If My People … Pray (Part 6)

Continuing on with our topic in Prayer, we now look at a hair-raising prayer of absolute agony that we perhaps expected to be answered but, at the same time, are glad that it wasn’t.

In a Garden called “Gethsemane”, Jesus pleads with His disciples to pray with Him as He takes a few steps further, kneels down and utters these words,

My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me … – Matthew 26:39 NASB

In other words, “Is there no other way? Does it have to be this way?”

Within a passage of a few verses, Jesus’s humanity is stripped of any doubt. Here is the Messiah, Son of God and Son of Man, fully God and fully man, Jesus Christ “who was made for a little while lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:9), vocalising the suffering and pain that He was already enduring while He looks ahead to the horrors that await.

My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me … – Matthew 26:39 NASB

More than just the physical torture and pain, more than the lashings, the mockery, the humiliation and the crucifixion, Jesus looked ahead to two more frightening realities that were mixed in this cup that He was about to drink.

  1. God was going to make “Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21), the Lord was going to lay “on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6), and
  2. Jesus was going to face this alone; forsaken by the Father (Mark 15:34)

If you recall in two previous posts concerning prayer (Part 5 and The Haven Through the Storm), we looked at the most terrifying reality that any believer can ever face which is to be separated from God. Christ bore it on the cross so that we didn’t have to. The second lesson we got from those two posts was, prayer is not my supplication for what I want; prayer is my cry to align my will to His.

Here’s the rest of Jesus’ prayer:

And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”

– Matthew 26:39 NASB

Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, fully God and fully man, by Whom, through Whom and for Whom “all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” (Colossians 1:6) bows down to the will of the Father and shows obedience “to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8)

What is prayer? It’s obedience …

What is prayer? It’s humbling myself and bowing down to His will …

What is prayer? It’s nothing of myself, but all of Him …

… even to the point of death.

 

 

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The Greater Pleasure

Bear with me as I share this thought because, although it’s about our two dogs again, I think it’s worth sharing.
Of the many different things that my wife and I have taught our two border collies to do, one is to drink on command. There are many reasons why that is useful so we made sure that both dogs learnt to do that. A phase passed, though, when they stopped listening to that particular command. We would tell the dogs to “Get a drink”, but they just would not go to their water bowls.
At first, we ignored it but it made me curious, “why would they suddenly stop?”
One day, after playing with the dogs, my wife and I were about to step back inside the house. My wife told the dogs to “Get a drink” and resumed to open the fly-screen door which led to the living room from the patio. Suddenly, things clicked for me.
It became clear as day when I noticed that the reason our dogs stopped drinking on command was because they tied the command of “Get a drink” with us going inside and no longer being out with them. In other words, they refused a pleasure because it meant a disconnection with us.
I was pondering that thought as this came back to me today. When we give in to ungodly pleasures, it drives us away from God; so, I laid out a challenge to myself, am I willing to lay aside a pleasure, be it innocent or destructive, because it meant a disconnection with my Master? We may justify our pleasures with excuses like, “But it’s not hurting anyone” or “But everyone else does it” or “It’s not technically wrong.”
When King David once desired a drink from one of the wells near Bethlehem, three of his best warriors broke into the Philistines camp and got him water from there. He refused to drink it. He refused the pleasure that came about at the expense of someone else’s risk and so he poured it on the ground. May we be faithful to refuse the pleasure that makes us unfaithful to God, as innocent or destructive as it may be.
Regarding the dogs, they now both drink on command again as we made sure to stay out there every time we told them to get a drink. The problem is, though, that now Nala refuses to eat while we’re out there because she prefers to spend time with us while we’re outside; so, we actually have to go inside for her to finish her food. That’s a thought, and a lesson, for another time.

Happy New Year!

Another year over and we step into a whole new year. New opportunities, new journeys, new ups, new downs, new disappointments, new lessons, new experiences all await us and I pray that, by God’s grace, we’re able to use each of those to draw nearer and nearer to Him and to the path He’s charted for us.

The end of 2017 was interesting for me, to say the least. From standing at my desk in the office one day, contemplating packing up my things and walking out with a colleague with nowhere else to go, and to finding out, a few weeks later, that a large sum of money had been stolen from our (my wife’s and my) bank account, along with a number of other “obstacles” that I will leave undisclosed which worked together to make for a difficult end of year.

Still, I am indebted to God for His care, His protection and providence through it all. I know that my circumstances are nothing compared to many around me; many of whom lost loved ones before the new year. As a matter of fact, before the new year, I heard news of four different families who lost loved ones, and those are only the people I know of.

