As life continues at a rapid pace, I am finding that there is much more need for me to have personal private and public corporate times of prayer. Problems and issues, people and work, decisions and concerns all mount up and have a way of bringing me to my knees unlike ever before. Setting aside time for prayer is becoming a must in my survival during these times of unrest and unknowns.
I’m not unlike all the rest of the good-willed, God-loving Christians out there, whose best attempts for Christ-like prayer still finds them sleepy-eyed or snoring away, dreaming of God instead of talking to Him. Jesus was very familiar with this from His disciples as he roused them from sleep 3 times just before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42). In spending some time looking at Jesus’ final moments of prayer time before he was escorted away, I have seen a couple of very interesting things.
Gethsemane was no accident. The word “Gethsemane” means “vat of oil” or “oil press”. It was a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Jesus went to this place to have his final prayer session and he intentionally brought his disciples along. It was in this place that Jesus would come face to face with the reality that He would suffer terribly and ultimately die for the human race. Just like an olive is crushed to produce the oil, Jesus would literally be “crushed” for our transgressions.During this intense time of prayer, not only does Jesus sweat and become horrified and weary but something called “hematidrosis” happens. This rare but medically documented occurrence can be brought on by extreme stress and duress, of which to be sure Jesus was subject. Jesus had brought along friends, people He loved and who “loved” him and yet they fell asleep when He needed them most. He is in the midst of the greatest and most overwhelming reality in His earthly existence and He has no one to turn to but His heavenly Father; He has nowhere to run but to prayer! He ran to Gethsemane.
It is ironic to consider the meaning of Gethsemane knowing that Jesus came to a place where olives are crushed to find some help in prayer. His prayer was a look for confirmation from His Father. Jesus prayed during those three times the same thing: “If there is any other way, let this cup pass from me yet not my will but Your will be done.” It’s not that Jesus was unwilling to follow through with the plan…however with the reality of the separation from His Father due to taking on the sin of humanity through His death…well I’d like a little confirmation too!
We all want confirmation at times, don’t we? We hear God’s voice, we sense God’s leading and we still come to God in prayer. We are not really looking for a different answer but a different way to get the same results, right? During this intense prayer time, Jesus is confirmed on a couple of levels: 1) This was the only way it would work. There was only one way to secure the redemption of Man and that was through His death. 2) God confirmed that it was His will for Him to suffer and die. It would actually please God to do this in order to save humanity!
Often in my times of prayer I don’t like the idea that there is only one way. I don’t like the idea that someone or something must die. I don’t like the idea of God taking something that is painful to me and using it for good of others. I don’t want pain. I don’t want to suffer. What I am realizing is that prayer is a time for me to align myself with what God wants. To be sure God invites us to come to him in prayer and ask what we will…He even promises to give us what we ask, when we are seeking Him. Yet in this case, it was different. God confirmed His will and His way to His Son by not giving Him a different way. Jesus had to surrender complete control to His Father’s plan.
God’s “no” was the answer. Jesus came to His Father during this time to surrender complete control of His life, destiny, future to His Father. His willingness to do so, opened up salvation for all of humanity. The Gethsemane prayer session was not one where Jesus got his prayers answered differently than what He thought. He came to be confirmed in what He knew and thought to be the case. God’s response to His Son was a “no” to any other way. God’s response to His Son was a “yes” you are the man for the job, you are the one I’m proud to call Son…You are the One! God the Father was asking Jesus to believe that even when life was seemingly completely out of control, that it really wasn’t. The Father was affirming Jesus that when all Hell breaks loose that his Father was still in control.
I am finding that in my times of disbelief, struggle, and pain, that I often do wonder if God is in control. With life, the battles can become so intense sometimes that all I want to do is run to someone or something and medicate or escape for just a little while. These are all things we do to try and control our situations, our lives, and even other’s lives. Jesus is the consummate example of someone whose life is unraveling and yet He never loses faith, trust and belief in His Father. Even in the “no”, Jesus was a “go”. I take great comfort in knowing that I can trust God with the results and that even when the results look like death, they will spring forth into new life! Prayer is not about changing God’s mind or just trying to change my situations. Prayer is about being conformed to His image.
Prayer does change things but it primarily changes me. In the Garden, Jesus essentially dies. It takes the process of crucifixion for His body to catch up with His mind and His will. Prayer is no less than that for me. In prayer I come to God, seek His face, seek His will and desires, get His confirmation, surrender control and thus become conformed to the likeness of His Son. In prayer I die. In prayer I find real life. In prayer I become what God desires for me to be.
The disciples were unaware of what Jesus was going through because they slept instead of praying. They could not fathom the depth of his suffering nor embrace the cross He would bear because they did not join Him in these moments of intense prayer. If I am to become like Christ and be able to withstand the suffering of my own cross, the burdens that God lays on me, the humility of persecution, the isolation of misunderstanding, the peril of great price, I cannot do it apart from prayer. It is through prayer that I am conformed to His likeness and it is in dying to my will that God’s will is accomplished. It is through sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings that I become resurrected in His likeness. Philippians 3:10-11
With life’s battles engaging me, I am seeking to engage God more and more. Is this not the whole point of prayer after all…Engage God? While there may be pain for a season and some dreams may be crushed, the end result will be far beyond belief: God will be glorified, people will be saved, and I will be conformed to the likeness of Jesus! That’s the ultimate answer to prayer!