Friday, June 12, 2009

The Most Dangerous and Necessary Prayer

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me." And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "So you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done." Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He came to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!"
~Matthew 26:36-46

Jesus has just left with His disciples from the Passover meal and was heading into the Garden of Gethesemane to pray. Luke informs us that this was a common place where He regularly communed with God in prayer, as was His custom (Luke 22:39). Like many of us, He came to prayer with much anxiety weighing upon Him. Matthew records Him as saying that His soul was deeply grieved while Luke describes Him as being in agony. In fact, He was in so much agony that He was sweating blood (Luke 22:44)! The reason for this anxiety was the nearness He was to the cup God had prepared for Him to drink in the sinners place. In the Old Testament the prophets referred to the "cup of God's wrath" which He pours out in His anger. Rouse yourself! Rouse yourself! Arise, O Jerusalem, / You who have drunk from the LORD's hand the cup of His anger; / The chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs (Isaiah 51:17). Jesus knew the hour was at hand for Him to experience this cup.

We witness Jesus' emotions in His prayer. I cannot imagine what must have been going through His mind knowing what was ahead. For all eternity God the Son had experienced complete fellowship with God the Father and was about to be crushed by the Father's good pleasure (Isaiah 53:10) and be separated from Him due to the bearing of man's sins. On the cross, when the sky became black and Jesus cried out, My God, my God, why have your forsaken me? He was experiencing the separation from God that all mankind was due to experience for all eternity (and which those who refuse to repent and trust Christ may still experience). Though only for a moment, compared to an eternity with God, the pain must have been wrenching. Although led by the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2), Jesus still had to deal with these emotions.

The first part of Jesus' prayer is a plea. Much like Paul who would later ask Jesus to take away his "thorn," Jesus asks if possible, if God could take away the cup of suffering awaiting Him. This is not an indication of a lack of trust in God but a struggle with the intense pain which had never been experienced before. It is similar to a man or woman who is nearing the operating room and dreading the pain that the procedure will cause, though they know that the pain is necessary to settle their affliction. Only, Jesus' pain could not compare to the pain of any medical procedure ever experienced on earth!

The next part of Jesus' prayer is key. Though He made a plea for God to take away the cup, He surrenders to His sovereignty and gives Him full control of His life. It is not about what He desires in light of what is to come but what God desires to do. Again, knowing God's plan in the matter, He states that He will do what God will have Him. if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done. This is the picture of one who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). This prayer captures one of the points of the model prayer Jesus earlier taught His disciples: Your will be done, / On earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

This is both a dangerous and necessary prayer for us to mimic. It is dangerous because we give God full control and authority in our lives to do as He pleases for His purposes. This may result in suffering God chooses to bring upon us or in Him taking away something we hold dear. However, this is also a necessary prayer because God uses such things to weed out sin, strengthen our faith, and work to conform us into Christ's image. We normally experience our greatest amount of growth spiritually in those "valley" experiences instead of when we are in the "peaks" of life. We may not be asking for things we want, but things which are necessary to be holy.

I have recently read an interview with John Piper where Piper shares a prayer he prays which resembles the point, yet not as I will, but as You will:

When I get on my knees and think about my struggles with pride or fear or greed or complacency or lack of love, what I say to God is, "Lord" (this is a really dangerous prayer, I think), "whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to break me of pride, of the fear of man, of greed, of cancer . . . if it takes loss of family, ministry-do it. I want to be holy. I want to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Do whatever it takes."
*John Piper and Justin Taylor. Eds. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006) 224.

yet not as I will, but as You will
What about you? Have you prayed this prayer? Maybe you have said it but did you really mean it? Are you willing to submit to God and take whatever He gives you, knowing that it is ultimately for our good and His glory? I pray that we would all follow Jesus' example and humbly submit our wills to God's and give Him full control and authority to do what He pleases in order to bring us to where He wants us!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

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