Theme: The importance of prayer.
This weeks lessons teach us from Jesus’ example how to pray.
Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 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.
The second lesson to be learned from this passage is the importance of prayer. Prayer is important at all times. Paul instructed the Thessalonians to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). He told the Ephesians to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18). But especially we must pray in times of great sorrow. Jesus did! He prayed at length and fervently, J. C. Ryle said that “prayer is the best practical remedy that we can use in time of trouble.”1 Should we suppose that we have a better cure for it than Jesus?
Remember Hezekiah. Hezekiah was one of the godly kings of Judah. He lived in a dangerous age. The kingdom of Assyria had been rising in power, and Shalmanesser, the king of Assyria, had marched against Samaria and destroyed it. His successor, Sennacherib, attacked Judah, captured many of its cities, and shut up Hezekiah and his people in Jerusalem. In a monument erected after the battle, now in the British museum, he boasted that he had confined Hezekiah in his walled city like a caged bird. Sennacherib sent a letter to the king demanding his surrender. In the midst of this great trouble, Hezekiah took the letter to the temple and “spread it out before the Lord” (2 Kings 19:14). Hezekiah took his trouble to God, and God answered through the prophet Isaiah, saying that before morning the enemy would be gone. That night an angel of the Lord struck down 185,000 of Sennacherib’s soldiers, and the king returned to Nineveh.
That is what you need to do when trouble assails you. Jesus brought his trouble to the Father and was heard. Luke says an angel came to “strengthen him” (Luke 22:43). God will also strengthen you.
The third lesson in these verses is actually a set of lessons, a manual that explains what it really means to pray. There are four things we should learn about prayer from this passage.
1. True prayer is prayer to God the Father. I do not mean by this that prayer cannot also be offered to Jesus, who is God the Son, or to the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity. Prayer to any member of the Trinity is prayer to God. I mean something different. I mean that true prayer is always prayer to God and that, in addition, it is prayer to the God Jesus said we can address as Father (Matthew 6:9).
One problem here is that probably not one prayer in a thousand is a true prayer to God. Prayer to any god other than the God of the Bible is not true prayer, because a god other than the God of the Bible is an imaginary being. It is no true god. Yet it is also the case that even among people who are Christians and who imagine themselves to be praying to the Bible’s God, the preponderance of prayers are probably not actually offered to God but are only a formality. They are not prayers by those who are conscious of actually being in God’s presence and of truly praying to him, and they are often merely for show! They are like the prayer of a fashionable Boston preacher some years ago whose Sunday morning prayer was described by a Boston newspaper as “the most eloquent prayer ever offered to a Boston audience.”
Reuben Torrey wrote a helpful book about prayer in which he advised, “We should never utter one syllable of prayer either in public or in private until we are definitely conscious that we have come into the presence of God and are actually praying to him.”2
The other problem is that we do not know God very well and therefore do not pray as we are privileged to pray and should pray. Jesus taught us to pray to God as children coming to our Father in heaven. He did it explicitly in the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9). He does so here by his example.
To call God “Father” was a striking, almost blasphemous thing in Jesus’ day, when the Jews of the time would not even pronounce God’s name (Yahweh or Jehovah, avoiding it out of misplaced reverence. They referred to God as “Adonai” (Lord) instead. By contrast, Jesus always referred to God as his Father. In fact, he used the endearing term “Abba,” which some would translate daddy. This was so novel that the disciples remembered it and preserved it in their accounts of Jesus’ prayers. Mark does so in his account, writing that Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).
1 John Charles Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew, p. 363.
2 Reuben A. Torrey, The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power (Grand Rapids; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1955), p. 76.
To whom should prayer be made?
What did Reuben Torrey say we should be sure to do before we pray?
From the lesson, name some times and seasons for prayer.
Memorize 1 Thessalonians 5:16.
Read 2 Kings 19.