We all face difficult situations that we wish, and at times pray, would go away. How should be respond in such difficult times? Jesus shows us what we should do, by his example.
Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, including the prayer “Your will be done…” While he taught that prayer in a context of teaching his disciples, he later on shows us by example what it means in real life to pray “Your will be done.”
As we go through John’s gospel on Sundays, leading up to Easter, beginning with Jesus’ teaching after the Passover, we have arrived at John 18:1-14 where Jesus and the disciples (minus Judas) go to the garden of Gethsemene. There, we see how Jesus prays in anguish to the Father. John’s gospel records some of the events in the garden, while Matthew fills out the story with some others. Matthew records Jesus prayer to the Father in the garden, before his arrest;
‘He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”’ (Matthew 26:39, NLT)
Pray: Jesus’ response was firstly to pray to the Father. When we are faced with difficult issues, our first response is often to try to manipulate circumstances ourselves, rather than pray. As one person commented to someone when they suggested praying about a difficult matter; “Has it come to that!” In other words, have we run out of options and have to resort to prayer as a last resort? For Jesus, prayer was his first resort, not his last.
Pray repeatedly: Jesus didn’t just pray, but he prayed repeatedly. He prayed the same prayer three times. We should bring our prayer requests to God, repeatedly. And after praying, we ought not to then quickly do what we can, but instead we should go back to prayer again, and again.
Be ready to stop praying: Jesus already knew that there was no other way than for him to suffer on the cross, for our sins to be atoned for, so that we could be forgiven. He was ready to accept the Father’s will, as his starting pointing point in prayer. And he was ready to stop praying when the Father’s silence showed that his original will on the subject had not changed. We, too, ought to be ready and willing to stop praying, and to accept the Father’s will in our situations. We certainly should not start praying with the presupposition that our will should be done, and that God should get in line with our way of thinking.
Jesus then obeys the Father. He accepts his will. It is often much more difficult to mentally prepare oneself for doing what is unpalatable, than going through the situation itself. The biggest battle is in the mind, accepting what is to come, rather than in reality, facing what is to come.
Again, Jesus accepts the Father’s silence as guidance. If we are commanded by God to do something, and we do not receive a counter-command to revoke the previous one, we ought to continue in the direction that we were going in the first place. God’s silence is clear guidance at times.
We ought to trust in God and his ways, and not resort to physical force, or other worldly methods, to get things done our way. Peter did not understand the whole purpose of the crucifixion previously in Matthew 16:21-23. Again, he tries to stop Jesus being arrested and attacks one of the arrest party with a sword, cutting off his ear. Jesus rebukes him (and heals the wounded man). Peter clearly is using the world’s ways, when Jesus knows that his ways are not of this world.
In the name of Christ, many went out to the ‘Holy Land’ in the ‘Crusades’ like Peter, using the sword to advance the kingdom of God. Like Peter, some also try to force their way on others, either legally or illegally, such as Orange Order marches that clearly show disrespect and worldly thinking, as they try to advance their own cause, not Christ’s. Many in other religions also use physical force or worldly methods, such as suicide bombers or violent jihad. The list is long…
But the kingdom of God is not advanced by such methods. We should not try to advance it by such methods. While Jesus taught that believers must expect hostility, and in some way should prepare for it, he is most often understood in Luke 22:35-38 to mean that we have the right to self-defence, but should not be the cause or instigator of hostility. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world – if it were, he would use this world’s methods and win hands-down (John 18:36). Instead, believers should be known for the opposite, they whould be like God, the ultimate peacemaker;
‘God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.’ (Matthew 5:9, NLT)
Christians ought to know the gospel. They ought to know that justification by faith is not a truth whose end is itself, instead it is a truth that when put into practice reconciles sinners to God, it results in the Spirit of Holiness (using Paul’s words in Romans 1:4) coming into a person’s life, transforming them, with the resultant fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23). Paul then continues,
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” Gal 5:25–26 ESV.
We ought not to use worldly methods, but according to the Spirit, not the natural sinful nature, if we want to please God (Romans 8:4-8).
We ought therefore to trust in God, trust in his answers to prayer, trust in his ways not worldly ways, and accept whatever the outcome is, knowing that he works all things for the good of his people (Romans 8:28).
When we accept God’s will, and go forward in his strength, using his ways, we do his will. Jesus’ action of obedience to the cross resulted in the atonement, the forgiveness of the sins of all who will trust in him. Others too, when they have done God’s will, not only accepting his objective, but also his methods, find that their actions result in good in the long run. Peter also encourages us to endure suffering, even if it is not deserved, because it is better to go along with God’s method than to do wrong:
‘Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you. If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? And also, “If the righteous are barely saved, what will happen to godless sinners?” So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.’ (1 Peter 4:12–19, NLT)
When we are personally faced with a difficult situation, follow Jesus’ example: Pray, obey, trust…