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Going Deeper - #4 Watch and Pray

Maurits Stevens, April 9, 2017

What does your prayer life look like? What language should you use when praying? How can we follow Jesus' example in how He prayed and lived UP to God? We looked at these and others questions on the topic of prayer as Maurits continued his series 'Going Deeper' on the practice of Spiritual Disciplines.


About a month ago I started a series called ‘Going Deeper’. It’s a series on the practice of the Spiritual Disciplines like prayer, meditating on the Scripture, solitude, silence, giving, celebration etc. They’re activities that will help you to live UP with God and enjoy more fully the spiritual life in God’s kingdom.

The first three messages serve as a foundation to the series. They answer the question ‘why’ you should practice the spiritual disciplines. I’ve looked at the new life that you’ve received in Jesus and therefore it is Jesus who is at the core of your spirituality. Then we’ve seen that God is not interested in your outward activities as such, but looks to your inner motivation of why you pray or fast or give etc. In my previous message I’ve been looking on how you can use your body to go deeper with God as your body is fully involved in the practice of the spiritual disciplines.

The following three messages are more practical and answer the questions what disciplines you can practice and how to do so. Today I start with the practice of prayer.

And ‘prayer’ is probably familiar to most of us. Many of you pray at a daily basis. Prayer is conversing, communicating with God. When you pray, you talk to God, aloud or within your thoughts. [1] But how do you actually pray? How can you speak to God? What words do you choose to use?

Who of you remembers the first time that you prayed to God? […] Can you recall what it was like? I remember one of my first times. It was during my studies in Groningen – I had become interested in the Christian faith and read a book about God. At a certain point I gave it a try and began to pray out loud. I stumbled a few words, saying something like ‘God…….ehm…….thank you for today…..’ and then my prayer was finished. I had no clue what to say and how to speak to God. It felt weird; it felt as I was speaking up in the air.

It can also be weird for others when they see or hear you pray. Recently, I was praying on my knees, with my head bowed down to the floor. One of my daughters saw me and came to me asking if I was sad and if everything was all right ;)

And in some way prayer is ‘weird’ or rather ‘supernatural’. You are engaging with the transcendent God when you pray! The good news however, is that we can all learn to pray, and even better, we can all learn to pray as Jesus prayed to His Father. In Luke 11:1 one of the disciples came to Jesus, after they had heard Jesus praying, and he asked Jesus: ‘Lord, teach us to pray’. And Jesus did.  

For today I want you to come to Jesus in that same attitude – Lord, teach me to pray. Even if you already have developed a deep prayer life. I am going to read from what I think is Jesus most intense prayer: his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, right before Jesus is betrayed and arrested.

Reading: Mark 14:32-42

This prayer of Jesus takes place right after Jesus and his disciples shared the Last Supper. Jesus knew what was about to happen – in less than 24 hours he would breath his last breath, as he would die on the cross. This was the cup that Jesus had to drink and where he spoke about in his prayer.

But before all this would take place, Jesus choose to spend time in prayer as He was used to do [Luke 22:43]. Often He would spent the whole night in solitude and prayer: being alone in the presence of His Father [Mark 1:35; 6:46]. This is important: the spiritual disciplines is not what the church or I found out: they are activities in which Jesus deeply immersed himself. The practice of the spiritual disciplines is nothing else then following Jesus in his example, on how He lived UP to God.  

And what then, can you learn from Jesus in this prayer? Let’s have a closer look.

The prayer of Jesus

‘Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’.

First, Jesus begins his prayer and calls God ‘Abba, Father’. Abba is an Aramaic word meaning ‘father or daddy’ and expresses the special, intimate and personal relationship Jesus has to God. Jesus comes to God as a child comes to his father and says ‘daddy’! The language of Jesus to God is like everyday language of the family: simple, confident, honest, loving etc. This was completely new to the Jews and thus to his disciples; they weren’t used to speak to God so personal.

And although Jesus relationship to God is unique – being his one and only Son [John 1:18], the amazing fact is that you too, in the redemption of Jesus Christ, have become a child of God [1 John 3:1]. You too, may come to God and call him ‘Abba, Daddy, Father’ [Gal. 4:6]!

It can be quite refreshing to hear how children pray to God. E.g. our son prays to God as he speaks to a friend. His prayers are like: ‘Well God…ehhh…well, will you help me today with making my exam….and ehhh…I want us to win our soccer match…can you make that happen?...amen’. When I taught our youngest daughter to pray, I said to her ‘You can begin with saying: ‘thank you God, for the nice day that we had….’. Guess what…every time when she prays she starts saying ‘thank you God, for the nice day we had….’ Even if it was a sad day ;).

Richard Foster, in his book on Spiritual Disciplines, says: ‘we should never make prayer complicated…Jesus taught us to come to God as children come to their father’.[2]  Use simple, intimate and everyday language in your prayers to God.

