Day 79 – Why There’s No Place for “If” in Prayer

Mark 14:32–36

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Consider This

The world went wrong in a garden, the garden of Eden. Is it any surprise the world would be turned around in a garden, the garden of Gethsemane. The cross was unutterably painful and shameful, but the real suffering went down that night under the ancient olive trees of Gethsemane (a.k.a. “The Olive Press”).

We will get to the disciples tomorrow, but for today, we need to fix our study on Jesus. Get back in touch with the scene. The Last Supper just happened. Jesus and the disciples left the city, crossed the Kidron Valley, and ascended back up the hillside known as the Mount of Olives. This garden was a familiar spot for them. Jesus had his go-to places of meeting with the Father. This was his Jerusalem location. (As a sidebar, have you found some “go-to” places for prayer? If not, ask Jesus to lead you to such places.)

As we make our way into the garden, we see a group of eight men sitting under the trees together. Going a little further we see a group of three men who look to be asleep. Walking about a stone’s throw further we find the Son of God. He’s on his knees, face to the ground. He is weeping. No, he is crying’the kind of crying where you can’t stop, where your guts heave uncontrollably.

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he confided to the three just moments earlier.

If we listen—no, if we have ears to hear—we can hear him praying. At this moment in history, in this particular place, we behold the second person of the Trinity speaking with the first person of the Trinity in the bonded fellowship of the third person of the Trinity. Astonishingly enough, we actually know at least part of his prayer:

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will but what you will.”

Recall when we talked about faith not being in some particular outcome but in God alone, come what may. Well, this is that. So, what can we learn here?

“Abba, Father.” No one in their right mind called God, “Abba.” This would have been out of place in the Jewish understanding of God; kind of like it feels out of place when people refer to God as “Daddy” in their prayers today. Yet “Daddy” is precisely what Jesus was saying, and whether we had this kind of earthly parent or not, Jesus shows us, as a matter of fact, this is who God is to us. (Healing does not come by running away from the brokenness inflicted upon one from a parental relationship but by the long arduous process of working through it—as painful as it can be—and for clarity’s sake, I’m not speaking of a happily-ever-after reconciliation but rather forgiveness.)

“Everything is possible for you.” This is faith; not in a ­particular outcome but in any possible outcome. We remind God of this not for his sake but for our sake. When Sarah laughed at the news of her impending pregnancy in her old age, the angel said, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14). When the Lord asked the prophet Jeremiah to purchase land on the eve of the Babylonian exile whose value within days would be less than zero, God responded, “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jer. 32:27). When the angel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary with the news of her impending pregnancy with the Son of God, he said to her, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37 NRSV). When everything is possible for God, we need not worry about anything being impossible.

Because everything is possible with God, we should feel the bold freedom to ask God for anything. While the prayer, “Take this cup from me,” may not always be in the cards, it is always in order to ask. Jesus clearly offers a prayer to Abba that is not in the will of God. Though Jesus was always fully human, this was perhaps his most human moment—crying out in agony to God with a prayer that will not be granted.

“Yet not what I will but what you will.” It always bothers me when people preface their prayers by saying, “If it’s your will.” You know what I’m talking about. “And, God, if it’s your will, would you heal this disease?” Note: Jesus did not pray, “If it’s your will, let this cup pass me by.” He prayed, “Take this cup from me.” Huge difference here. Only after the clear imperative did he offer yet another imperative—“Yet not what I will but what you will.” This is not a subtle distinction; it’s massive. If you ever want to pray for me, please never use the word “if.” Just go for it.

Do you know the simple translation for “Yet not what I will but what you will”? Three words: I trust you.

And it’s a thousand miles of maturity from “Take this cup from me,” to “Not my will but what you will.”

Me? I’m somewhere in between; making progress but not there yet. How about you?

The Prayer

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

The Questions

  • What keeps you back from a whole-hearted “Not my will but what you will” kind of prayer, especially in the difficult places in life?