Get Up and Pray! (Luke 22:39-46)

The Garden of Gethsemane by He Qi

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (New International Version)

The prayer of Jesus and the sleeping of his disciples presents a contrast of approach when severe stress is upon us.

The Prayer of Jesus

Christ’s prayer expresses the tension all devout persons face: expressing our own wishes while seeking to submit to the Father’s wishes.

However, what is not the same, between our own prayers and the prayers of Jesus, is that we too often believe that if we are intense, wordy, and insistent enough with God, that our prayers will be answered.

While only feigning a few words about God’s will, we put our real efforts into lawyer-like presentations of why the Lord should answer our prayers in the way we want them answered.

Thus, prayer can too easily become a willful imperative that God grant our demands based in a very limited understanding of the big picture.

There is a big difference between willfulness and willingness. We must embrace the latter and eschew the former.

Jesus clearly stated exactly what he wanted: to have this terrible suffering, especially the pain about to be experienced, taken from him. Yet, he asks this with a willingness to accept the Father’s will for his life. Although an angel comes to bring comfort and strength, Christ’s request was denied. And Jesus was good with that.

We can, following the example of Jesus, unashamedly express our anguish, while at the same time, accepting God’s will for us, no matter what it may be.

Christ in Gethsemane by Michael O’Brien

It was God’s will for Jesus to suffer. And Christ not only suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross; Jesus experienced the full range of human suffering throughout his life. He knew what it felt like to face continual adversity and hardship. 

The suffering of Christ helps us make sense of our own suffering. We can only truly be free from our stubborn expectations by embracing that which makes us suffer. 

Some suffer through the death of a loved one; some through cancer or a serious health issue; other believers right now throughout the world are suffering due to grinding poverty and la ack of food and clean water; many others suffer through violence done to them or their families.

Because of this reality, some of us may not even express our anguish to God in prayer. After all, what is a harshly worded e-mail, or trying to lose a few extra pounds, or an unexpected car repair, compared to starving children in the world? 

It’s good to keep our life situations in proper perspective, but it is also not good to tell God what he should and shouldn’t care about in this world. 

If the only things that matter and qualify as hardship and difficulty is human trafficking or the terrors of war, then you will soon find yourself plastering a smile on your face and nodding over-enthusiastically whenever someone asks you how you are doing…. Good grief…. I find chronically happy Christians to be insufferable (pun intended).

The sufferings of Christ qualified him to be a compassionate high priest, able to help us (Hebrews 2:5-18). A priest is one who stands in between the person and God, making things right with God. Christians possess a union with Jesus Christ because of his suffering, death, and resurrection. He is our champion. He stands with us in our suffering and temptations.    

The Sleep of the Disciples

Even though their Lord told them to pray, the disciples nod-off in a stress-induced sleep. Jesus wanted them to remain awake, and he was talking of more than just physical alertness. The disciples needed to keep watch so that they didn’t fall into temptation.

Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus had been warning them that his cross will lead to their own cross to bear. They, too, will have times of trial, so intense that it will be emotionally and spiritually overwhelming. Christ desired the disciples to follow his own example of offering anguished prayer which is thoroughly submissive to God.

So, our great task is to get up and pray!

Get up and pray so that no temptation can overtake you! (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Get up and pray so that you can endure hardship! (Hebrews 12:7)

Get up and pray for the enemies who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father in heaven! (Matthew 5:44-45)

Get up and pray so that you can encourage others and build them up in the faith! (1 Thessalonians 5:10-11)

Get up and pray so that you can be joyful in hope and patient in affliction! (Romans 12:12)

Get up and pray so that you may have peace in this world of trouble! (John 16:33)

Get up and pray so that you can submit to God and resist the devil! (James 4:7)

Get up and pray so that you will not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good! (Romans 12:11)

Get up and pray so that you can submit to one another out of reverence for Christ! (Ephesians 5:21)

Get up and pray so that you can be the salt of the earth and the light of the world! (Matthew 5:13-16)

Get up and pray so that you can proclaim that the kingdom of God is near! (Matthew 10:7)

Get up and pray so that you can preach the Word with great patience and careful instruction! (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

Get up and pray so that you can have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. (Hebrews 13:17)

Get up and pray!…

The Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8)

“The Persistent Widow” by Ronnie Farmer, Jr.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (New International Version)

“God desires of us nothing more ardently than that we ask many and great things of him, and he is displeased if we do not confidently ask and entreat.”

