To those who believe in the efficacy of prayer, importunity is natural. Transcendental philosophy may say that we should be content with simply stating or even thinking our requests, because more than this is useless. Transcendental piety may say that our own wishes should be so merged in the divine Will that we should cease to have any other will. But the heart, breaking with grief, craves comfort which neither such philosophy nor such piety affords. How encouraging it is to turn to the perfect example of "The Man Christ Jesus!" His agony in Gethsemane suggests chiefly His atoning sacrifice; but it is also a most precious illustration of human piety not only in absolute submission to his Father's Will, but in importunate pleading for His own.
Jesus is not only the Author and Giver, but the "Captain of Salvation," the Example of the saved under similar discipline of sorrow, exposed to the temptations of the same foe, and employing the same weapons, "the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God," and "praying always with all prayer and supplication." "For both He who sanctifies and they who are sanctified are all of one—for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Heb. 2:10-18). If prayer was to the sinless Humanity a chief weapon, strength and solace, must it not be equally essential to His followers?
Individual Prayer.—Our Lord prayed at other times for the little band of His disciples, for the whole world, and for His persecutors; but here He brought His individual personality before God. "Father, my Will."
So we may bring before Him our own little, individual concerns—"my," me! If He is Infinite, our littleness does not elude His eye or hand. We are little and overlook the little; but He is too great to disregard the smallest of His children. The Son, "in the bosom of the Father," assures us that the very hairs of our head are all numbered. Therefore we may, without presumption, appeal to Him. Amid the countless multitudes of human faces there are not two exactly alike; characters also differ, and the circumstances of each life. Every child in the largest family has its special characteristics, is distinctly known and loved, would be missed if absent. And every child of God has a distinct personality, its own place in the family, and is the object of the Father's constant care. "I have engraved you on the palms of my hands, I have called you by your name." The Good Shepherd "calls His own sheep by name." He says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them."
O my Father! I am Your child! Insignificant in myself, but precious to You. You have created, preserved, redeemed, adopted, sanctified me. I am Your workmanship. You have a home for me above. Look then on me, even me. Listen to my cry, even mine. Let this cup pass from me.
Special Prayer.—"This cup." So we may plead, not only for our distinct concerns, but with particularity as to our desires. Some may say, "Commit the whole of life to Him at once, and leave the details." We are apt to pray in the general, as much shorter and easier, "Help us in all trials, at all times." But we feel our sorrows in particular, one by one, day by day. As our Lord sought help in a peculiar trial, so we are instructed "in everything to make known our requests unto God." We necessarily look at the special cup we have this day to drink; we taste its bitterness, and shudder at the thought of drinking it. Let us then hold it forth to our Father's pitying eye. How trifling compared with the vast events of His universe! But nothing which affects His children is insignificant to the eye of Love. Let us then, in filial confidence, plead, "Father! let this cup pass from me."
Repeated Prayer.—Filial requests may be often urged. "Vain repetitions" are those of cold formality, as if their number gave efficacy. Christ in Gethsemane urged the same request three separate times; and doubtless on each occasion reiterated the appeal. So may we urge our request again and again. As long as the bitter cup is held to us and we shrink from it, we may ask to be spared it. We are not expected to cease thinking it bitter because repeatedly given us to drink. It is consistent with piety in the disciple to imitate his Lord in repeating the same prayer for relief.
Earnest Prayer.—Jesus knelt, fell prostrate, called to His Father with "strong crying and tears," with agony of soul, indicated by the "bloody sweat." He never hesitated in His Divine resolve, but there was a human shrinking from woe which longed for relief. It may be very unphilosophical to add "strong crying and tears" to the simple utterance of believing prayer, but it is very human to do so, and very Christlike. Tears! blessed solace to suffering! There are times when the fierce furnace has dried up the fountain. Oh, for the luxury of weeping! Tears are often the refreshing dew of heaven; as gentle showers on the parched ground, as "rain on the mown grass"—drops which bring rainbow-glories to overarch the darkest storm-cloud. Jesus wept at Bethany with the weepers, and shed tears over guilty Jerusalem. Those tears were for others; these were for Himself also. Tears with our prayers will relieve while they express our sorrow. Thus let us plead with our Father.
Let us tell Him thebitterness of it. Conviction that the bitter cup is curative, does not alter the fact that it is acute. "No affliction for the present seems joyous but grievous." Tell Him how grievous this special trial—how excruciating the pain, how keen the unkindness, how crushing the disappointment, how dreary the desolation, how precious the imperilled treasure, how dear the suffering friend, how strong the craving for the blessing we seek, how irksome the task allotted, how difficult the surrender of what is dearer than life. Let us hold up to our Father this particular cup, and say, "Father, let it pass from me! My will!"
Plead thefullness of it, the number and variety of trials that sometimes oppress us—perhaps poverty, sickness, bereavement, unkindness—all together at the same time.
Plead theduration of the trial. Throughout His life Jesus was the Man of Sorrows; and many of His disciples go mourning all their days by reason of continued illness, unkindness, loneliness, or anxiety—successive sorrows, stripes repeated before the former wounds are healed; one woe treading on the heels of another, as with Job. Some thorn is always rankling. When one crag has been surmounted another has to be scaled, when one torrent has been waded, another and yet another roars across our path.
Tell Him if the trial seemsunsuitable. When we think the medicine prescribed by a physician does not benefit us but increases the pain, we tell him. So, if we think our trials not adapted to our temperament, it is better to tell even such a thought to our Father than nurse it in our own bosom. "My Father, pity your foolish child, but bear with me while I confess that this bitter cup depresses my spirit, raises doubts, disturbs my faith, irritates my temper, drives me to frivolity, hinders prayer, tempts me to seek relief wrongfully. I am taught that affliction should make me humble and patient, gentle to others, weaned from earth, submissive to You; but this cup seems to produce opposite results. Oh, let this cup pass from me! "
Let us tell Him thefaintness of spirit it produces; how we feel sometimes worn out with suffering, as if unable to hold up any longer, or even to pray. "I am poured out like water, all my bones are out of joint; my soul is bowed down to the dust; my tears have been my food day and night. O my God, my soul is cast down within me; all your waves and your billows are gone over me. Abba, Father, let this cup pass from me!"
Imitating the Divine Example in Gethsemane let us then not hesitate to plead with wrestling earnestness that God would remove whatever causes us agony; that He would relieve pain, heal sickness, spare life, remove danger, calm anxiety, restore love, restrain sin, abate anger, disperse the cloud, calm the storm, send the sunshine. Submission to God's Will implies the existence and pleading of our own. The earnest desire is necessary for the resigned Will, and precedes it.
There is sin in exalting our own Will to the level of His, but not in having a Will; in trying to get our Will by whatever methods, not in asking our Father to accomplish it. It seems an affectation of an impossible piety to profess to have no Will but God's. There was nothing thus overstrained in the piety of the Man Christ Jesus. His example forbids self-condemnation for having a strong desire, and for expressing it strongly. Let us then appeal to our Father and say, "Behold me, even me; listen to my complaint; behold this cup; how bitter it is, how full, how long I have had to drink it. In my ignorance it seems unsuited to my temperament. How wearied and faint I am! How earnestly I desire to be spared the further drinking of it, O my Father! Witness these tears, hear these cries, consider my soul's agony and bloody sweat, give heed to the prayer of your own Son—Father, let this cup pass from me!"
Father, let this cup pass from me,