Sunday, March 22, 2015
"Praying God's Will" Sermon: Luke 22:39-46
“Praying God’s Will”
March 22, 2015 Second Reformed Church
What does prayer do?
Does prayer change anything?
There is a popular idea – especially in the United States – that prayer is our way to inform God and convince God to do what we want. If we have enough reasons, enough faith, enough passion, God will do what we ask of Him.
But, if God is Sovereign over all – if He is all-knowing and all-powerful and all-wise – is there anything that God does know? Is there anything God needs advice on to make a right decision? Is there anything about which God isn’t intelligent enough or wise enough to make the best decision – the decision that He wants – the decision that glorifies Him – that shows Him for Who He is?
Still, some will say, “But God leaves some things up to our ‘free will,’ and He waits to act one way or another based on how we pray.” But, if that were true, we would be sovereign, wouldn’t we? If God waits on us to act, then we are sovereign, and God is not – we control God, in fact.
In reality, God commands us and grants us the privilege to pray as part of the intimate relationship we have with God as His children. He, as our Father, has given us prayer, to grow our faith and trust and obedience in Him – that we, as we pray, would pray for God’s Will – in fact, that we would become more and more aligned with God’s Mind, such that we would pray for what God wants, and since it is what God wants, God will grant it to us – glorifying Himself and giving us joy.
And so, we consider a fifth principle of Church and Christian growth: prayer.
As we have said, we innumerate five principle of Church and Christian growth: First, if we want to grow as Christians and the Church, the Word of God must be central to our life and worship. Second, if we want to grow as Christians and the Church, we must obey Jesus and evangelize. Third, if we want to grow as Christians and the Church, we must engage in regular hospitality and fellowship with non-Christians and our fellow Christians. Fourth, if we want to grow as Christians and the Church, we must pray rightly, privately, and corporately. Fifth, if want to grow as Christians and the Church, we must receive the Lord's Supper frequently, properly and worthily.
So, let us turn to our text:
Our text takes place Thursday evening of the first Holy Week: Jesus had eaten with the disciples and instituted the Lord’s Supper. He had washed their feet. He revealed Judas to be the betrayer and sent him on his way. He prophesied that Peter would deny Him. Then He rose from the table:
“And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.”
We see first, this morning, that prayer ought to be a regular part of our lives and worship.
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to pray – and we are told that it was a regular practice of His to go to the Mount of Olives to pray.
Likewise, we are to pray regularly. Yes, we are to be available to pray spontaneously, as the Spirit moves us – but we also ought to have planned times when we pray in private and when we pray with other Christians – as we do in the worship service. As we pray, we have fellowship with the Father, through the Spirit, in the Name of the Son. As we know God through His Word, we learn Who God is – what His desires are – and we pray more and more after His Will – which are the only prayers that He will answer.
As we spend regular time in prayer, we grow in the practice of fellowshipping with the Father. Our trust grows as we see God carrying out His Will. As we pray also with other Christians, we learn about each other’s needs and joys, and we can join together in bringing them before the Father – not to inform God, but to thank God and to ask that His Will would be done in our lives.
And we might wonder why Jesus prayed if He is one hundred percent God – and He is. Jesus prayed, because He is also – at the same time – one hundred percent human – and though Jesus – in His humanity – was sinless – He did not possess the full Mind of God, nor God’s Perfect Will.
One of the things we understand from the Scripture about the Incarnation is that God the Son, Who is One Member of the Trinity – fully God from all of eternity – chose to come to earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth – a completely real human being. So, in the Incarnation, we have One Person, with two minds and two wills. Although the mind and will of the Son and the mind and will of Jesus of Nazareth were never in conflict, the mind and will of Jesus of Nazareth did not have the knowledge and understanding and wisdom of God.
This is how we can understand passages like: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32, ESV).
How could Jesus be wholly divine and not know when He was going to return? In this way: His Divinity kept His humanity from knowing. So, Jesus did not lie – in the Incarnate Person, He did not know. Yet, that truth does not make Him less than God, because His Divinity and humanity – though in One Person – remained distinct.
So, Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, prayed to the Father in His humanity, as the God-Man.
If you are feeling confused, don’t worry – our minds are finite and cannot fully comprehend this. What we affirm is what the Bible teaches: God the Son incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, as the One Man, Jesus Christ, while remaining distinctly and wholly – one hundred percent – God and human in the One Person. We can go no further.
We see that Jesus prayed privately and with the disciples. Thus, we who are not God Incarnate have good reason to also be in prayer to God, our Father, that we would grow in faith and obedience.
“And when he came to the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’”
Second, when we pray, we ought to be aware of the dangers around us.
Jesus told the disciples that they ought to be praying – even as they gathered to pray – that they would not enter into temptation – that they would not fall into temptation – that they would not sin as they sought to pray.
Peter wrote in the context of believers falling into sin through suffering: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, ESV).
There are many ways we can fall into temptation and sin when we are seeking to pray:
We can doubt that God will hear us and answer us.
The devil is most often referred to as “the accuser” – he is the prosecutor who stands before us as we pray and says, “Do you really think God will hear you after you have sinned by doing this and that? You don’t merit God’s ear. You’re not being humble before God – go away until you can approach God sinlessly.”
The devil usually tells the truth in his accusations – but there is a twist on them that can catch us off guard. Yes, we have sinned against God. No, we don’t merit God’s ear. No, we are not sinless of our own works. But Jesus lived and died and rose that all we who believe can come into the throne room of God and call to Him as “Father.”
We can ask for sin.
“Oh, Lord, just let me get even with so and so. You know what he did to me, and I just want to get even.”
We can bargain with God.
“Oh, Lord, if you just let me win the lottery this week, I’ll give half of the money to the church – and You know You could use it.”
We can treat God like a slot-machine or a bell hop.
“Merciful God, I have been faithful to You all week, so, I ask that You reward me with the woman I deserve.”
Or, we could be like the disciples and not recognize how important prayer is and fall asleep – we can just neglect prayer – or reduce it to – “Thanks for the food.” “Good night, God.”
Let us be on guard that we pray, and that we pray rightly.
“And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’”
Third, when we pray rightly, we conform our will to God’s.
Prayer is not merely about our getting what we want, but our getting what God wants for us.
Jesus knew what was coming. He understood that the Divine Plan was that He would suffer the full Wrath of God for all of the sins of everyone who would ever believe on the cross – that He would endure the painful horror of being forsaken by God, and although He only understood that to a small extend in His humanity, He understood the suffering would be cosmic and unimaginable – no one would ever or could ever suffer the suffering He was about to suffer.
In His humanity, Jesus feared the suffering and the unimaginable magnitude of it – that the full weight of God’s entire Wrath against believers past, present, and future would be thrust upon Him in a moment. We cannot begin to imagine what He suffered.
Even just to consider the flogging: having a leather whip, imbedded with rocks and glass and sharp pieces of metal, whipped against your body – having them dig in and tear flesh out – until – as the historians wrote of Jesus – there was not a spot on His body that was not bruised or bloody.
Then to consider crucifixion: to be stretched out on a cross, with spikes driven through your wrist and ankles – being held aloft as you struggled for air, as your lungs collapsed under your weight pulling your towards the ground.
And then to understand that that suffering was a mere bump on the arm compared with what God would do to you in inflicting His Wrath – not just for you – but for every believer – upon you.
Jesus, in perfect humanity, not desiring to be ravished in this way, prayed to His Loving Father, asking if there was any other way to make atonement for all those who would believe – asking if there was any other way He could save the Father’s sheep.
But, not my will, but Thine be done.
As much as His body recoiled at the suffering He was about to endure, He understood that God’s Way – God’s Will – was the best way – the only way – the most glorious way – and he submitted Himself to the Will of the Father.
That is our goal in prayer – that our desire – all that we pray for – would be God’s Will – after the Mind of God.
