Theme: The importance of prayer.
This weeks lessons teach us from Jesus’ example how to pray.
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”
Yesterday we looked at the first of four important aspects of prayer. Today we will study two more.
2. Effective prayer is according to God’s will. That brings us to the second thing to be learned about prayer from this passage; effective prayer is prayer that deliberately submits to God’s will. Jesus was doing that. His immaculate soul shrank from bearing our sin and experiencing the painful alienation from the Father which was its punishment. He was not play acting when he said, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” The cross must have been a horror for him infinitely beyond anything you or I can ever imagine. Nevertheless, he prayed, not as I will, but as you will.”
What does it mean to pray according to God’s will? It means at least two things. First, it means putting God and his interests first in our lives. That is why the petition that the will of God might be done comes where it does in the Lord’s prayer. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Our concern should be for God’s kingdom and God’s glory rather than our own. If it is, many of the things that trouble us will fade away and we will even willingly embrace things that are themselves undesirable, hard, or painful. Jesus accepted the cross and its horrors because he had learned by praying that it was the determined will of God.
Second, praying according to God’s will means praying according to what is in the Bible because that is where the will of God is made known to us. It is true that not everything we might want to know is in the Bible. The Bible does not tell us what job we should take, whom we should marry, or where we should live. It gives us principles. But these are often quite specific, and if we are serious about following what is disclosed in the Bible, we will find answers to most of what disturbs or puzzles us.
Are we to suppose that Jesus ignored Scripture during these moments of prayer in the garden? Hardly. His mind was always filled with Scripture, and he would have been thinking through the biblical passages that describe the Messiah’s work as he wrestled before his Father with what was coming. We have evidence that he was thinking of Scripture here, because a few moments later, when Peter had tried to protect him by striking out at a member of the party that had come to arrest him, Jesus told Peter to put his sword away, saying, “But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way” (Matthew 26:54).
3. We must be persistent in some prayers. The third thing we learn about prayer from this passage is that we can be persistent in our prayers. Some people have argued that we only need to offer a specific prayer once on the grounds that God has heard us, will do what is best, and does not need to be badgered into doing what we want. But even recognizing that we sometimes do pray wrongly, we can hardly miss the fact that Jesus prayed for the same thing over and over again in this passage.
So did the Apostle Paul. He told the Corinthians that he had prayed three times that his “thorn in the flesh” might be removed. It was not, but he testified that God gave him grace to bear it (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
That leads to something very important. Persisting in prayer did not get God to change his mind, but it did change Paul’s mind so that he saw his weakness differently and was able to praise God for it. He learned that God’s power was made perfect in his weakness (v. 9). Was that not also true of Jesus’ prayer in the garden? We must be careful that we do not read too much into these accounts, but we can notice a significant progression in Jesus’ three requests. In his first prayer, Jesus asked that the cup might be avoided (“may this cup be taken from me” v. 39). In the second prayer, he seems to have recognized that the cup could not be avoided and adds this negative: “if (or since) it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it” (v.42). Matthew does not give the wording of the third petition, but we can suppose it to have been something like this: “Since the cross is your will and since it cannot be avoided, I ask for strength to bear it for your glory.” I suggest that Jesus prayed along these lines because of Luke’s account, Luke says that “an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22:43).
How long did this take? We can read these verses in a few seconds, but we have a clue that it took a great deal longer in something Jesus said to the disciples after he had returned the first time. Jesus asked, “Could you not keep watch with me for one hour” (v. 40), Bible references to time are imprecise, of course. No one had watches. But Jesus’ question suggests that he prayed for something like an hour and that he probably did so also between his second and third petitions.
This adds up to several hours of the most intense prayer. We suppose that we can get by with a few short minutes.
According to Dr. Boice, what makes prayer effective?
What does it mean to pray according to God’s will? Dr. Boice names two things.
What is the way to find answers to the things that trouble us, even when Scripture gives no specific detail on the trouble?
What happens to us when we pray persistently about something?
Have you persisted in prayer about something dear to your heart? If so, ponder how your thoughts have changed since you began. If you have not persisted, perhaps your heart wasn’t really as involved as you initially thought.