Martin Luther

God wants us to pray! Prayer happens from a place of faith because to pray, one must believe that God is good and answers prayer. Conversely, prayerlessness is faithlessness. A person of little faith prays only a little. A person full of faith cannot stop praying.

Today’s Gospel lesson is a parable about not losing heart, about justice, and ultimately about faith.

Be Persistent In Prayer

For the Gospel writer, Luke, the widow, along with orphans, the diseased, and the handicapped, represent those who are dependent and vulnerable. And so, Jesus took a particular interest in them. (Luke 20:47, 21:3)

Widows are also presented by Luke as prophetic, active, and faithful. The widow in Christ’s parable, much like the other widows mentioned by Luke, is persistent and persuasive enough to get the justice she demands – even from an unjust judge. Her persistent petitioning is held up as a lesson in prayer.

Don’t lose heart and give up praying when your prayers are not answered as quickly as you want. No matter the prayer, we typically hope for and even expect them to be answered quickly. And if they don’t, we may get upset or discouraged.

“We must patiently, believingly, continue in prayer until we obtain an answer… Most frequently we fail in not continuing in prayer until the blessing is obtained, and in not expecting the blessing.”

George Müller

We pray daily for a variety of situations as individuals and as a congregation. Not all those prayers get answered in the ways we expect. Many times, it can seem like nothing is changing, or things are just getting worse. It is possible for us to despair in those moments and give up.

Yet, even if we do not immediately see an answer to our prayers, we need to keep praying. Even if we are suffering and seeing darkness all around us, we should not stop crying out to the Lord. And the content of those prayers is important.

Be Persistent In Justice

The parable is like a sandwich. The two pieces of rye bread are prayer and faith, with justice being the ham and cheese between them. The meat of the parable is in the ingredients of the prayers.

The widow is the vulnerable justice-seeker, and the powerholder is the unjust judge. The powerful and just God replaces the unjust authority’s reluctance, granting justice to vulnerable people who cry out to him day and night.

We are to persistently and passionately pray as Jesus instructed us:

“Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation….”

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:2-4, 9-10, NIV)

Jesus said, “Seek his kingdom, and these things [food, clothing, basic necessities] will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near, and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:31-34, NIV)

Be Persistent In Faith

Christ’s parable ends with a question: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? In Luke’s Gospel, there are several folks whom Jesus commended for their faith:

  • A Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant, being confident that Christ could do so without even being present to do it. Jesus commented, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith, even in Israel.” (Luke 7:1-10)
  • A “sinful” woman anointed the feet of Jesus with perfume and her tears, loving the Lord despite the judgmental people around her. Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)
  • Friends of a paralyzed man dug through a roof to get him access to Jesus, knowing that Christ could heal. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 5:17-26)
  • An unclean woman, because of a chronic issue of bleeding, touched the edge of Christ’s cloak, believing that even this small touch will heal her. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:43-48)
  • A Samaritan leper cried out for mercy, recognizing that Jesus is the Christ who could heal him; and then fell at his feet in profound gratitude. Jesus said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)
  • A blind beggar called out to Jesus, seeing with spiritual eyes who Jesus really is. Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” (Luke 18:35-43)

So, will Jesus find faith on the earth when he returns?  Yes, he will, but it may likely be in unexpected places — not among the religious professionals or the ones certain of their own righteousness, but among the outsiders, the unlovely, the unclean, the ones certain of their sinfulness.

Perhaps the best sign of faith is a willingness to persist in prayer, like widow who persisted against all odds in her struggle for justice with the powerful judge.

Conclusion

We must have faith in Christ, and not in faith itself.

If we are honest, every one of us who has made a difficult prayer request, mustering-up all the faith we can, and then being disappointed when it did not happen, has been hurt. The unstable person vacillates when this happens, playing the “God-loves-me, God-loves-me-not” game. The person of faith, however, believes God answers prayer, and that if it is not answered when I want, God knows what’s up and will answer it in God’s own good time and grace.

None of this is about the amount of faith. Maybe you have told yourself, or somebody else has said to you, that you don’t have enough faith, and that’s why your prayer was not answered.