Second, Jesus continues to declare God’s majesty and might. He speaks out in faith and out of personal knowledge and experience that God is almighty and thus ‘everything is possible for you’. That you call God ‘Daddy or Father’ doesn’t mean that He is your sugar daddy. Neither does it mean that the simple words you use aren’t filled with reverence and awe. They are! God indeed is our heavenly Father, but He is also the Almighty God who rules sovereignly over the heavens and the earth [Psalm 103:19, Isaiah 45:11-12].

It is very important to know to whom you pray, to know your God [John 8:54-55]! Who is the God to whom you pray? Is He the God of the Bible? And if He is the God of the Bible – do you allow Him to be the God for you as He has revealed in His Word? Do you trust Him?

Get to know God! Read your bible, act upon who God reveals He is and may this lead to a deeper level and experience of your prayer life!

Third, after Jesus came to His Father and declared God’s might, he continues to bring his request before God. Such an intense moment. In reading this passage you encounter Jesus in one of the most troubling, severe moment in his life. It almost feels as if you are with Jesus in Gethsemane and look straight into his heart and see his anxiety, fear and sorrow. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death’. Jesus was so in anguish – as Luke tells in his version - that his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground [Luke 22:44]. And in this hour of severe anxiety Jesus asks his Father to ‘take this cup from me’. This cup, filled with the sins of the whole world, your sins, my sins. This cup, filled with the alienation from His Father as he would die on the cross. How would Jesus be able to drink this cup? Jesus expressed his true feelings to God and was completely open and honest about His emotions, fears, anxiety.

When you pray; be totally open and honest about yourself. Pray to God in touch with your own brokenness, fears, emotions. Just like Jesus. Do not put up a ‘spiritual mask’ or speak ‘holy words’ for the sake of the words. But bring before God all your requests in total honesty – nothing is strange for God, for Jesus has been at the same place where you are; the only difference is that Jesus never sinned [Hebr. 4:14-16].

Last, Jesus ends his prayer in full surrender to God’s will. ‘Yet not what I will, but what you will’. Jesus desire was fully conditioned upon God’s will and not his will. In Matthew’s version we read that Jesus also prayed: ‘My Father if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done’ [Math. 26:42]. This is true surrender to God’s sovereign will!

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said about prayer: ‘A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer is listening.[3] Martin Luther said: ‘The fewer the words, the better the prayer’. Payer is listening.

I always find it helpful after my ‘talking’ to God, to spend some time in silence – to rest in God’s presence and give room for the Lord to speak and discern his guidance. It helps me to surrender myself to His will for my life, even if I am not totally sure how God will answer my prayer.

In summary, from Jesus prayer in Gethsemane we learn to:

 

Use simple, intimate and everyday language, as a child speaks to his father

Get to know the God to whom you pray and declare who He is in faith

Bring before God all your requests in complete honesty

Surrender in trust to God’s will for your life

 

Wrestling in Gethsemane

Before I turn to Jesus instruction to his disciples, there is something I would like to say about the moments in life that you find yourself praying in a garden like Gethsemane. It can be a time of worry, anxiety, fear, mixed emotions, pain or suffering. The birth of our daughter Therese with all the life-threatening complications was like the garden of Gethsemane to us. Right now, the financial situation of our church worries me. I guess you have had your moments.

What is God’s answer to your prayer? I am not pretending that I can give you the right answer, but at least the Bible gives us three possible ways how God responds to your prayer. Prayer is a lot about transformation and change.[4]  

  1. God may change his mind – in several occasions in the Bible you find God relent after people cried out to Him [e.g. Ex. 32:14; Jonah 3:9-10]
  2. God may change the situation – think about all the miracles, healings and deliverances of Jesus in the gospels, in which He changed the peoples situation as he prayed for them.
  3. God may change you – God gives you what you need in order to face what lies ahead of you. In Gethsemane God did not change his mind and neither the situation for his Son Jesus. But God did change Him. Jesus came out stronger then He went into the garden! In Luke you read that as Jesus prayed God send an angel who strengthened Him [Luke 22:43].

And look how Jesus, at the very end of the story, says to his disciples: ‘Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer! It seems like Jesus has overcome his fears and is filled with courage, a readiness, to face the hour of death.

Theologian William Barcley said: [5]

When we pray, remember:

  1. The love of God that wants the best for us.
    2. The wisdom of God that knows what is best for us.
    3. The power of God that can accomplish it
    .

Small group conversation [2 min]: Turn to the person next to you and have open conversation about the following questions: Have you been in a place like Gethsemane in your life? What did you pray and how have you experienced God’s answer?

Watch & pray: plan your prayer life

‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak’. This is the instruction of Jesus to his disciples, including you today, especially when you find yourself in times of crisis [see also Eph. 6:18].

