Thursday, January 26, 2012

Matthew 26:36-46, An Example of Prayer

When I pray with other Christians, I often hear two extremes when making requests before God. The most common extreme is to ask God for anything and everything, not understanding how every circumstance works in God's sovereign will. They simply hope God gives and don't pause to see if God has a greater plan by withholding. Over enough time, this perspective can lead Christians to wonder if God is listening or cares about them. The opposite extreme comes from misunderstanding God's sovereignty. These Christians think that it's not worth asking for anything because God will supply it if it's in his will. An obedient Christian might reason that they don't want to wrongly request something that may be outside of God's plan. It's a fatalistic perspective that leads to despair when communing with God. I wrote a post a while back showing that God calls us to pray, and this prayer is a means of unfolding his purposes.

A study of Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane shows a healthy dynamic between praying for our desires yet submitting to God's Lordship:
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 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.” 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.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand”  [Matt 26:36-46].
The first thing to notice is that Jesus, the Son of God, very God of very God, requests that if it is possible, he would like to avoid the impending crucifixion. In this man's heart, there is a genuine desire to avoid death. He also acknowledges that God controls the situation when he submits "if it be possible." Jesus knows the Father can create or destroy any plan he desires, but Jesus also knows that salvation through the offering of his body is the predestined plan from before the foundations of the world. So Jesus confesses God's authority and lays his request at the feet of his Father.

The next statement subjects the prayer, the request, the desire completely to God's will. "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." God's will is the supremely important driver of the universe and all things must necessarily be subject to God's will. Jesus is placing himself in subjection, and his prayer works to align his will with God's will. In our lives, avoidance of this does not mean that our will supersedes God's, it simply means that we will struggle accepting God's will for our lives. Those who avoid this aspect of prayer will be frustrated Christians, or worse.

Finally, Jesus intercedes for himself three times. He repeats his request, in its proper place of subjection, to his Father through the night. But the prayer changes slightly the second time. As Jesus wrestles through the crucifixion, it sounds as though he more willingly accepts it the more he prays about it. As Jesus is our omniscient God, he clearly knows he must be and will be crucified shortly. But rather than pout, challenge God or disobey, he draws nearer to his Father. "Your will be done, my Father, your will be done." It's not a fatalistic acceptance of the cruel hand of God, but a loving trust knowing God's plan is for good.

Much more could be observed, especially in Jesus' interaction with his sleepy disciples. I adjure you to meditate on this Scripture and pray how God would have you grow in your prayer life. But know that it's okay to offer your true desires before your Father. Ask God to draw you to him and to make your will the same as his, and have faith that his sovereign plan, even for your life, is ultimately for good.

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