“The value of persistent prayer is not that God will hear us, but that we will finally hear God.”

William McGill

Know this: positive thinking is not the same as Christian faith. Faith is neither a matter of optimism nor of sending $19.95 to some hack preacher who promises to give you the secret of answered prayer, along with a free gold cross.

Taking a lesson from Christ’s parable about the persistent widow, we can put aside tepid, milquetoast, mumbling prayers with hunched shoulders (i.e. “Well, God, if it is your will, could you help me?”) and instead, because of our union with Jesus Christ and our redemption in him, pray confidently and boldly. In Christ, we have the privilege and authority to do so.

Blessed heavenly Father, we praise you for the grace we possess through the Lord Jesus Christ. We rejoice in Christ’s teaching, the gift of faith, the privilege to approach your throne with boldness, and the victory you have provided for us through Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. 

We pray your mercy over our sins, the sins of other believers, and the sins of our world. We confess the sin of prayerlessness, faithlessness, apathy, complacency, and indifference to your concerns for righteousness and justice. We acknowledge the wickedness of our world through injustice, oppression, and exploitation of others.

We recognize that the kingdom of darkness has laid strategies against us, trying to keep your people from faith and prayer. So, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we claim our place as children of God. We smash and pull down all the strongholds which Satan has erected against humanity – and pray that the power of Christ’s resurrection would hinder and frustrate the plans formed against us. 

We, your people, accept the role of standing in the gap for others in prayer. In Christ, we are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. So, we bring all the work of the Lord Jesus Christ – his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and glorification directly against all of Satan’s power in their lives.

By faith we pray for fruitful lives of spiritual abundance, social justice, and sanctified relationships in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Heartfelt Prayer (Lamentations 5:1-22)

Orthodox icon of Jeremiah praying

O Lord, reflect on what has happened to us;
consider and look at our disgrace.

Our inheritance is turned over to strangers;
foreigners now occupy our homes.

We have become fatherless orphans;
our mothers have become widows.

We must pay money for our own water;
we must buy our own wood at a steep price.

We are pursued—they are breathing down our necks;
we are weary and have no rest.

We have submitted to Egypt and Assyria
in order to buy food to eat.

Our forefathers sinned and are dead,
but we suffer their punishment.

Slaves rule over us;
there is no one to rescue us from their power.

At the risk of our lives, we get our food
because robbers lurk in the wilderness.

Our skin is as hot as an oven
due to a fever from hunger.

They raped women in Zion,
virgins in the towns of Judah.

Princes were hung by their hands;
elders were mistreated.

The young men perform menial labor;
boys stagger from their labor.

The elders are gone from the city gate;
the young men have stopped playing their music.

Our hearts no longer have any joy;
our dancing is turned to mourning.

The crown has fallen from our head;
woe to us, for we have sinned!

Because of this, our hearts are sick;
because of these things, we can hardly see through our tears.

For wild animals are prowling over Mount Zion,
which lies desolate.

But you, O Lord, reign forever;
your throne endures from generation to generation.

Why do you keep on forgetting us?
Why do you forsake us so long?

Bring us back to yourself, O Lord, so that we may return to you;
renew our life as in days before,
unless you have utterly rejected us
and are angry with us beyond measure. (New English Translation)

“’Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac?”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Prayer is not about getting the right words strung together in a correct formula in a perfect disposition of the heart. Rather, prayer is conversation and a dialogue with God. 

Sometimes prayer looks a lot more like a triage unit in a hospital than it does a steeple on a church. Prayer often looks like desperation more than it does praise. 

God is a Being that we can tell the truth about what is really going on in our lives. Prayer isn’t prayer when we just tell God what we think God wants to hear.

“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

Mahatma Gandhi

The biblical book of Lamentations is the prophet Jeremiah’s extended prayer of grief, lament, complaint, and raw feeling. His hometown of Jerusalem was decimated by the invading Babylonian army. Thousands of people were taken out of the city and into exile. The ones left, including Jeremiah, were beside themselves with anger, grief, sadness, and fear.

We hear his cry to God, not worrying about whether it is appropriate language or not. Jeremiah’s words and phrases to God were heartfelt and real:

“We’re worn out and without any rest.”

“All the joy is gone from our hearts.” 

“We are heartsick.”

“We can hardly see through our tears.”