Of course, this isn’t to say that the Lord didn’t have His protection over those families, just that He called their loved ones home early. I believe the four people whose passing I know of were all believers so there’s comfort in knowing that they now sit in the presence of our Saviour where

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:4 NASB

Thank God for Jesus. Thank God for His Salvation. Thank God for the cross.

I pray that this new year will be a year of new blessings for you and your families. God bless you and, once again, Happy New Year.

The Haven Through the Storm

To anyone who may have been following through with the prayer series, I haven’t forgotten about it but what I have been typing up was really put to the test these past two weeks. With no intention of getting into the details, I hope it’ll be sufficient enough to say that the storm has not yet passed.

I think it’s imperative that I mention this because Part 6 of the prayer series discusses what we think is an unanswered prayer of Jesus. Just before the cross, Jesus prays, twice, “Let this cup pass from me …” speaking, of course, about the cup of pain He was meant to drink on behalf of us. Now, I’m in no way comparing my trivial situation to the agony that Christ went through, so please don’t misunderstand me. I’m simply stating this as a reminder that what I write on this blog is usually a reflection for myself on what I, myself, am going through.

Those who know me will be perfectly aware that I’m a closed book when it comes to sharing grief or sorrow. I bottle up pain and emotion. If anyone reading is nodding and thinking, “Yep, I’m the same”; let me advise you against it.

You smile and soldier on and people think that everything is, as the British say, “tickety-boo” but you know it isn’t so. It isn’t healthy to act as though there is no problem. Instead, rather than bear it alone, we ought to wholeheartedly trust the matter to the Lord, even if, and especially when, His deliverance does not bypass the storm.

As we’ll see in the next part in the prayer series, Jesus wasn’t praying to run away from the problem at hand. Instead, Jesus’ prayer was asking a question of, “is there no other way?” He wasn’t backing out. He wasn’t running away. Think, the world’s sins, past, present and future, were to be placed on Him. He, who knew no sin, was to become sin for us [2 Corinthians 5:21]. He, who was one with the Father was going to be separated from Him, turned away, forsaken. He, who was the Word from the beginning and from the beginning was with God and since the beginning was indeed God, was now going to be left alone, torn away from God.

The road to Calvary was a mere drop in that horrible, dark, agonising cup, and He was going to drink it, willingly. There was no other way.

As I was halfway through typing up Part 6, I felt disconnected because I was preoccupied with my own tiny storm. Naturally, God suggested that we go for a stroll through it. Right in the heart of it all, I found myself praying to God, “I am not asking You to take it away. All I’m asking is that You don’t leave me alone.”

It connected, finally. When you know God and are known by Him, the most terrifying reality that you could ever face is not a burden, as crushing as that may be to carry; it is not an illness or death, as horrible as that may be to face; it is not a loss, as heartbreaking as that is to endure. The most terrifying reality that you could ever face after knowing God and being known by Him is to be separated from Him. Thank God for Jesus who bore it so that we wouldn’t have to.

I learn from them, more than I seem to teach

In an age where speed is everything, it feels like patience has lost its place. We want the fastest internet, the fastest cars, the fastest computers, the fastest routes and, if we’re honest with ourselves, the fastest sermons.

Sometimes, when we pray, the answer isn’t a “Yes” or a “No”. Sometimes, God answers with a “Wait”.

That’s not something I do well with. I pray and when the answer doesn’t come quickly enough, like two seconds later, I begin planning all the possible outcomes of the situation; and, with that, what my responses will be for each outcome. Even though God has just told me to wait, I’ve already lost focus.

This morning, I woke up and, passing by the door to the backyard, I saw our dogs sitting in their crates. I let them out and we ran around for a little while. Remembering that I needed to give them their breakfast, I walked in and said to them, “Wait!” as they sat about a meter away from the glass door.

“Wait” is what I tell them when I intend to be back within a minute. I can’t remember ever taking any longer than that. Otherwise, I usually close the door behind me without saying a word.

Walking to our kitchen, I realised that their food needed some preparation and so I took my time in preparing it, completely forgetting that I had told them to wait. They were out of my sight and I was out of theirs.

Half an hour later, I walked up to the door expecting them to be running around in the backyard. To my surprise, both dogs were still in the same place I had left them with their eyes still focused and set on that glass door, waiting for it to open.

I had said, “Wait”. To them, that meant that I was coming back.

Running back to the kitchen, I quickly finished preparing their meal and ran back outside to let them enjoy it.

