32And they came to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” 33He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he began to be filled with horror and deep distress. 34He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me.”
35He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.”
37Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. “Simon!” he said to Peter. “Are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay awake and watch with me even one hour? 38Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak.”
39Then Jesus left them again and prayed, repeating his pleadings. 40Again he returned to them and found them sleeping, for they just couldn’t keep their eyes open. And they didn’t know what to say.
41When he returned to them the third time, he said, “Still sleeping? Still resting?* Enough! The time has come. I, the Son of Man, am betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Up, let’s be going. See, my betrayer is here!” (Mark 14:32-42, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
A few years ago I was counseling with a student who was having major doubts about God. Not only was this young man from a strong Christian home, but he was a missionary kid, so his family’s commitment to church and to ministry was greater than most. Given his background and family, it was a bit surprising to hear that he was doubting whether God actually existed.
As I probed further, asking questions to determine the source of his doubt, I learned that the seeds were planted way back in high school when he was part of an overseas youth group.
The group was planning to take a missions trip to a neighboring country during a scheduled school break but the trip ended up being canceled due to civil unrest in the other country.
The leaders and the youth were all aware of the dangers and they knew the possibility existed that their trip would not be allowed by the government because of political tensions. So the whole group began praying, EARNESTLY, that God would allow the trip to happen. They prayed that He would work out the circumstances and arrange events so that their small group would be able to take their trip and complete their planned ministry events.
When the event didn’t happen, this student began to question whether God existed. It didn’t make sense to him why God would not allow the trip. After all, wasn’t God concerned about these people who did not know Him? Wouldn’t He WANT them to take the gospel to those who have never heard? We’ve been commanded to GO, and they were planning and preparing to follow God’s command, so it only made sense to them that God would miraculously orchestrate events to make it happen.
But He didn’t. So this student made the conclusion that because God didn’t act in a way that made sense to him, then perhaps God doesn’t exist.
Unfortunately, this line of reasoning is more common than we might think and it underscores a major misunderstanding of the purpose of prayer.
In Mark 14, after the Passover meal but before Jesus is arrested, He goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Jesus is in distress and His soul is in anguish as He thinks about what is about to transpire. Verse 35 says that,
“He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by.”
In the very next verse, Jesus tells the Father that He knows that “everything is possible with you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me.”
Jesus goes back to the disciples, only to find them sleeping. Verse 39 says that He went back and repeated His pleadings with the Father. Jesus repeats the cycle a 3rd time, each time finding the disciples sleeping before returning and praying and pleading with God the Father regarding His impending suffering.
Jesus is clearly troubled. He said, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.” Jesus clearly pleads for a way to avoid this suffering and He appeals to the Father’s ability to do the impossible. Jesus KNOWS that God can do anything, yet Jesus’ request, is not fulfilled. We know how the story ends and Jesus does not escape the suffering that was so distressing to Him.
So why didn’t the Father honor Jesus’ request? Why does Jesus not get saved from His suffering?
The key to this whole passage is in the words that follow Jesus’ request. Jesus does ask for the suffering to pass Him by, but He follows that up with the words “Yet I want your will, not mine.”
Jesus, in His humanity, was looking for a way to escape what He was about to endure. But in His divinity, He humbly submits to the will of the Father.
The point of prayer is not to get what we want. God is not a genie who is bound to grant our wishes and requests. The purpose of prayer then is for us to align ourselves with God’s will, just as Jesus demonstrates. Sometimes this is difficult because we may not be entirely sure what God’s will is in some situations. But this just provides us with a greater opportunity to trust God for the outcome.
My student friend thought he understood God. He determined that God should act in a certain way in a certain situation. He (and others) even prayed diligently that God would respond in the way that made sense to them. When He didn’t, instead of determining that God must have other plans, or God is bigger than we are and we cannot see and understand all the details as He can, this student made the determination that God must not exist.
I want to be clear that I think it’s ok to ask God to respond to our needs and our requests. There was nothing wrong with the students praying earnestly that God would arrange circumstances so that their trip would happen. The error, at least for my student friend, was in assuming that God was obligated to act in the way he desired. He is not. These students, or at least this one student, failed to understand that while God invites me to be honest and to share my needs and preferences with Him, He is not required to give me what I want. Instead, He invites each of us to trust Him and to align ourselves with His purposes and His plans.
When have you viewed prayer as an activity in which you try to convince God to give you what you want?
What do you think is the root reason why people approach prayer as if God is a genie who just emerged from a lamp, or as if He’s a gentlemanly Santa Claus, who desires to make us happy by giving us our most desired gift?
How does this passage where Jesus prays to the Father give you insight and instruction on how we should be approaching and thinking about prayer?
What are some other passages and Scriptures that inform your understanding of prayer and your understanding of the nature of God?