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Prayer and Hardship

March 24, 2019 Pastor: John Palka

Scripture: Luke 22:39-46

As a child there was a period of time when my parents would put me to bed with this prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my Soul to keep,
If I should die before I 'wake,
I pray the Lord my Soul to take

That prayer terrified me and left me wondering, what is going to happen to me tonight? I thank God my parents did pray with me the 2nd verse of that prayer: Our days begin with trouble here, Our life is but a span, And cruel death is always near, So frail a thing is man. If I had prayed that prayer, I would have been crying, “Where’s the coffee. I don’t want to sleep.”

Why pray this? Life is frail. Life so easily breaks and we need our souls to be kept.

In this morning’s Gospel reading, we join Jesus the night before he is crucified. He’s with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is facing torture and death. He’s already spent and the most difficult trials are still to come.

Jesus’ response? He is on his knees praying a “soul-to-keep” prayer.

Each of us has our own Gethsemanes that drive down on our knees; A bill came in that you simply don’t have the money for, Your job has you in a super high-stress and seemingly impossible position. A really important relationship has been crushed. Maybe you got a diagnosis from the doctor that you did not want to hear. Life is fragile and we need our souls to be kept.

Jesus says to us, “I’ve been there and I’m here for you now.” 

Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane. Gethsemane means “olive press.” The area was known for its olive trees and there may very well have been an olive press there. Jesus must have felt like an olive being crushed in the press of life. Everything is being pressed out of him, yet he finds strength to move on.

Being crushed by the press of life, Jesus fell to his knees and pray. He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus knows the pain in front of him and he asks His Father to free him from the pain. “If there is any other way let it be done.” But the Father’s answer was “No. This is a cup you’re going to have to drink.”

What do you do when life squeezes you? When life overwhelms how do you respond? For me, I have a few responses. The flee response kicks in and I want to escape, run off to the mountains of desert. When I can’t do that the fight reflect kicks in and find myself getting short with people and irritable. None of these are good. Yet over time I’ve learned one constructive response. I’ve learned to pray. Sometimes, I don’t even know what to pray or I’m too exhausted to pray, then I simply sit quietly before God.

Falling to His knees, Jesus prayed. He took his pain to His Father. Our faith invites us to do the same. We can take our Gethsemanes to God in prayer and learn of his faithfulness and strength.

We’re going to look at three aspects of prayer: 1. When to pray, 2. What to pray, and 3 What to expect after you pray. First, let’s look at When to pray.

When to pray? - Of course, you can pray anytime and anywhere. You don’t have to be in a church building to pray. Jesus’ words tell us a good time to pray is when temptation is knocking at the door. Arriving at Gethsemane Jesus says, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

Temptation was right around the corner for Jesus’ disciples. How would they fare? They would fail miserably, fleeing and denying.

I wonder if Jesus was himself being tempted at this time? Was Satan whispering in his ear, “Surely you don’t have to go through this? Don’t do it, Take the better way out and free yourself.”

Jesus wasn’t a stranger to temptations. He began his ministry years being tempted in the desert by Satan 3 times. Then as a human, he was subject to all the same temptations that fall on us.

When we look at this time of trial for Jesus and his disciples, we see a spectacular contrast between them …Jesus prayed and found the strength to move into the Father’s will. The disciples slept and fell prey to temptation.

Our faith in Jesus invites us to always be in communication with God. 1 Thes. 5:16-18 tells us, Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. But times of hardship are also times of temptation. The enemy knows when we are weak and they are times when more than ever, we need to be on our knees.

What do you Pray? As life squeezed Jesus this is what came out, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Jesus prayed for the suffering to be taken away, “…take this cup from me,” BUT he surrounded or sandwiched that request with the qualification, if you are willing and yet not my will, but yours be done. Jesus was 100% human and as such he did not want to experience suffering, but if the suffering was needed he trusted God His Father would give him the strength needed to get through it.

It’s so easy for our prayers to become a laundry list of May-MY-will-be-done prayers. The posture of prayer calls us to a position of trust and submission to God. Do you think this might be where God wants us to be? Perhaps instead of praying only for God to lead us AROUND the hardship it might be wiser to pray that God would lead us THROUGH the hardship.

What to expect after?

Luke 22:43-45, An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples…. Jesus prayed, was ministered to by an angel, he prayed again and then he rose and went to his disciples. In all this Jesus found strength to move forward, stepping into the suffering with calm and quiet that defied everything and everyone around him.

I enjoy exercise, especially exercise that’s outside, but when I can’t do that I often find myself cycling on a stationary bike inside a gym. If the purpose of cycling is getting from Point A to Point B then that stationary bike is a pure device of torture because I peddle and peddle and peddle, but I get nowhere. But the purpose of that stationary bike is to develop stamina and strength.

When we approach prayer thinking its purpose is to avoid problems, prayer will be a torture device, but when we see prayer’s purpose as being to strengthen our faith muscles, it completely changes. Prayer helps us to know God and his mercy and grace, and love and strength and forgiveness. Prayer then becomes a powerful activity that enables us to further trust God and pray “Thy will be done, not MY will be done.” Prayer gives us strength to walk through the Gethsemanes of life.