Fearless: Praying (Matt. 26:36-56) Chris Altrock – March 26, 2017

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Fearless

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Nobody Ever Taught Me How

In the movie “Gravity,” astronaut Matt Kowalski is in charge of the Space Shuttle Explorer. Its mission is to repair the Hubble Telescope. The repair will be done by specialist Ryan Stone. Mission Control aborts the mission, warning that a Russian missile has hit a satellite, causing a chain reaction and now there is a storm of debris charging toward the pair of astronauts. As a result of the debris strike, both Stone and Kowalski must make their way to the International Space Station. At one point Kowalski makes the decision to untether himself from Stone to prevent both of them from dying. Isolated and coming to grips with the fact that she too may die in space, Stone has the following conversation with God: 

I’m gonna die, aren’t I God?… I’m really scared. Nobody will mourn for me; no one will pray for my soul. Will you mourn for me? Will you pray for me? Or is it too late? I mean, I’d pray for myself but I’ve never prayed in my life. Nobody ever taught me how. Nobody ever taught me how.”

We need prayer every day. But there are moments in our lives when things are at their worst, when things are at their darkest, when we need prayer like we’ve never needed it before. And how tragic it would be to reach one of those crisis moments and not really know how to pray.

Stone is having what I’ll call in a minute a “Gethsemane” time in her life. And while we need to know how to pray at all times, we especially need to know how to pray at Gethsemane times. We need to know how to pray when things are at their worst. Listen to this verse:

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36a ESV)

The word “Gethsemane” is an Aramaic word. It literally means “oil press.” Olive trees grew at Gethsemane. Olives were pressed, squeezed so hard that what was inside of them–oil–came pouring out. Here, in Gethsemane, Jesus is being pressed, squeezed so hard that what is inside of him comes pouring out. He is being pressed by a crisis, the crisis of his upcoming crucifixion. What comes pouring out is prayer. Jesus teaches us how to pray when things are at their worst, when things are at their darkest, when we need prayer like we’ve never needed it before.

Jesus teaches us four things about praying in Gethsemane times.

Dependent

First, In Gethsemane times, Jesus teaches us to be dependent. Notice how this prayer begins:

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed…And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matt. 26:36-40 ESV)

As a precursor to his prayer, Jesus asks Peter, James and John to enter the garden with him and to “watch with me.” The word “watch” is important. When it’s used elsewhere in the Bible, it’s most often translated “be awake.” Obviously it has a literal sense. Jesus literally wants these friends to stay awake with him and they have trouble doing that. But there’s more going on here. Jesus isn’t just wanting some people who can be physically awake. He’s wanting people who can be awake in other ways as well. We all know, don’t we, that it’s possible to be physically awake and asleep in other ways?

I remember on more than one occasion dragging into the locker room at halftime of a high school football game on the losing end of a lopsided score. We’d been playing terribly. And the coach would say to us: “Wake up!” Were we literally sleeping on the field–rolling out the sleeping bags and the cots? No. But in other ways we were asleep. Mentally we were asleep.

Jesus knows there are a lot of people, even followers of his, who are living at various stages of sleep. And what he’s looking for, what he’s dependent on, are a few who are not just physically awake but also spiritually awake. Even Jesus needs a few soul mates. A few spiritual companions. A few prayer partners. Even Jesus needs their presence with him. He needs their spiritual strength. He wants to go into prayer knowing he’s got a few very close friends who have his spiritual back.

In your Gethsemane times, who do you invite into the garden with you? Who are you dependent upon in your spiritual life? Who is your spiritual companion? Who are your soulmates? Do you have a prayer partner? Is there someone spiritually awake to what’s going on in your life?

Transparent

Second, in Gethsemane times, Jesus teaches us to be transparent. Let’s listen to Jesus in the garden:

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. (Matt. 26:39-44 ESV)

Three times Jesus says: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” “This cup” is a reference to the suffering of the cross which he is about to endure. Let the weight of that request hit you. Why did Jesus come to earth? One of the most important reasons was to go to the cross. If Jesus comes to earth but doesn’t go to the cross, a lot of good still gets done. But there is no forgiveness of sins. There is no dealing with our past. There is no erasing of those things that stand between us and God. And so it would seem blasphemous for Jesus to say out loud, “I don’t want to do this. Find another way.” This could come across as selfish, sacrilegious, or unspiritual. But does that stop Jesus from saying it? No. Jesus is extremely transparent when he prays.

For most of us, there are things we talk about with our closest friends, and things we talk about with everyone else. And those are two very very different things. When I’m with a close friend and my friend says, “How are you feeling today?” I can open up and be transparent and admit that I’ve got a headache or I really enjoyed a book I read this morning. But when someone else that same day asks me “How are you today?” I may not open up like that. I may just say, “I’m fine.”

For most of us, the same thing is true spiritually. There are things we talk about with humans. And there are things we talk about with God. And those are two very different things. When it comes to God many of us tend to be extremely guarded and extremely positive. We talk to God the way we talk to someone we are afraid of, someone we don’t necessarily trust, or someone we highly revere.

This is especially true in one area–most of us won’t be negative with God. Jesus’ own prayers and the prayers of the Psalms model sadness and madness. Yet most of us in our prayers will only share gladness with God.

But notice how Jesus talks to God here: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” “Father, you know that thing we’ve been planning since before we created the world? It turns out I’m scared. It turns out I’m not as brave as I thought. Isn’t there some other way? Do we have to go through with this?”