“Why do you keep forgetting us, God?”
“Lord, why dump us and leave us like this?

“Give us a fresh start, for God’s sake!”

Jeremiah was not concerned about how he looked or sounded, and not afraid to express his real thoughts and feelings.

Every thought and feeling is a valid entry into prayer. It is of utmost importance that we pray what is actually inside of us and not what we believe God would like to hear from us. 

The Lord doesn’t like pretense and posturing; God wants the real us. 

Plastic words and phony speeches are an affront to God. We must pray precisely what is on our minds and in our hearts – unfiltered, if need be. No matter the headache or the heartache, we only need to pray, without any concern for doing it perfectly.

“Suffering forces us to change.
We don’t like change and most of the time we fear it and fight it.
We like to remain in emotionally familiar places
even through sometimes those places are not healthy for us.
On occasion, the suffering is so great that we have to give up.
We surrender the old and begin anew.
Often it is the pain we experience that leads us, not only to a different life,
but a richer and more rewarding one.” Dennis Wholey

Gracious God, sometimes I feel like I have to have it all together to even speak to you. Yet you already know my heart better than I know it myself. Forgive my constant hiding from you and accept my heartfelt prayer to you for grace and help, through Jesus Christ my Savior and Lord. Amen.

Night Prayer (Psalm 119:49-56)

Remember your promise to me, your servant;
    it has given me hope.
Even in my suffering I was comforted
    because your promise gave me life.
The proud are always scornful of me,
    but I have not departed from your law.
I remember your judgments of long ago,
    and they bring me comfort, O Lord.
When I see the wicked breaking your law,
    I am filled with anger.
During my brief earthly life
    I compose songs about your commands.
In the night I remember you, Lord,
    and I think about your law.
I find my happiness
    in obeying your commands. (Good News Translation)

During a typical day, I keep busy and am engaged with applying an understanding of the spiritual life to my work. At bedtime, sometimes the job goes with me.

Stillness and silence can sometimes, ironically, become an alchemy of restlessness and noise. I toss and turn, the racing thoughts in my head refusing to slow down and rest.

Insomnia happens to everyone, some more than others. We all have experienced the inability to sleep. 

There are some who choose not to sleep. They arise in the middle of the night – not because of insomnia or sleep disorders – but because they intentionally wake for prayer. 

Yes, many monastics routinely pray in the night. Yet, there are many lay people who do so, as well. 

In my own times of trying to sleep, I often think about those persons who are purposefully trying to stay awake and deliberately keeping watch in prayer during the night. I, then, reflexively go to the biblical psalms.

Along with the psalmist, and in solidarity with my Christian brothers and sisters in this hemisphere who are maintaining a prayerful spirit, I reflect at night on the character and nature of the Lord who created both the sun to govern the day and the moon as a faithful witness in the dark.

The psalmist seems to be awake at night because he is frustrated and upset. It irks him that there are people who spurn wise instruction and aim their contempt at those trying to live according to God’s Law.

Although insomnia can certainly be the result of angry or unwanted feelings, maybe it is something else altogether. Perhaps the psalmist simply chose to be awake at night and do some theological reflection on God, others, and himself.

At various times in my life, I have decided to set my alarm for two o’clock in the morning to pray. I know it may sound crazy to some. Yet, this discipline has taught me something valuable: God is Lord over all chronological time and every season. I am a servant. I am neither lord nor master. 

This nightly exercise of weaving my life around a set time of prayer has caused me to learn that I have spent far too much of my life trying to make time bend to my wishes. 

It’s actually delusional for me to believe that I somehow control time – that I can cause the relationship between events to be fast or slow. It is all really an illusion – that I can control the clock. Time marches forward, seasons come and go, and we are a vapor which lasts only a moment.

The only control I possess is self-control. Anything beyond this is nothing but a pathetic attempt at manipulation.

Whether we find ourselves awake in the night because we cannot sleep, or intentionally choose to use the night for connecting with God, the wee hours of darkness afford us a unique opportunity to ponder the Lord’s promises, commands, attributes, and works. 

The next time you find yourself awake at night, try avoiding the television and a zombie-like state of hoping for sleep. Try using the night-time for reflecting on the Lord in ways you might not have considered during the day. Pray. Reflect. Consider. In doing so, you may find a blessing of light within the dark.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.