Personal Prayer – Learning from Gethsemane

Mark 14: 32-42

It was a crisp, fresh morning in the Drakensburg Mountains of South Africa. I decided to take a stroll through the hotel gardens and enjoy the nature. As I rounded a bush I came into a small clearing and was startled when I saw a man sitting alone on a plastic chair. His eyes were shut but he was talking with great gusto and gesticulating in with his hands. I watched him for a moment as a warm feeling of familiarity arose within me. I knew what he was doing. He was praying, and with enthusiasm; it was a joy to see, but I moved on quickly so as not to being noticed.
When we read the story of Gethsemane we find ourselves walking in on a moment in Jesus’ personal prayer life and there is much that we can learn as we watch Jesus in the garden through the eyes of his disciples.
♦ The first thing to notice is the place where Jesus prayed. The garden was at the base of the Mount of Olives. It seems to have been a favorite place. Luke 21:37 says “Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives.” Now why go pray there, what’s wrong with praying in the city? Well like my friend in a garden on the slopes of the Drakensburg, I think Jesus wanted a quiet place away from the crowds. So let that be the first thing we can learn from Jesus’ prayer life. It helps to get alone so we can focus on the Father. Do you have a private place where you are free of interruptions, a place you associate with being with the Father?
Next I would like to take a look at the prayer Jesus prayed. Speaking of the suffering that he was about to endure on the cross, Jesus prayed “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Abba is Aramaic. It means ‘Daddy.’ It was always used as an affectionate word for one’s father. Jews did not use this term when praying to God, they used words like Eloi which simply means ‘My God.’ So Jesus set the pace modeling a new kind of intimacy with God, which his disciples embraced. Later Paul said “By the Spirit we cry Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). The difference between Eloi and Abba is like the difference between your president and your father. Both are providers, you can ask both for many things, but you only share your most intimate stuff with your father. And so we are Jesus teaches us to pray saying ‘Daddy.’
So that’s the second thing to learn from Jesus at Gethsemane. His relationship with the Father was intimate and his prayers reflected this. Does your prayer life reflect an intimacy with your heavenly Father? Have you ever tried calling him ‘Daddy’?
The next thing to notice is that Jesus prayed “Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” I have heard believers from certain streams of Christianity saying that we should never pray ‘your will be done’ because faith is ‘certain of the things we hope for.’ If this was true then Jesus did not pray in faith. But their understanding is incorrect. Faith has different expressions. If God has revealed his will to us personally we don’t need to pray ‘if it is yours will.’ Jesus knew that the Father wanted to raise Lazarus from the dead so he spoke with certainty saying “Lazarus come out” (John 11:43). But we don’t always have complete certainty of the Fathers will, and then it is appropriate to pray ‘if it is your will.’ Praying this way isn’t faithless. To trust God to bring about his will, whatever it is; requires great faith. Such a person is telling the Father that he is in control and can do what he likes. This is great trust.
So this is the third think we can learn from the prayer at Gethsemane. People of faith either pray knowing God’s will, or pray for God’s will to be done. Do you ask for his will to be done? Do you trust him to be in control?
The next thing to highlight at Gethsemane is the people Jesus took with him and where he left them. Although Scripture says “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16), on this occasion he took his closest men with him. It was an emergency after all; he was expecting to be betrayed, arrested, tortured and executed.
As Jesus arrived at the garden he leaves eight of his men at the entry-point. He then takes three; Peter, James and John further in. Peter was important; he would lead the disciples when Jesus ascended to heaven. John was, in his own words, ‘the disciple Jesus loved.’ And James was John’s big brother; the second after Stephen to die for the Lord in the book of Acts. These guys were special to Jesus. When you are struggling and need support you want your closest friends with you. These were also the men Jesus felt he could confide in. He said to them “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). This was serious stuff, Jesus was struggling. Now it’s easy for you and me to know why; we have hindsight, we know the cross was coming. The three disciples did not have this understanding, even though Jesus had tried to warn them. This shows by the fact they fell asleep while Jesus was praying. Isn’t it true that we usually fall asleep in prayer when we are unaware of the gravity of the situation we are in? But I would venture to say that the disciples were also unaware of the Fathers presence. When we are in the presence of someone important we don’t fall asleep. You might fall asleep while listening to your president on TV, but you won’t fall asleep if he is talking to you in your living room! Why? Your awareness of his presence is heightened. People who are always in prayer and worship have a heightened awareness of the Father’s presence. Such people are spiritually fit. But when we are unfit due to neglect we are spiritually dull and don’t notice God’s presence.
So this is the next thing we can learn from Gethsemane. Jesus was spiritually fit. His Father had revealed to him what was just ahead and he had great awareness that the Father was there with the power to do the impossible (Jesus prayed “Everything is possible for you”). Such discernment only comes by regular prayer and worship. Do you worship and pray regularly; I mean daily?
Finally Jesus said “Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners” (Mark 14:41). The devil comes ready or not. Trouble comes ready or not. The sleepy disciples were not ready. At Jesus’ arrest Peter tried to fight with a sword. Later he would deny knowing Jesus three times. Most of the disciples fled. But Jesus was ready. He had focused his resolve in prayer with his heavenly Father. He could now endure the cross and pass through it to a most profound and victorious resurrection. The value of prayer-paration is great indeed. Are you prayer-pared?

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