What are you not talking to God about that you could talk about if you fully trusted him, no longer feared him, or no longer assumed reverence is only synonymous with gladness? What topics have been off limits with God? In your Gethsemane times, how transparent with God are you?

Indifferent

Third, in Gethsemane times, Jesus teaches us to be indifferent. Listen again to Jesus in the garden:

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. (Matt. 26:39-44 ESV)

Three times Jesus prays this challenging prayer: “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” I noted earlier in the year that this phrase comes from the prayer Jesus taught us to pray in the Sermon on the Mount. The Jesuits, founders of the Society of Jesus, have a word for the attitude expressed in this prayer. They call it indifference.

To be indifferent doesn’t mean we don’t care. To be indifferent means we care so much about what God cares about, everything else is secondary–even our own desires. Jesus models a way of praying in which we are completely transparent about our wants, and yet also indifferent to those wants because we care so much more about God’s wants.

This is a tremendously difficult thing to do. But it is the height of spiritual maturity. Prayer finds its greatest power when we become indifferent. When we can pray, “Here’s what I really want, but ultimately, what I most want is for your will to be done.” To be indifferent is to surrender.

At the age of 35 researcher Jamie Aten was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.[1] Aten said: “For the first six months, whenever I asked for a prognosis, all my oncologist would say was: ‘I can’t tell you that it’s going to be okay, Jamie. It’s too early to tell. If there’s anyone you want to see or anything you want to do, now is the time.’”

Cancer wasn’t the first disaster Aten had faced. He and his family had moved to South Mississippi six days before Hurricane Katrina. But this disaster was different. There was no opportunity to evacuate as he did before Katrina. This time the disaster was striking within.

Aten learned that the key to both traumatic situations–the hurricane and the cancer–involved what he calls “spiritual surrender.” Aten writes:

In a research study I led after Katrina, we found that people who showed higher levels of spiritual surrender tended to do better. This finding didn’t make sense to me at the time. It seemed like a passive faith response. Fast forward to my cancer disaster. I vividly remember taking the trash to the curb one winter morning while praying that God would heal me. The freezing air felt like tiny razor blades cutting across my hands and feet because of the nerve sensitivity caused by chemotherapy. Wondering if God even heard my prayers for healing, I kept praying as I walked back inside my home. Then all of a sudden I dropped to my knees and prayed the most challenging prayer of my life. Instead of continuing to pray for God’s healing, I asked that God would take care of my wife and children if I didn’t make it.This was the hardest prayer I had ever prayed. For the first time in my life, I truly experienced spiritual surrender. I finally understood.

Spiritual surrender is what Jesus models in his Gethsemane time. He urges us to be transparent with what we want and feel like we need. But then he urges us to surrender. To be indifferent to those wants and needs and to finally be able to turn all of that over to God. Not what I will, but what you will. In your Gethsemane times, what outcome, desire, person, thing, or circumstance do you need to let go of and simply pray, “your will be done”?

Confident

Fourth, in Gethsemane times Jesus teaches us to be confident. Jesus doesn’t just pray. He acts confidently based on what he’s experienced in prayer:

While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled. (Matt. 26: 47-56 ESV)

Was Jesus a person of prayer or a person of action? He was both. He prayed and then he acted in a confident way based on his prayers. Here, Jesus courageously turns himself over to will of the Lord, even though, as he acknowledges, he had every right to demand twelve legions of angels swoop down and protect him from those who were attacking him.

  • And so, when Judas arrives to send him to the cross, Jesus acts in a confident way: “Friend, do what you came to do.”
  • And when one of his friends starts slicing at those enemies, Jesus says with confidence, “Put your sword back into its place.”

Jesus lived in a way consistent with his prayers. He acted in a way that demonstrated a confidence in what he had experienced in prayer.

“Hacksaw Ridge” features the true story of Desmond Doss, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor despite refusing to bear arms during WWII.[2] Doss, a Christian, enlisted in the Army as a combat medic because he believed in the cause, but had vowed not to kill. The Army wanted nothing to do with him. His fellow soldiers questioned his sincerity. Doss’ commanding officer tried to get him transferred.

At Okinawa in the spring of 1945, Doss’ company faced a grueling task: climb a steep, jagged cliff—Hacksaw Ridge—where thousands of heavily armed soldiers were waiting for them. Under a barrage of gunfire and explosions, Doss crawled on the ground from wounded soldier to wounded soldier. He dragged severely injured men to the edge of the ridge, tied a rope around their bodies and lowered them down to other medics below. In a documentary, Doss said: “I was praying the whole time. I just kept praying, ‘Lord, please help me get one more.’” Doss saved 75 men—including his commanding officer—over a 12-hour period.

Doss was a person of prayer and action. He acted in a confident way, a way consistent with his experience of prayer. What would it mean to act in a confident way tomorrow on the prayers you prayed today?

I hope none of you face a Gethsemane time this week. But if you do, Jesus shows us how pray. Be dependent on a soul mate or two. Be transparent with God about how you feel and what you need or want. Be indifferent to those wants and needs and surrender everything over to God. And be a person of action. Act with confidence based on w



[1] Jamie Aten, “Spiritual Advice for Surviving Cancer and Other Disasters,” The Washington Post (8-9-16)

 

[2] Adapted from Elizabeth Blair, “The Real ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Soldier Saved 75 Souls Without Ever Carrying A Gun,” NPR Morning Edition (11-4-16)

Series NavigationFearless: Present (Matt. 25:31-46) Chris Altrock – March 19, 2017Fearless: King (Matt. 26:37) Chris Altrock – April 2, 2017

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