Summary: When Jesus was preparing for the greatest ordeal any human would ever face--the one who had never sinned to be cut off from his Heavenly Father--he went to God in great desperation. We can and should do the same when we face the inevitable trials of life.
Praying in Great Distress
Jesus is our example in all things, and today he shows us how to take our anxious thoughts to God. I heard about a guy who was anxious in his driving. He was cutting off people, weaving in and out of traffic. Then he got inpatient at a yellow light, as the cautious driver in front of him slowed to a stop, so he laid on the horn and shouted some obscenities. Well, a cop pulled him over, checked his ID and registration, and actually took the guy in, had him searched, finger printed, and put in a holding cell! A couple of hours later, another officer approached the cell, opened the door, and escorted the man back to the booking desk, where the arresting officer was waiting with his personal effects. The officer said very politely, “I’m sorry but I was very confused. I pulled up behind you when you were honking and yelling and flipping off the driver in front of you. I happened to notice on your bumper a “What would Jesus do?” sticker and a chrome Christian fish symbol. Naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car!”
That driver certainly could have used some prayer time! The larger the challenge before us, the more we need to pray. Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary General of the United Nations, said he always got up an hour early to pray, and then he added, “But when I’m extra busy, I get up two hours early!”
In today’s scripture, set on Thursday evening of that first Holy Week, Jesus was about to endure the worst ordeal any human has ever been through: to be cut off from his heavenly Father, even though he had never sinned. So, after the Passover meal, he retreated into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. This was not a quick, “Help me, God!” prayer, although that’s a fine prayer, too. This was an intense prayer, a desperate prayer. Jesus needed God more than ever. He took with him his inner circle of disciples—Peter, James, and John—and asked them to pray for him as well. This is where we catch our first lesson:
1. We need others to support us in prayer. If Jesus needed support, you and I need support. It’s okay to let people know you need prayer. I know, sometimes we feel selfish bringing up our own needs. And sometimes we fear gossip, too many people knowing our business. But the bottom line is: God designed us for community. There are 50 “one another” expressions in the New Testament, and one of them is to “pray for one another.” James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.”
Prayer really is a mystery. We don’t fully understand why God chooses to work through our prayers, but he does, and he certainly works through the prayers of others on our behalf. I think about the fellow who couldn’t walk, so his friends tried to bring him to Jesus for healing. But the crowds were too intense around the house where Jesus was teaching, so these fellows lowered their friend down on a gurney through the roof! Embarrassing friends to have, huh? But note what happened. Luke 5:20 says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” And he healed the fellow, who got up and walked. Jesus didn’t heal on account of the lame man’s faith; he healed him because of the faith of his friends who were interceding for him. I want friends like that! What about you?
If we need others to support us in prayer, then we should return the favor. We should look for opportunities to pray for others. For instance, if someone mentions a prayer request, what if you asked, “Would it be okay to pray with you right now?” And then pray a simple prayer for that need. I try to do this, because if I wait, I might forget about it. And isn’t it powerful to pray with the person instead of saying, “Sure, I’ll pray for that,” and just walking away?
Here Jesus needed his closest three disciples to stay near him and uplift him in prayer. Unfortunately, they let him down. Guess what? Sometimes people will let you down. But if you want to be like Jesus, don’t completely count them out of your life. Maybe give them a second chance. We need people to uplift us in prayer. And secondly,
2. We need to bring our anxious thoughts to God. God wants to hear from us. Don’t buy into Satan’s lies that God is too busy for you, or that it’s selfish to pray for yourself. God is our perfect Heavenly Father, and he wants to hear from all his children as any good earthly parent would.