To watch and pray means to be spiritually awake; to discern what is happening in that moment at a spiritual level. Jesus says this for the disciples themselves, to warn them of the danger of failure in struggle which was about to overwhelm them. It is the same danger that threatens all of us and is called ‘temptation’. The possibility of stumbling and falling into sin. To become untrue to God and lose the quality of eternal life for that moment.

In Jesus instruction you see the connection between spiritual life in God’s kingdom and the practice of the spiritual disciplines. Watch and pray so that you maintain in the life that God has in mind for you! That’s exactly what the spiritual disciplines ‘do’: they are actions by which you bring your entire person, including your body, under the authority of Jesus Christ and into connection with God’s will and purpose. We pray, because Jesus prayed!  

In that night the disciples failed to be spiritually alert and to pray and eventually would fall into temptation. They were just too tired! But it was all part of their learning curve to follow Jesus.

John Stott was convinced that ‘…one of the main reasons so many of God’s children don’t have a significant life of prayer is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to’. [6] If you want renewal in your life of prayer, you must plan to see it. And the more you practice, the more prayer will become something you automatically do – and the more you will experience victory over temptation. What is your plan for your spiritual life in God’s kingdom? […] Do you have it? If so, how does your plan looks like?

And if you don’t have a plan, why don’t you take time this very day to rethink your priorities and how prayer fits in. Make some new decisions and just begin. Set a time. Set a place. Choose a portion of Scripture to guide you. May it be the start of a new adventure in going deeper with God through the practice of prayer.

Small group conversation: 5 minutes

We’re going to end with a brief small group conversation. And I would like you to split up groups of 2’s or 3’s and have an open conversation on how your prayer life looks like. Maybe you also want to share whether you should have to make some adjustments in your plan your prayer life. How can prayer fit better into your daily rhythm? 

Close off with a prayer in your group. 

Outline & Questions for the Home Group

Opening

  • Prayerfully read and meditate as a group on Mark 14:36 [10-15 min’s.]
    • Try to picture yourself being with Jesus in that particular moment and see and hear him pray
    • What does it do with your thoughts, emotions, feelings?
    • What impact does this prayer of Jesus have on you as you meditate on it?
    • Share briefly with one another about your experiences

 

Group dialogue [30-45 min’s.]

  1. Prayer is conversing, communicating with God. How do you experience the practice of prayer? Do you feel like you are communicating with God?
  2. Can you recall your first times in prayer? How did that look like? Can you tell the group about your experience?
  3. The prayer of Jesus in Mark 14:36 has four different elements: 1. Call to God; 2. Declaration of God’s might; 3. Request; 4. Surrender. Which of those four elements are the easiest to you and which the most difficult? Can you tell why?
  4. Jesus calls God ‘Abba, Father’. It expresses the unique, intimate and personal relationship Jesus has to God. And yet you may come in that same intimacy to the God our Father and speak on a very personal level to Him. As a child to their father. How is this for you? Can you tell the group what language/words you prefer to express yourself to God?
  5. Jesus declares God’s majesty and might when He says: ‘everything is possible for you’. Jesus knows who God is in every aspect. Can you describe to the group who God is for you? In what aspects would you like to know God better?
  6. Everyone has their moments of sorrow, stress, anxiety, pain and worry. The times that you find yourself in what you can call ‘the garden of Gethsemane’. What did you pray in these moments and how have you experienced God’s answer?
  7. ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak’ [vs. 38]. What does it mean to ‘watch and pray’? See also Ephesians 6:1-18. How can you make this practical?
  8. What connection do you see between the spiritual life in God’s kingdom and the practice of the spiritual disciplines [vs. 38]?
  9. Can you tell your group how your prayer life looks like?
  10. Is there a need to renew your prayer life and make a better plan to fit prayer into your daily rhythm’s? If so, what adjustments can you make?

 

Prayer / Ministry [10 min’s.]

The evening is ended with a time of personal prayer, using the pattern of Jesus’ prayer.

Each person thinks for him/herself what to pray for. If they prefer to speak out loud they may want to go to a private spot in the room/house. If time allows, you can let some of the group share about their experiences.

 

As you pray try to follow Jesus pattern:

Use simple, intimate and everyday language, as a child speaks to his father

Declare who God is in faith

Bring before God all your requests in complete honesty

Surrender in trust to God’s will for your life

 

[1] Willard, D. 1988. The Spirit of Disciplines. Understanding How God Changes Lives. Harper Collins Publishers. New York. Page 184

[2] Foster, R. 2003. Celebration of Disciplines. HarperCollins Inc. San Francisco. Page 40-41

[3] Foster, R. 2003. Celebration of Disciplines. HarperCollins Inc. San Francisco. Page 40

[4] Foster, R. 2003. Celebration of Disciplines. HarperCollins Inc. San Francisco. Page 40

[5] http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/p/prayer.htm

[6] Piper, J. 2003. Desiring God. Multnomah Publishers, Inc. Sisters, Oregon. Page 182

 

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