When times are tough, pray!
“And when they had sung a hymn…” It’s not the purpose of worship, but it does calm the soul. As Jesus and the disciples head out to the Mount of Olives, there’s a calmness to Jesus even as He predicts all his disciples will fall away at his arrest. As usual Peter is full of bluster and false self confidence. ‘Not me!’… ‘Oh yes, you!’ Not just once, but three times. And so it will be, as we will find out tomorrow.
As they reach Gethsemane, we see Jesus at his praying best and the disciples at their sleeping, near worst. As an aside, I also find prayer a great way of calming down towards sleep at night – dropping off in God’s presence claiming Psalm 4:8 along the way. But my best prayers are done in daylight, when I’m less likely to have heavy eyes (v.43) and drop off (v.40).
There are four things we can learn about prayer in today’s passage.
- Prayer is vital. When times are tough and you are about to face the intolerable – pray. Pray in the good times, Paul says pray continually. Pray, pray, pray. Nehemiah spent three days praying and fasting before going in to see King Artaxerxes and just before he spoke, he sent up an arrow prayer. Jesus had a great habit of rising to pray and here for over three hours(!) He’s sending up arrow prayers. The point is this – if you only send up arrow prayers when in trouble, you are in trouble. Prayer is vital, make it a habit, so there is intimacy, faith and an ease with your Lord. Then send up the arrow prayers too when needed.
- Repeated prayer is not babbling like the pagans (Matthew 6:7). Jesus prayed the same request three times, showing He meant business with His Father on the issue. Keep praying until you get an answer – Yes, No or Wait. Jesus was asking if there was any way that the cup could be removed for Him. If there was any other way. The cup as we saw a few days ago is the cup of God’s wrath, where all of God’s righteous holy wrath at sin is about to be poured on the sinless Saviour on the cross. The Father sent the Son, but the Son knew what He was doing, asked for another way and, on knowing ‘No’ there isn’t another way, for the joy set before Him endured the cross. That’s a long sentence! The Father sent the Son, and the Son was utterly willing to come for us, to die in our place. This is why the idea that substitutionary atonement is tantamount to cosmic child abuse is utter nonsense and pretty offensive. Jesus settled himself in His Father’s presence to drink the cup for us.
- Mystery of unanswered prayer – Heaven was silent – ‘No’ was the answer. It’s tough when prayer isn’t answered the way we would like – as mentioned above. God hears our prayers and the answer is usually Yes, No or Wait. There’s a mystery to it, but we are not God and don’t know all the background to what we are praying for, or God’s amazing plan either.
- Won’t you tarry with me an hour? Twenty years ago I read Larry Lea’s “The joy of prayer” (available second hand on Amazon) and found it breathtaking. Won’t you put down the phone, stop checking social media and tarry an hour a day. I was appalled to be sitting in a waiting room the other day where two delightful kids were playing and their parents ignored them while playing on their phones and when they did engage with them it was just to say “Be quiet”. Our phones seemed to be glued to our hands leaving us no time for the important things – I appreciate the irony that you may be reading this on your phone! Let’s put down distractions and tarry with the Lord an hour a day. You may ask how can I do that? I’d run out of things to pray! Larry Lea argues that the Lord’s prayer is a typical Rabbinical teaching. Not a rote prayer to recite in 30 secs, but a series of headings. Why not allow the Spirit to lead you through the headings as you pray each day – you’ll soon grow to an hour a day!
- Our Father in heaven – taking time to worship and adore intimacy with your Father, who is also Almighty God
- Hallowed be your name – praying over the names of God
- Your kingdom come – praying for yourself, your family, the church…
- Give us this day – laying out needs before the Lord
- Forgives us our sins – is there any offensive way in me Lord?
- As we forgive others – any relationship difficulties Lord? Help me
- Lead us not into temptation – pray for protection, put on the armour of God…
- For Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory – finishing off with adoration