We’ve all been there: the pain so fresh, the desperation so palpable, the weakness so overwhelming that we don’t even know how to pray. You stumble into His presence and heave that burden off your shoulders. As it thuds on the floor, the impact reverberates through your feet and ankles so that you lose your balance. Sprawling at His feet, you seem to have lost the ability to speak. What then?
Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt scars.
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” –Mark 14:34
Jesus experienced the same kind of desperate moment. In Gethsemane the night before He died, His preparation for the biggest moment in history involved falling on the ground and begging God to change His mind (14:35)! It’s not Jesus’ finest moment. But it is, in fact, His most human moment. If Jesus can ask for relief, for a different outcome…if Jesus can be weak, desperate, maybe even afraid…then we can, too.
First of all, know this: There is no sin in pain, in desperation, in weakness…even in longing for a different outcome. Let me say it again: Desperation is not a sin. Jesus was desperate (see also John 12:27-28, Psalm 55:4-5). Satan will try to make you hide your desperation or tend your pain yourself, but God already knows about it and already plans to take care of it.
The words of this
prayer aren’t for Him;
they are for you.
Secondly, you’ve already done enough. The fact that you brought your burden to Him is enough. He can take it and act even if you say nothing. He doesn’t need your explanation. It’s you who needs to speak. The words of a prayer like this aren’t for Him; they are for you, which is often the case with prayer, wouldn’t you say?
Let’s look at how Jesus prayed there in Gethsemane.* Here we find a simple formula for our most desperate moments—one that reorients our minds toward God Himself.
“Abba, Father,” he said, “Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” –Mark 14:36
Address Him: To whom are you speaking?
Just by saying the name of God, we begin to put Satan in his place and turn our eyes toward the One we serve. Use any of the names of God that He places in your mind. Ultimately, this situation is about Him, not about you (or me).
Acknowledge Him: What do you know about Him?
“Everything is possible for you.”
God is omniscient, omnipotent, Creator, loving Father, Healer, Sovereign Ruler… He is whatever you truly need in your moment of desperation. He may not supply what you want (in your selfishness), but He is what you need.
Ask Him: What do you want Him to do in light of Who He is?
“Take this cup from me.”
Having recognized who God is and what He can do, you then apply that knowledge to your current situation. Ask Him for what you know He can give. In Jesus’ case, He wanted to avoid the pain and separation of crucifixion, and justifiably so!
Accept His Will: Will you give your burden to Him to do with as He wishes?
“Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
God may grant your petition or He may have a greater plan. Either way, you release the burden to Him and follow His leading from here on out. God could have thwarted the crucifixion of Jesus, but His glory (and our good!) was better served by allowing Jesus to continue in the path laid before Him. You know (Don’t you, friend?) that His will is greater and higher than any solution you devise on your own (Isaiah 55:8, Romans 11:33, Proverbs 3:5-6, Job 38:2, Romans 8:28…need I go on?). I’ve written about this in other places, if you want more.
I noticed something interesting as I first wrote this in my quiet time journal awhile back. (Yes, my journal is sometimes alliterative; I can’t help it.) Three-quarters of this three-sentence prayer focuses on who God is and what He does. Only one-quarter focuses on what I want. As I pray, whether I fall before Him in desperation or dance before Him in joy, I’m trying to keep that ratio: ¾ Him, ¼ me.
Because, even in my desperation, my orientation must be Godward.
“Prayer is not simply getting things from God—that is only the most elementary kind of prayer. Prayer is coming into perfect fellowship and oneness with God.” –Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, 9/16.
*In my Bible Study, Dwell: Mary, Martha & Lazarus, we examine another of Jesus’ prayers—when he prayed just before calling Lazarus out of the tomb.
This is another post about that same night in the garden.