In a world where strife, sorrow, heartache, and need can be found in every corner of society, either hiding in the shadows at the fringes or walking freely in the streets, where can we turn when we’re dismissed? Where can we take our struggles? It’s simple to say, “lay them before God,” but what do we do when there is no reprieve granted? These are difficult and common questions which we all ask at some points, and the answer can be found in Christ.
There are two places we should look when we need answers about prayer: the Lord’s Prayer, in which Jesus commands us to “pray like this,” and the recounting of Jesus in the garden. One is Christ telling us how to pray, stating in clear terms what is important, and the other is Him showing us in practice. How significant for God in the flesh to be praying!
In the Lord’s Prayer, we find several important concepts; acknowledgement of God’s power, humility before God’s will, requests for the material (bread) and immaterial (forgiveness) gifts, and an appeal that we be changed to walk more closely with God. But with all the content, all the guidelines and attitudes present here, we often lose the beginning in the body of the prayer and forget that everything we ask for, everything we commit to do, is in the light of it being God’s will. “Your will be done.”
Now, for the really overlooked prayer. The same Jesus who told us how to pray went on to step away from his disciples and put into practice what He’d said, to pray with the same attitude and mentality that he’d described earlier. Christ, the incarnate God, asked that the cup of suffering would be taken from him. He asked to be spared, to be comforted, to be protected, but only if it was God’s will.
Consider that for a minute.
Christ prayed in the garden three times, and each time is another step along a journey. This perfect and righteous man knelt before God the Father and asked that the cup may pass from him, but each time he was moved more toward peace. What began as a stark request became softened, and at last he welcomed the will of God openly, comforted even though his fate had not changed. Why was he comforted if his request was not granted? He was still staring down death!
Look at the matter this way: God has a definite will for all Creation; God wants it to be reconciled with Him entirely. We don’t always agree with that, and we are inclined to flee from that will to spare ourselves discomfort or to embrace material pleasures. But when we pray as Christ did, that God’s will may be done instead of our own, we are allowing our inclination to be moved away from our own fallen desires and into alignment with the pure and perfect desires of God, and as our desires shift, we are more able to take comfort in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in because God is always present. If we offer that true prayer, that God’s will be done, it will be granted.
I’ll end with a quote from a sermon given by Friedrich Schleiermacher:
Those who boast that they can persist in prayer, that they do not grow weary in beseeching God to bring about this or that, are still very far from the spirit of true godly fear. It is told us of Christ several times that He retired into solitude, and spent whole nights in prayer. But it was not the fear of anything that might occur, not interest in any event, that drew Him to prayer; but the need of His heart to give Himself up to devout meditation, and to the undisturbed enjoyment of communion with His Father, without a definite wish or a special request. Whereas, when we find Jesus entreating, it is in exceptional and therefore only in rare instances. It needed, indeed, an occasion of strong emotion, such as is not likely to occur very frequently in our lives, to call forth in His holy soul so much that must tend to our comfort in the subject before us. Are you overtaken by such an occasion? Then entreat, until true prayer makes you forget entreaty.