthy or rich. Jesus himself was poor, he died young and at times Jesus was deeply troubled and sorrowful.
The Bible definitely does not say that as Christians we will never have enormous challenges, or big disappointments, or even overwhelming sorrows. Jesus experienced extremely difficult times. Mark records in his gospel (chapter 14) Jesus’ visit to Gethsemane and writes that he was “deeply distressed and troubled” (v33) and that his soul was overwhelmed even to the point of death (v34).
Have you ever felt like that? I’m sure you have. The doctor says, “You have cancer”. Your best friend says, “Your spouse is having an affair”. The paediatrician says, “Your child has a problem”. The nurse says, “You’ve miscarried”. Your brother calls to say, “Father has died”. You’re devastated.
In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus is also devastated. He is devastated not because he is going to die, but because in his death he will be experiencing the full and unmitigated wrath of God. We see this in v36 when Jesus prays, “Take this cup from me.” The cup in the Bible is a symbol of the wrath of God against sin and rebellion. Every person has to drink of that cup unless someone is qualified to drink it for them. That person is Jesus. Here Jesus is looking at this cup filled with the penalty of all the sin and rebellion of all God’s people from all generations – and is devastated.
What does Jesus pray for?
According to v35, “(Jesus) prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him” and in v36, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.”
Sometimes we tend to be very spiritual in our prayers and so we pray these very lofty, elevated, grand prayers. We forget that Jesus said “when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Jesus, unlike most religious people, was honest in his prayers. He did not pray, “Oh thee, most exalted and omnipotent God. I thank thee that all things work for our good and thy glory. Helpest me according to thy great strength to rejoice in my sufferings and count them as joy.” No, he was honest and prayed, “Abba Father, you know the terrible task that lies ahead, I don’t know if I can make it. Is there any other way?”
When as Christians we are overwhelmed with sorrow, anxiety, grief, hurt and betrayal, the Bible does not say we should pretend to be happy and ignore the pain, be honest to God in prayer. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Christian prayer is for God’s will to be done
Jesus prayed in v36, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Most people, Christian or not, pray at some time or another. In fact, I’ve never known anyone who doesn’t pray. Even the staunchest non-Christian cries out to God when things get really bad, or they get really sick, or there’s a really difficult exam coming up. The difference between Christian prayer and non-Christian prayer is that in the latter you try and make God do what you want and in the former you submit to what God wants.
Christian prayer is honest and says “God this is the situation, or the illness, or the problem; this is what I would like you to do, BUT NOT MY WILL BUT YOURS BE DONE!” It says,”I’m devastated. I don’t think I can handle this. But I trust you. Your will be done.” It says, “God, I’m single and would like a boyfriend, but your will be done”. It says, “God, I’m married and would like to have children, but your will be done”. It says, “God, my marriage is in dire straits. Please help. But your will be done”.
At Gethsemane Jesus is filled with deep sorrow and asks God the Father if there is another way to secure the salvation of his people. God the Father replies that there in no other way.
Christian prayer is also persevering
v39 says, “Once more he went away and prayed the same thing” or more literally, “he went away and prayed using the same words.” Three times Jesus went back and prayed using the same words.
Jesus was not chanting a ritual, but coming before his Father with a serious request. It seems, according to v37, that he was gone for about an hour for his first prayer session! Jesus prayed long, he prayed about the same thing and he prayed until he was strengthened. Please note the change in Jesus’ temperament in v41-42, “Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Far from being distraught, despairing and overwhelmed, Jesus is now reassured and confident. We see prayer can not only change things, but it changes us. How many times does God place us in difficult situations so that our faith may be strengthened and by praying to him our characters are moulded, shaped and refined? Yet most times when we are in that tough situation – in which God has placed us for his glory and our good – we keep praying to God to get us out of the situation! After praying, Jesus knew that he would still be betrayed, abandoned, condemned and killed. Prayer certainly didn’t get Jesus out of the trial, but rather it got him through it.
I think this is why Jesus tells Peter what he does in v38, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation (or the time of trial). The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Peter, like us, would face many, many trials in his life, starting that very night. How would he get through them and make sure he didn’t fall? Jesus said: watch (be spiritually vigilant, deal with sin, maintain your spiritual disciplines) and pray (like Jesus is doing here). Peter didn’t watch and pray that night and fell in the time of trial.
The bottom line
Praying is not telling God what to do, but rather prayer is speaking honestly to God, presenting your prayers and petitions, and praying for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
What will you do? How will you pray? Will you submit your very life to God?