I ask God to take away my vices and bad habits and replace it with virtues, but He said “No. It is not for me to take it away, but for you to give it up”[i].
A little boy was kneeling beside his bed with his mother and grandmother and softly saying his prayers, “Dear God, please bless Mommy and Daddy and the whole family and please give me a good night’s sleep.”
Suddenly he looked up and shouted, “And don’t forget to give me a bicycle for my birthday!!”
“There is no need to shout like that,” said his mother. “God isn’t deaf.”
“I know,” said the little boy, “but Grandma is.”[ii]
The above two examples illustrates a great deal about prayer. Why do we pray? What can it do for us?
During Jesus’ last night here on earth, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to do one thing and one thing only: to pray.
“Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray. He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me. 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.” Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?”
“Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” Matthew 26:36 – 41 (New Living Translation)
If we read the whole text, it’s amazing that Jesus prayed three (3) times until His heart is at peace and in complete surrender to the will of the Father. So why would Jesus pray at that hour of despair and grief? What is He trying to accomplish by praying?
“Why are you sleeping”, Jesus asked his disciples. “Get up and pray”! Prayer prepares the soul for suffering. Jesus understood what lie ahead and He knew that prayer was the only way to prepare them. The cross, the persecutions, and the doubts that each of the disciples are going to face will test the limits of their faith and devotion to the Lord. If they are not prepared, they will not survive; they will just simply fall away.
Secondly, prayer helps us resist temptation. Notice that Jesus told his disciples to pray so “you will not give in to temptation.” (verse 41) Now here’s the interesting part. Jesus would have encouraged them to pray so that they will be able to endure the hardship to come. But hardship brings temptation: temptation to compromise principles and beliefs, temptation to pursue quick pleasure over adversity, temptation to give up the faith and walk away from God. Before that night ends, Peter quickly learned this lesson as he denied that he knew Jesus. And this he did three (3) times. Instead of praying, he was sleeping; he underestimated the enemy.
Prayer helps us cope with life’s hardships and it keeps us from temptation. Our situations in life may be difficult and therefore it is difficult to pray. And it is a battle. Fact is, no battles are ever easy. If you want to know, ask a patient who is battling against cancer, or, a person battling against drug addiction, or, a hardcore bettor battling against gambling. That is why Jesus has to go back to His prayer battle three (3) times and asked His Father to take away the cup of suffering, only if it’s the Father’s will. He knows that to fully surrender to the will of the Father is the only way for Him to fully endure the way of the cross.
To let go of something undesirable in our character requires strength and temperance. Plato, a Greek philosopher, once said: “For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories.” A man who conquers himself, conquers the world.
“Don’t think of the things God didn’t give you after praying; think of the blessings that God gave you even without asking.” – Anonymous