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!…

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.

Colossians 4:2-6 – Circular Praying

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (New International Version)

Ever since I blew into my first musical instrument, I’ve been fascinated with circular breathing. It’s a technique used by the instrumentalist (or singer) to produce a continuous tone without interruption. In other words, you can keep blowing or singing without doing the traditional stopping to inhale. 

By breathing in through the nose while simultaneously pushing air out through the mouth, using air stored in the cheeks, the person can maintain the sound. This might sound difficult, but it really isn’t. It’s just that circular breathing takes a lot of practice. 

The hard part is unlearning how you typically breathe. I can do it, yet I’ve made the personal observation that it doesn’t happen unless you can be very relaxed, connected to your body, and grounded in what you’re doing.

I imagine that we all sometimes feel like admonitions to devote ourselves to prayer, pray continually, and never give up praying, are something like circular breathing. 

Maybe the prayer thing is best left to the experts and the professionals, we may think. Yet, the Apostle Paul encouraged the entire Colossian church to keep up the praying, both leaders and laity.

“Never give up praying,” (Colossians 4:2, CEV) might sound unattainable. It isn’t. The catch to it is this: You’ll need to unlearn some old ways of praying before devotion to prayer is realized. 

The ancient Colossians had fallen into the wrongheaded belief that Christianity could be reduced to a nice neat, packaged formula of do’s and don’ts. Do the right things. Say the right things. Don’t do the list of the terrible ten or the nasty nine, or whatever checklist you are using to live by your form of “Christianity.” 

Paul was telling the Colossians to completely jettison such an approach to the Christian life. Instead, persevere in prayer without knowing the outcome. Pray relying on God and the mystery of Christ. Pray with uncertainty instead of continually believing you need sure answers to everything for everyone.

The Christian life cannot be forced into some geeky algorithm so that we can avoid suffering, know all the right things to say in a conversation, and always keep God happy. 

God is not some algebra equation to figure out. The Lord is not a gumball machine to put a quarter in and get what you want. The almighty is not Santa God. 

Christianity requires living in the tension of not knowing everything, and yet, having cogent answers for others who inquire about our faith. It is a dynamic relationship, in which we must continually interact in prayer to God, while mostly improvising our lives, spontaneously applying the understanding we have for each situation before us.

Breathing in and breathing out at the same time – that’s what prayer is really like.

Paul’s desire was to keep the church vigilant in prayer. He wanted all the churches to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the God who answers in his own good time, according to his own good will.

The believers were being taught a kind of circular praying whereby they make good use of the time God has given through choosing wise words to say, while simultaneously carrying on a silent prayer conversation with God. 

This is a Christianity that’s far above rules and laws and checklists. It’s Christianity as it’s meant to be lived, depending on Jesus, and relaxed in the Spirit.

But again, the catch is this: Circular praying takes practice, practice, practice. 

Failure is both inevitable and expected. And that’s okay. We’re not living by lists and human contrived rules.  We’re living a new life in the power of Christ’s resurrection. So, it takes a new kind of praying.

God of Mystery, the One who conceals and reveals, forgive me for my attempts at reducing faith to a few spiritual rules to keep. Help me to speak in ways which are gracious, loving, and redemptive. May the person and work of Jesus come tumbling out of my mouth while I inhale the breath of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Luke 11:1-13 – Ask. Seek. Knock.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘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.’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“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.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (New International Version)

Jesus, in his teaching ministry on earth, often used the “lesser-to-greater” argument in getting his point across. And that is precisely what he was doing with his disciples in today’s Gospel lesson, instructing them about the nature and motivation of prayer.

The lesser-to-greater argument implies a comparison of values. It’s grounded on a common sense and logical convention that if this lesser thing is true, then, of course, how much more is this greater thing!

If something less likely to happen is true, then something more likely to happen will probably be true as well. The technical phrase for this is the a fortiori argument. It’s a Latin term meaning, “for a still stronger reason.”

So, then, Jesus wanted his followers to understand that prayer has value because God is a loving Father, not a begrudging friend. Whereas the friend in the story was badgered just so the person could get some real necessities, God needs no badgering to generously give good gifts that may or may not be considered as necessities by us.

Prayer has veracity and potency because of whom those prayers are directed to.

In the ancient world, it was common understanding that you needed to get the local gods attention if you wanted something. Which is why, for example, in the prophet Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal, that Baal’s worshipers were yelling, gesticulating, and even cutting themselves for hours. They fully expected to put a lot of work into getting Baal’s attention, to convince him of intervening in their ancient version of a wild West shootout. (1 Kings 18:16-29)

In contrast to the four-hundred prophets of Baal, a single prophet of the Lord utters one simple prayer, then fire comes rushing down from heaven. (1 Kings 18:30-39) Much like the person who badgered the friend for bread, the prophets pestered Baal for hours.

