32 They went to a place called Gethsemane. . . . 35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
In Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane, we hear him address God as “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36), pray that God’s will would be done (14:36), and tell the disciples to pray so they “will not fall into temptation” (14:38). Where else in Scripture have we heard a prayer that takes up similar themes?
Matthew and Luke Jesus gives the disciples a model of a prayer they can use for themselves. Here Jesus prays in that same way–for himself. He, no less than they, needs to be reminded of the good fatherhood of God when he feels alone, of his good will when facing difficult choices, of the grace and strength God provides when we could waver in our faithfulness to the Father. Now is the time, at this moment of ultimate crisis and decision, for Jesus to pray as he has instructed others to do.
We have an additional example to follow here. Jesus sees no problem in expressing his pain and grief to the Father. The prospect of what he would face in the next few hours compelled him to ask the Father to allow him to bypass them entirely. Some people think we should only express positive thoughts to others, ourselves, and God. We should never complain to God or accuse him of wrongdoing, they say. Yet the psalmist is not afraid to: “I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?’ ” (Psalm 42:9). He blames God for abandoning him: “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1).
this is not just emotionally healthy. It is spiritually healthy. Just as loving parents want to know when their children hurt or are in need, so does God. God knows we are dust, that we are frail. After all, he is the one who made us (Psalm 103:14). Wise parents are also willing to listen when their children are angry at them because they don’t want any problem to fester in their relationships. Likewise, if we cannot be honest with God about how we feel, we are in danger of breaking our relationship with him.
So in light of Jesus’s prayer at Gethsemane, here are some questions we can ask ourselves to guide us as we pray:
- How do I need God to be a loving father to me now?
- Are there ways I am upset, confused, or disappointed with God? What are they?
- What problems or temptations am I facing?
- What do I want to ask God in light of my circumstances?
- How can I discern God’s will and align myself with it?
If Jesus prayed this way for himself, we can confidently do the same.
Each Wednesday until Easter I am posting a Lenten reflection, excerpted and adapted from Mark Through Old Testament Eyes. Used by permission of the publisher.