Dr. Anne M. Cameron
March 25, 2012
Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake." 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want." 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand."
"Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want."
It was either Annie Dillard or Anne Lamott who said there are basically only two prayers: "Thank you, thank you, thank you, and Help me, Help me, Help me." I get those two Annes confused all the time. Only two prayers. There is a lot of wisdom in this. These two prayers free us up to talk with God and not worry too much about the form or the eloquence of what we're saying. Most of us are really good at "help me, help me, help me" when it comes to asking God for things. Now I am not knocking it. I stand right there with you in the "help me, help me, help me" department. God knows we all need God's help. All the time.
We may be less good with the "Thank you, thank you, thank you" prayer. We forget. This is a pretty easy prayer so long as we remember to think about it. When things are going well (when our "help me, help me, help me" prayers are answered!), it's pretty easy to thank God for the good things or the positive events in our life.
So while I do not disagree with whichever Anne said this, the Bible tells us a few things about prayer which go beyond these two simple prayers of 'help me' and 'thank you.' Jesus specifically taught his disciples to pray in the fashion of what we now call the Lord's Prayer. Later on this summer we are going to study the Lord's Prayer in depth and learn better how to pray.
Time and again in the gospels we find Jesus going off alone, to pray. He is usually alone, and we almost never get to see or hear him actually praying. This time in the Garden of Gethsemane is an exception. This time, late into the evening shadows, is a time most anguished. Though he arrives with his three friends, Jesus' solitude is complete. Through the eyes of the gospel writers, we who are awake are privileged to witness his struggle.
This time, Jesus asks his dearest friends to stand by, to wait while he prays. Facing his certain death the next day, he needs a support team. Like an innocent facing his execution, there appears to be no "out" for Jesus. There is no stay of execution, no last minute reprieve, no glitch in the justice system by which he will be saved. Or is there?
Here in the shadows of the ancient olive trees, here in the warmth of a lovely spring evening, here in the hush of a quiet city, Jesus' divinity and his humanity wrestle. Here in the wake of certain betrayal, in the disappointment of sleeping friends, the future of humanity rests on Jesus. Jesus knows what is at stake. He is certain of what He faces. He also knows he faces it alone.
How do we know he wrestled? He is distressed and agitated. He threw himself on the ground and prayed that, IF IT WERE POSSIBLE, the hour might pass from him. IF IT WERE POSSIBLE, he might not have to be tortured and suffocated to death on the cross. IF IT WERE POSSIBLE, he could skip all the events he knows are unfolding the very next day---on the Friday we have somehow claimed to call Good.
Jesus begs his Abba---Daddy to spare him this ignominious death. But in the very next breath, he adds "not what I want, but what you want." "Not what I will, but what you will."
In this word, Jesus says to his Father, "Thy will be done."
This is the hardest prayer of all.
This is the most powerful prayer of all.
This is the prayer which, if we truly pray it, will not only change our lives, it will change history.
Oh, such a hard prayer! Not my will, Lord, but yours. Not what I want to have happen, but what you want to have happen. Not my plan for my life, Lord, but your plan for me.
Oh, such a hard prayer! It requires self-searching that is so uncomfortable and so painful, it can leave us falling to the ground in anguish. It means we have to think about what God wants first, and what we want second, which is not very popular and sometimes not even very smart.
Oh, such a hard prayer when things get tough. When what God wants for us matches what we want, that's easy. The trick is to get God to agree that what we want for ourselves is what God wills for us. The trick.
I don't want to pray "thy will be done" when my friend Charles has to come to terms with never ever seeing his darling daughter again.
I don't want to pray "thy will be done" when my Uncle Joe suffers yet another debilitating setback.
I don't want to pray "thy will be done" when it means I have to sacrifice something, or worse yet, someone dear to me.
I don't want to always have to mold my life to the goals and ideals God has set before me first, above all else. I don't. Sometimes I just want to be selfish and not worry about all that. Yes, the hardest prayer of all.
There is a flip side to this, which is the good news of the gospel.
Because the hardest prayer of all is, in fact, the most powerful prayer of all. It is a prayer that frees us and releases us.
I want to be free of having to figure everything out on my own.
I want a guide, a rudder, a Person who can see far beyond anything I can ask or imagine.
I want to rely upon a Savior who has given everything for me and for all people.
I want to be released from the tyranny of my desires and my greed and my struggles.
I want to be more like Jesus.
I want to be whole. And I know you do, too.
"Thy will be done" is the hardest prayer of all, but it also the most powerful. "Thy will be done" sets us free from worry and anxiety and the desperate sense that we are all alone.
"Thy will be done" makes us more perfectly human in the perfect way our Creator intended.
"Thy will be done" not only changes our lives, it changes history.
It already has.