As I stood there watching them, I was reminded by my lack of trust. When God says, “Wait”, He means it. He will answer and His answer will be what’s best; and, unlike me, God doesn’t forget.

If My People…Pray (Part 5)

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

– Mark 11:24 ESV

What an interesting verse. Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Is that it? Can I honestly pray for just about anything, believe I’ve received it and it will be mine?

Some people, who take this out of context, surely think so. In fact, some people have gone further than just asking and skipped right through to claiming. After all, that’s what Jesus is telling His disciples here, isn’t it?

No.

No, Jesus isn’t encouraging His disciples to lay claim to their whims and desires and they will have it. True prayer is not a demand accompanied by really really really strong feelings of belief so that if the prayer isn’t answered we say, “Aha! You did not believe strong enough!”

There’s more to it than that. If you flip over to John 15, Jesus teaches His disciples the importance of bearing good fruit. I’m not sure if this came at the same time that He cursed the fig tree in Mark 11, from which we read the verse above. Nevertheless, spare a moment to read the following,

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples. As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love.

If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

… No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.

– John 15:7‭-‬11‭, ‬15‭-‬16 ESV

Did you catch all that? There are a few key aspects in this passage that I hope we don’t miss:

Key One: if you abide in Me and My words abide in You

Key Two: by this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit

Key Three: abide in My love

Key Four: keep My commandments

True prayer comes only out of righteous living. Abide in Me, comes the command. To explain that, Jesus gives the example of a vine and its branches (John 15:1:6); the very life, purpose, drive, and meaning comes only from the vine, apart from it the branch is dead. Bear much fruit, He continues, so that the Father is glorified. Abide in My love, by keeping My commandments.

We need to stop preaching the false message that life can be lived apart from Christ and yet still be fruitful, still be Christ-like, still be Christian; it’s not true! The Word of God is not what we choose to make it; we don’t pick and choose what passages we like and which ones we set aside.

We do not command the Lord to heal or save or fulfil our wishes, we do not order God what we want done. More so, when we don’t let His Word dwell in us, when we don’t live and breathe Him, when our complete lives are not for His glory, when we are not following His commandments, we as believers need to stop! No, we shouldn’t be praying like everything is OK; no, we shouldn’t be serving in the Lord’s house when He isn’t welcome in every aspect of our lives; no, we cannot break bread and claim to share in His suffering while our hearts aren’t broken before Him; no, we shouldn’t be leading others when our own lives are out of whack!

In fact, our prayer should be one and one alone,

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.

– Psalms 139:23‭-‬24 NASB

That is my prayer; and until my will is aligned to His, like His is to the Father’s, my prayers are meaningless and futile; my life is dead.

If My People…Pray (Part 4)

Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.”
– John 11:41‭-‬42 NASB

Have you ever thanked someone for something you didn’t ask for? How about something they haven’t yet given you?

As Jesus walks over to the tomb where Lazarus lay, he asks the people to move the stone that shut the entrance of the tomb away. As they go about arranging that, Jesus looks up and thanks God for listening to His prayer — a prayer we weren’t yet even aware of.

What is even more intriguing is what He says next: “I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.”

When you say something out loud, you want people to hear it. From what we can gather, this is what Jesus does here. He speaks in a voice loud enough for people to hear. “Father”, He says, ” thank You for hearing Me.” Then, in what we can assume was a quieter voice, He states why He said the first line. This is not to explain to God in case He is confused, but so the disciples would write it so we can understand.

What’s happening here is this; as Jesus comes to the tomb, He knows that Lazarus is going to rise from the dead because He, as God, was going to raise Him. To make absolutely sure that no one separate Him from God into assuming that Christ was working out of His own volition, He lets the people know that His will and God’s will were aligned.

Robert Jamieson, on the topic, said it perfectly,

Jesus did not pray for what He wanted, but for the manifestation of what He already had; and having the bright consciousness of the answer in the felt liberty to ask it, and the assurance that it was at hand, He gives thanks for this with a grand simplicity before performing the act.

In other words, what he’s really saying is, Jesus, who lacked nothing, did not pray as though to ask for something but rather gives way for God’s authority to make obvious the power that Jesus already had, knowing the answer and sure of what is about to happen, He thanks the father in all humility before even taking action.

Now, some of you may ask me, “but Richard, how does this relate to me in prayer?” It is this, when we pray, what we ought to be doing is aligning our will to God’s will; and if it isn’t aligned, we ask Him to align it.

It is critical that we know this because the next part in the series is going to be heavily dependent on this fact.