Jesus’ knew his Crucifixion was imminent. He walked with his disciples across the Kidron Valley to Gethsemane to pray, gain strength and be reassured that this was his Father’s will. Jesus agonized in prayer, anticipating not only the awful physical pain involved, but the even deeper anguish of bearing the sins of the whole world. No one can ever know the implications of this excruciating suffering. But Jesus endured it all in submitting to his Father’s will.
Prayer is a gift. We pray because we have an inherent desire to reach out to someone greater than ourselves. Yes, we pray for answers to the countless questions in our hearts, but we also pray for situations beyond our control. These are the times when we seek answers to the deepest groanings of our hearts. Our prayer is not due to selfishness—though there is a trace of this in all of us. It’s not because we think we know the way to resolve a difficult situation—even though most of us think we have some good solutions. Sometimes we pray because we feel crushed, broken and extremely vulnerable, desperately gasping for any hope.
It is difficult to pray with openness, sincerity and authenticity when we are desperate for a positive outcome and may be exposed to pain if our prayers aren’t answered in the way we’d hoped. It is hard to end our frantic pleas with the words of Jesus, “Not my will, Father, but yours be done.” Yet, it is important to submit to God as our Lord did. Only God knows all things, the beginning to the end; only he can see the full picture; only he knows why certain things happen. He never wills bad things to take place, but he does allow difficult circumstances to occur that we will never understand this side of Heaven. So, how do we honestly and boldly pray for his will to be done, rather than pleading for our own will to be done?
It’s a matter of trust. Trust does not come easily. People have let us down in the past, friends whom we trusted. How then can we trust God with things so important to us, such as our health or the well-being of someone close to us? If we do finally trust God enough to pray for healing and the person dies, how can we ever trust him again? Can we really count on God for the right outcome, even if it’s not according to our will? Does he really listen to our prayers? St. Augustine, the eminent church father and theologian, noted, “Crying to God is not done with the physical voice, but with the heart. If, then, you cry to God, cry out inwardly, where he hears you.”
God does hear our cries, for he knows us intimately. He created us; his Spirit dwells within us. He desperately wants us to implicitly trust him and pray to him. He will always respond to our prayers with “yes,” “wait” or “no.” Jesus prayed, but his plea to the Father ultimately led him to intense flogging and scourging and the acute agony and suffering of the cross. This was according to God’s permissive will. But the final victory was Christ’s alone! The end result was all for God’s glory and our eternal benefit.
Henri Nouwen explains that the prayer, “ ‘Your will be done,’ slowly leads us to an experience of rest and opens us to God’s active presence. The prayer can continue in our heart and keep us aware of God’s ever-present guidance.” Trusting God completely imparts security and genuine peace. It provides the knowledge and assurance that he will be with us—from the beginning until the end.
Join me in praying, “O Lord, not my will, but yours be done in my life!” May this Easter celebration supply a new and profound meaning for your life!
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” (Matthew 26:39).
Illustration: Christ in Gethsemane painting by Michael D. O’Brien, www.studiobrien.com
Commissioner William W. Francis is the Territorial Commander of The Salvation Army Canada and Bermuda Territory. His wife, Commissioner Marilyn Francis, is the Territorial President for Women’s Ministries. Commissioners Francis have two adult children, Captain William Marshall and Susan Marjorie, plus six grandchildren.