15 April 2020 – The priority for prayer

There have been quite a number of occasions as a minister when I have been aware that someone I was going to visit was going through a situation that I had no experience of, or even any real understanding of what it was like to be in that position. It is something that probably all of us have experienced at one time or another. We can by our presence express our sympathies, but feel helpless to do any more than that.  

There is absolutely no doubt at all that Jesus’ disciples had not the slightest idea of what was going on in the evening and night prior to Jesus’ crucifixion. At one level we cannot blame them because they simply had no categories in which to place these events to give a framework of understanding. God was never more honoured or glorified in human history than in these extraordinary few days in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. On earth to this group of men what happened was probably the most confusing time of their lives. Yet in heaven there was absolute clarity about what was going to happen to Jesus. In their darkest hour God’s light would ultimately shine its brightest.

In our lives today we too sometimes feel confused, maybe even experience the darkness, but the brightness of God’s light and love may suddenly appear on our horizon to give a sense of meaning and purpose.

Take a few moments to read Luke’s account of this event that demonstrated the priority of prayer for our Lord, recorded in Luke 22:39-46). Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’ 

Here we see Jesus as:

1.The disciplined Saviour (Luke 22:39) Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives I hope and pray that for each of us like our Lord and Saviour here we will have our regular routine of prayer and seeking God through His Word. Jesus’ followers knew His prayerful routine when in the Jerusalem area. This quiet olive grove on the edge of the city was a place of refuge and peace where time alone with God could be spent in the absence of the hustle and bustle and the demands of the crowds. He could not withdraw into a bedroom or other home venue to be alone with His Father, but instead he creatively found another setting for seeking the presence and will of God the Father.   

2. The obedient Saviour (Luke 22:40-42) He did not neglect the needs of His followers that night. Luke tells us in Luke 22:40 On reaching the place, He said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’  What Jesus did was not only something for His benefit but also for ours. He said to His disciples: Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’Temptation to do what?  Surely it was to avoid being too spiritually weak to stand when the tests of adversity would come that night. Jesus would stand firm adhering resolutely to His calling, but the disciples would flee or deny Him under the pressure of the unexpected circumstances. 

Jesus led by example here. Luke 22:41-42 illustrates this fact in Luke 22:41-42: He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 ‘Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.’  Clearly Jesus was visible to them, but almost certainly the vast majority of His words were not audible at this kind of distance. It was private prayer alone with His heavenly Father. It was an agonising prayer because He knew that to follow through on what God the Father had asked Him to do would be the hardest thing He had ever done.

3. The supported Saviour (Luke 22:43-44) Luke tells us: Anangel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him (Luke 22:43). We do not live for God on our own. We do not stand for God on our own.  We sometimes say to someone ‘I don’t know how you did that. I couldn’t do that.’ Now it may be not humility but truthfulness being uttered here.

God only gives the strength we need to do what He asks us to do or allows us to pass through. It was an agonizing time for Him as Luke reminds us in Luke 22:44.  And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Life as a Christian is not easier than life outside of faith in Jesus Christ. Sometimes it will be harder and more challenging as our goals and ambitions may be quite different to many people around us. In terms of our prayer life there will be agonising times as we cry out to the Lord when some particularly tough situation presents itself before us. Yet we have the reminder here that the Lord has not called you and me to do anything He did not expect first of His beloved Son.

4. The disappointed Saviour (Luke 22:45-46) 45 When He rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, He found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.46 ‘Why are you sleeping?’ He asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’ (Luke 22:45-46) Our faith can so easily be spoken and the language of faith commitment can pass our lips with ease at times, but how will Jesus view your commitment and mine to His invitation to follow Him?  I sincerely hope we are choosing to live as His followers. Amen

A hymn that we can use to help in our reflection is ‘King of my life I crown Thee now’

Points for Prayer    

• Continue to pray for our governments and the chief medical and scientific officers as they seek to plan a way forward through this crisis situation

• Pray for the people struggling most to adjust to our new situation of lock-down and for some the loneliness of isolation

• Pray for relationships in homes that might be strained from the amount of time people have to spend together, that creative ways may be found to adjust to it. 

• Pray for those who have lost their jobs or struggling financially that ways may be found to provide for the needs of everyone.

• We give thanks for each worker on the frontlines in the battle against the Covid-19 virus. We pray that each one may get all the equipment they need to carry out their duties effectively and the wisdom to operate as safely as possible.

• We remember the families of those who died in this covid-19 crisis. Please comfort and uphold them. 

• We pray for those with ongoing health issues in our church family at a time when medical support may not be as easy for them to obtain.

• We pray God’s comfort for those who have been recently bereaved, especially remembering Betty and Scott R as they prepare for Ian’s funeral service on Friday. We ask that you would uphold and strengthen them all at this time.

• We thank God for the success of the Zoom platform service on Sunday and pray for His guidance over the planning and preparations for future services. 

• We bring whatever issues are on our hearts today to God in prayer concerning either ourselves or other people.

Brian Talbot