The physical danger was real. The emotions were overwhelming. My helplessness in the situation was devastating. I didn't know where to turn ... until two convictions led me to grace. As I accessed those reservoirs of grace, God made his presence and protection abundantly real.
What were these convictions?
- Jesus turned to God in his greatest moment of crisis in the Garden of Gethsemane, so I should, too.
- God has given me the Psalms as a resource to share my honest longings and disappointments with God and to also receive the Father's reassuring promises.
I turned through the Psalms, found one that spoke my heart (Psalm 18:1-50), and God lit up the night in parallel to the reading of that Psalm. Years later when I shared this experience, a similar thing happened as I read the Psalm again — thunder, lightning, and hail on Scriptural cue on a day when there was not supposed to be rain.
Over the years, the Psalms have furnished me with words when I wasn't sure what to say or if I could say any words. Then, these same honest psalms have led me back to God — my Father who loves me and my Creator who is worthy of all praise.
Jesus' prayer in the Garden is the example that pulled my heart to prayer and the Psalms in the first place. This collision of Jesus' heart, Satan's opposition, the hostile brutality of evil men, as well as God's will to redeem lost humanity provides one of the most compelling and instructive passages about prayer in all of the Bible.
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.34 "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch." 35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.36 "Abba , Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:32-36 TNIV).
These few short verses open up a treasure chest of insights for us as we pray:
- Mark 14:32 Be Consistent: We are talking about daily authenticity before God. Jesus consistently withdrew to Gethsemane to pray when he was in or near Jerusalem (Luke 22:39). Judas knew where to find Jesus because this was where he often went with his closest followers (John 18:2). From Jesus' first days of ministry until this all critical moment in his life, Jesus made a regular habit of withdrawing and spending time with his Father in prayer (Luke 5:16). But before we can be consistent, we have to begin, so let's find a time — our commute time, our time before bed, our time when we rise up, our time stuck in lines, a set place and time — to begin our consistent time of prayer.
- Mark 14:34-35 Be Emotional: We are talking about emotional authenticity with God. Everything was at stake for Jesus and he was honest about his emotions with his followers and with his Father in this moment! As Jesus' followers, we have help in doing this. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us even when we don't have words and the Spirit cleans up our prayers so they coalesce with the will of God (Romans 8:26-27). The key is that we come to our Father in all of life's emotions. God would rather us be honest about our emotions — in all of our imperfection and confusion — than for us to wait till we had everything all figured out before we prayed. The Psalms are a great testimony to this truth just as Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane is!
- Mark 14:35 Be Physical: After first kneeling before God in the garden (Luke 22:41), Jesus fell face down before God to pray. Jesus prayed with physical authenticity. Prayer takes all sorts of physical forms in the Bible — face down, on knees, kneeling, face uplifted, head bowed, hands raised, and even hands tearing garments in anguish. Our bodies express our emotions and can even lead our emotions as we speak to God (Lamentations 2:19; Lamentations 3:41; Psalm 28:2; Psalm 63:4; Psalm 119:48; Psalm 134:2; Ephesians 3:14; 1 Timothy 2:8).
- Mark 14:36 Be Tender: We are talking about approaching God as our Father with childlike authenticity. Jesus addressed God with the most tender, dependent, words a child could use to address a father. Jesus cried to God as "Abba, Father"! These were the simple syllables used for centuries by Jewish babies to call out to their human fathers. Jesus teaches us to approach God with this same reverential tenderness. The Holy Spirit empowers us as Jesus' younger brothers and sisters in God's family (Romans 8:14-17). Jesus taught us to pray with childlike simplicity (Luke 11:2-4) and he also taught us to pray with dependent and reverential tenderness.
- Mark 14:36 Be Passionate: We are taught to approach God with situational authenticity. God is God — our Heavenly Father is great, majestic, all powerful, and beyond our power to grasp in his magnificence. We are human — flawed, sinful, broken, joyous, thankful, disappointed, despairing, delighted, and on and on we could go. Jesus was passionate about God's power and also passionate about what he wanted. We are led to this same place if we will honestly pray Psalm 22 just as Jesus did!
- Mark 14:36 Be His: Ultimately Jesus approached God in submissive authenticity: "Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." Just as Jesus' life began with Mary's words of submissive authenticity, “I am the Lord’s servant ... May it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38), so also Jesus offers up himself to do the will and work of God, no matter how painful because God is God, and his will is to be done and his grace is to be honored!
When we look at these six items, we can see them as a list of "how to's" or we can see them as an invitation to pray to our Father openly and honestly. Our Father's invitation to pray comes with the invitation to come before the Creator of the universe and Be Real!
God made us, knows us, loves us and has plans for each of us. Let's not fake who we are or why we are struggling. Let's come to our Abba Father in joy and in sorrow. In the middle of wrestling with God honestly, the Spirit of God begins to speak out our hurt to God and speak into our hurt from God to heal us. Let's be honest about our sin, our confusion, our trust, our joy, our hope, and our faith. In the process, our Father becomes real and God's strength comes when we often least expect it and most desperately need it.
Let's make the SH!FT to PRAY_passionately!