Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Matthew 26:36-41
When you think of Jesus, what do you think of? The miracle worker? The story teller? The truth proclaimer? I’m guessing the first thing that comes to mind is not, Jesus, the man of prayer. But, on this Maundy Thursday, the night of Jesus’ Passover celebration with his disciples and his time in the Garden of Gethsemane before his trial, death and resurrection, the entire night is filled with prayer. From the detailed prayer of John 17, to the prayer of anguish in the Garden before his arrest, we see Jesus in prayer and also encouraging his disciples to pray.
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
– Mark 14:38
But this is nothing new for Jesus. All throughout the gospels we see that solitary time in prayer was a common practice of Jesus.
After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. – Matthew 14:23
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. – Mark 1:35
After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. – Mark 6:46
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. – John 17:1
So why does Jesus, the Son of God, spend continual time in prayer with his heavenly Father?
“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” – Luke 10:22
”For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”
– John 12:49-50
Jesus came not to build himself up or to proclaim his own agenda. He came to reveal, through his words and actions, the very heart of the heavenly Father. He was in prayer because his entire ministry wrapped around doing God’s will and testifying to who God is.
What about us? Are our churches, families, fellowship groups and Christian friendships marked by a dependence on prayer?
They need to be because, as redeemed children of God, we are now given the same command.
Our lives, our words, our actions are no longer for our ourselves or our glory. Our lives now testify and bear witness to the heart and will of Jesus, just as his life gave a witness of the Father.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. – John 17:20-23
Why is time in prayer with God so crucial for us as Jesus followers? Because we too need to be seeking to hear the voice, the commands and the will of the Father. We need to be led by his Spirit. We cannot do that without being in his Word and seeking him in prayer. It’s easy to be swayed by the voices and opinions of the crowds around us. It’s easy to water down, compromise and smooth over the message of the gospel. That’s what happens when it’s our own will that’s driving us. It’s our desire to be liked and accepted. It’s our image and our glory that we are worried about.
But not Jesus. He came seeking no glory for himself but seeking only to glorify the Father who sent him.
I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. – John 8:50
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! – Philippians 2:5-8
So, why do we seek our own self-interest? Because we are sinners and the pull to self-centered sin is strong. That’s why we cannot be driven by our own flesh, thoughts, and desires. We need the Spirit of God to speak into our hearts; to lead the direction of our lives; to give us the boldness and courage to walk out the trail of picking up our cross just like Jesus resolutely did after his time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
– Galatians 5:16-18
If there is one thing that hampers our prayer life more than anything else, it’s the glowing screens all throughout our lives. We are so used to being entertained and stimulated that we’ve completely lost the ability to be quiet, to walk away, to turn off, to find a solitary place to pray and commune with our heavenly Father. We need to fight for our prayer lives. We need to carve out time to be alone with God and his Word. We need to fight back the natural desire to find things more entertaining and enticing to our flesh. We need the same rebuke and encouragement Jesus gave his disciples in the Garden:
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. – Mark 14:38
Why does this matter so much?
We are we told in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It’s God’s will. There is nothing better in your life than walking in the will of God. You will find no more satisfying place, no more joyful comfort, no more purposeful work than living for the one who has given us everything. Jesus resolutely walked away from prayer to go pay the price for our sin and win the victory over sin and death. What a glorious victory we’ve been given because Jesus lived for the will of his Father. Now we can rise from our knees, turn our eyes towards Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), and bring the amazing news of God’s radical love to a desperate world in such need for it.
He’s won! He rose from the dead. Sin no longer has a hold on us! Let’s bring God glory by sharing this news with everything we have.