It all comes down to who really cares. The friend? Not enough to jump out of bed right away and meet a need. Baal? Not so much. God? Now we’re talking.

We typically don’t ask, seek, or knock, if we believe we won’t get a response – or if it will take a lot of energy, time, and effort we don’t have.

Yet, if we are confident of being with care, then we are likely to have a habit of asking, seeking, and knocking.

If a friend begrudgingly gives to you because of persistent knocking, how much more will God graciously, generously, and with gaiety give you goodness when you ask? Because God is good, God gives good gifts. The largess of the Lord is willing and ready to dispense grace from an infinite storehouse of mercy.

This is why Jesus encouraged people to not pray like those who don’t know God, babbling on because they think they’ll be heard because of the sheer volume of words. (Matthew 6:7-8)

There are two misconceptions of prayer which existed in Christ’s day, and today. They come from non-Christian sources:

  1. There must be a lot of prayer before prayer “works.” Although I believe repetition is important for forming good habits, praying the same prayers over and over again so as to be heard betrays an ignorance of God, not to mention an actual lack of faith. Many ancient religions were based in learning how to manipulate the spiritual forces out there to get what we need. It’s kind of like a divine version of hustling for love in all the wrong places. Christians need to know they don’t need to have thousands of people praying in order to get God’s attention to answer prayer.
  2. I must convince God of the need to answer my prayer. God is not a reluctant listener. The reason the Lord already knows what we need before we ask is because God has been paying close attention to us well before we got around to asking, seeking, and knocking on the divine door. God’s ear is already inclined to hear us – expectantly awaiting our petitions. This is a tremendously freeing idea, that I can come to God openly and honestly, without wondering if I am heard, or not.

We might too often neglect to ask, seek, and knock because we rely on our own determination, abilities, education, or observations. Life can be hard. So, we keep on asking, seeking, and knocking.

No one enters God’s realm because of sheer determination. God’s kingdom is only accessed through humble prayer. God is the One with the supernatural resources to help us live the Christian life.

And God is pleased to provide what we need to live that life. God delights in hearing our asking’s, responding to our seeking’s, and answering our knocking’s. With God, there is no daydreaming while we ask, no avoiding us when we seek, and no pulling the shades on the windows as the door is being knocked.

In love, God looks forward to our asking, seeking, and knocking.

Repetition is important – not vain repetition which believes that the more prayer is repeated, the greater possibility of the answer we want – but a routine lifestyle of persistently and consistently praying.

Ask

You want something you don’t have, and you will do anything to get it. You will even kill! But you still cannot get what you want, and you won’t get it by fighting and arguing. You should pray for it. Yet even when you do pray, your prayers are not answered, because you pray just for selfish reasons. (James 4:2-3, CEV)

The Apostle James, learning from his brother, Jesus, gets behind the asking to the heart of why we ask and why we do not ask. This, in no way, is to discourage us from asking or to be doubtful whether God cares about our asking, or not. James also said:

Anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask. Whoever asks shouldn’t hesitate. They should ask in faith, without doubting. (James 1:5-6, CEB)

Seek

If you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29, NIV)

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. (Isaiah 55:6, NRSV)

Prayer is much like a wrestling match. It requires a great deal of effort. In fact, every good thing in life demands blood, sweat, and tears. We are to keep on seeking, to continue searching and looking for God amid our life circumstances. The Lord will be found.

Knock

God has said:

“When you pray, I will answer you. When you call to me, I will respond.” (Isaiah 58:9, GNT)

Prayer isn’t all continual searching and diligently seeking. Sometimes, there is an immediate answer to our knocking on heaven’s door.

God has also said:

“I will answer their prayers before they finish praying.” (Isaiah 65:24, CEV)

It is to God’s glory whether our prayers are answered quickly, or not. It is to our glory that we exercise our ability to enter God’s throne room and ask, seek, and knock. We have the assurance that whatever the answer is from God, it will always be a merciful response.

For God mercifully gives us what we ask for, and also mercifully does not give us what we ask for.

We do not know what tomorrow may hold for us. All we know for certain is that we are known by a God who hears when we ask, is worth seeking, and answers when we knock.

May you be encouraged to pray, to truly connect with God, because the Lord is available without appointment, and is waiting for us to ask with bended ear.

Eternal God, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed: Guide and strengthen us by your Spirit so that we may give ourselves to your service and live today and every day in love to one another and to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.