That is what Jesus taught us to pray for: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, ESV). The third petition – the third thing that Jesus said we are to pray for in the model of prayer that He gave us – is that God’s Will would be done by all of His Creation.
So, our desire is to be to pray for what God Wills – and as we grow in faith and obedience – as we pray and know God through His Word and through the answers we receive to our prayers – we will better pray after the Mind of God.
But what if we’re not sure?
Jesus was sure: “if there is any other way…your will be done…this is the only way…”
But we don’t always know – is it God’s Will that so and so would get well? Should we pray for their healing? Their submission to not being healed? What would God have me do with the life He has given me? And so forth.
We are told two things:
First, we are to pray for things “if the Lord is willing.” James writes – addressing boasting about one’s plans, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15, ESV).
Understand, this is not a magic code. What James is telling us is to submit all of our plans and desires to the Will of God. We do not have to say “if the Lord wills” as though it was a punctuation mark – or think if we don’t say it, it is an omen that things won’t come to pass as we would like. Nor are we to use it as an excuse to get out of doing things we don’t want to do.
No, we are to speak and think with a humility that says we desire this and that, and if God is so pleased as to will and grant it for us, such will most assuredly come to pass.
Second, God the Holy Spirit Who lives in every Christian will pray on our behalf for the Will of God.
Paul explains: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27, ESV).
Our prayers fall short of being the perfect will of God – fully wise as the Mind of God. You may have had times when you were conflicted as to how to pray for someone – or even yourself – times when you just didn’t know what the best prayer would be.
We are reassured that God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us will pray -- interceding on our behalf – to the Father – and the Father will answer the Spirit because They are of one Mind and pray for us – and our concerns – according to the Will of God for us.
So, when we do not know how to pray or what the best answer is, we do well to pray to the Father that the Spirit would lift up a perfect prayer after His Mind, which is the Will of God for us – and so it shall come to pass.
Finally, we read:
“And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
Fourth, prayer involves our whole person.
The author of Hebrews describes Jesus praying like this: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7, ESV).
Jesus prayed reverently, seeking that the Will of God be done. But it was not some sort of passive, stoic prayer with no emotion – Jesus prayed with His heart and soul and mind and body.
Our text tells us that Jesus prayed with such vigor, asking the Father if there might be some other way – as He considered the death that was before Him – that God sent an angel to strengthen Him – to uplift Him – to keep Him from fainting. He was strengthened such that He was able to pray in agony as He wrestled with the death before Him – and the blood vessels near the skin broke, sending blood into His sweat, so the drops of sweat were red and looked like great drops of blood.
I would venture to guess that none of us have prayed with such vigor that our blood vessels burst. Have you ever prayed with such physical and emotional engagement that you were in pain? Have you every prayed prayers of thanksgiving that were euphoric because of your great involvement in them with your whole person?
One of the reasons we don’t grow as the Church and Christians is that we think prayer is just part of the hour or two we spend in church worshipping. We come and go and check off our “time with God” and don’t spend time lifting up our prayers and wrestling with God for clarity about His Will and for the humility to accept and rejoice in whatever God would have come to pass for us.
Don’t let the devil tell you, “See, you’re not there, so there’s no hope – don’t’ even try.”
We’re all growing – may God be pleased – none of us have finished the race – so let us strive to pray – both privately and corporately, as we gather in worship. Let us pray for each other in person and privately. Let us pray that God will guide us to pray His Will – that He would make His Will clear to us – that we would desire His Will above our own – that we would seek the Spirit’s intercession and help to pray after the Mind of God.
“And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.’”
Let us pray:
Lord God, our Father, we pray that You would deliver us from temptation – from the evil one and all his accusations and plans. Increase the desire in us to pray. Cause us to desire to align our minds and will with Yours that You would be glorified and we would have joy. Strengthen us that we would continue to pray and seek Your Will until we humbly receive it for the sake of Your Kingdom and in the pursuit of Your Righteousness. May You be pleased to grow us as the Church and as Christians. In all things – as it is Your Will – transform us into the Image of Your Son, Jesus. For it is in His Name we pray, Amen.