Persevering in Prayer – Submission
Romans 8. 25-28; Luke 22.39-44
Let me tell you the story of an Irishman called Joseph Scriven who in 1842 graduated from Trinity College Dublin. He went back home and fell utterly in love with a girl. They planned their wedding and future with great excitement.
The day before their wedding, Joseph’s bride saddled her horse to visit him. Joseph saw her riding towards him; joy filled him. Suddenly, as she crossed a bridge over the river, her horse bucked and threw her into the river below. Joseph ran and plunged in after her. But it was too late. She was already dead.
Heartbroken, Joseph emigrated to Canada, where, in time, he fell in love again and planned to marry Eliza. Sadly, she fell ill and they had to keep postponing the wedding. She died.
Joseph’s mother was ill but also very worried about her heart-broken son. One night, he wrote a poem which he sent to comfort her. Several years later, a friend found a copy in a drawer in Joseph’s house.
The poem goes,
‘What a friend we have in Jesus, All our griefs and pains to bear!
What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer.
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry, Everything to God in prayer.
The pain in prayer
Someone at Alpha this week asked, ‘What do you do when God doesn’t answer prayer?’
What do we do? Each of us have known struggles and disappointments – in our jobs and work, demands of home and family relationships, illness and disability, financial difficulties. And around the world, others struggle with drought and famine, huge political upheavals, persecution, injustice.
And we pray, as Christians, we pray for our issues; we pray for people around the world.
In this series on Prayer, we are looking today at that phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven’ looking at how perseverance in prayer is not going on and on until we get what we want, but going on and on until we see what God wants.
When things don’t go as we’d like them to, how do we react?
There’s denial: I don’t believe this is happening to me.
Anger – I don’t deserve this. God’s not fair.
Bargaining: Please, God, if you heal me, I’ll do anything for you.
Depression: What’s the point? My situation is hopeless.
Blame: God is against me. He is weak/cruel etc.
There is one final stage on the journey: Acceptance. Submission. Sometimes God’s will can only be achieved through accepting something we do NOT want – like suffering.
Pete Greig is one of the people behind the 24/7 Prayer Movement (Prayer Rooms where there’s constant prayer) and has written a superb book on prayer, ‘God on Mute’. In it he tells the story of when he met Floyd McClung at a Spring Harvest conference. Floyd was one of those of the hippy generation who travelled overland to Afghanistan – but they did it to tell the hippies about Jesus. Then he set up an outreach in Amsterdam’s red-light district. A big person.
Late one night, Floyd got a phone call saying that his daughter in the States was unconscious. She was in labour for her second child when everything started to go wrong. Amniotic fluid had escaped into her blood stream causing her heart and lungs to collapse. This has an 86% mortality rate and even if mother and baby live, they can be brain-damaged.
The next day, Floyd disappeared for a long, long time. When he returned, Pete didn’t know what to say to him. He’d been on the beach, wrestling with God.
‘I’ve been begging God for my daughter’s life, as any father would. I’ve been reminding him of unfulfilled promises for her future. But, I also knew I must give her back to God.’ He had been facing his Gethsemane – and he had got there. He had been able to release his daughter into God’s hands – whether she lived or died. That’s submission. (Incidentally both mum and baby lived, no damage. The medical staff had never known both to survive without severe damage).
Jesus, on the night before his death knowing that he is going to be crucified, goes to the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples. His heart was overwhelmed with sorrow – to the point of death. Luke describes how his sweat was like drops of blood. In extreme anguish, blood vessels can burst and mix with sweat. He pleads with his Father God. (here he calls him, ‘Abba’, ‘Daddy’), a deeply intimate moment when we see Jesus’ feelings laid bare. ‘Everything is possible for you.’ ‘Take this cup from me.’
He longs for support from his friends – but he’s alone. No-one can walk this way with him. He must bear it. In our lives, friends can support us, but in the end, we have to go through it.
It drives him back to his Father in prayer. And there’s that moment of acceptance, of submission, ‘Yet, not my will but yours be done.’
That is the pivotal moment in human history, when Jesus submits to the Father’s plan to save the world, to die for the sins of the human race.
The path of prayer
Why do we find it so difficult to submit? Firstly, we’re not honest with God.
Jesus is utterly honest with God. He pours out his fears. We need to be honest with God. I find that hard to do. I somehow think he must be disappointed in me, that I need to appear in my best spiritual clothes. But, it’s only when I’m honest about my weaknesses and fears, my doubts and helplessness, my hopes and desires that I begin to see myself more as God sees me. I’m ready to repent of my faults and recognise how much I need God, that my only hope is in him.
Sometimes, I don’t know how to express what I’m feeling, but, as I try to and as I bring myself before God, Paul says, ‘The Spirit helps us, weak as we are. For we don’t know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express.’ And the Spirit pleads with God on our behalf and in accordance with God’s will. Ro 8.25-27 The Holy Spirit helps us.
One way to help us be honest with God is to write a letter to Him. “Dear God, this is how I’m feeling.” Tell him.
Some people think of Jesus sitting in the room with them, picture him listening.
I often pray on my knees and it’s as if God is putting his hand on my head.
Trust in God. The other thing that happens when I come to God in honest prayer, is I see God more as he is. When I’m vulnerable and helpless before him, God comes and I see his love and kindness. I also see him as Almighty. My trust in him deepens.
It can be hard to believe those words which were in our reading, ‘We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him.’ Ro 8.28 But, we catch glimpses -and we begin to learn that God is sovereign. In every detail of your life, God is at work. God will take even your mistakes and work them out for your good. He reigns. In everything he works for good for those who love him. God makes all things, wanted and unwanted, work for good. We don’t know how – but God does.
Supremely, the cross demonstrates that just as God took the very worst event in history and turned it into the very best; he can take the worst things in your life and use them for good.
Submission. When I’m being honest with God – and trust him, submitting becomes possible. A 3 yr old (or 13 year old!) doesn’t understand why his dad says ‘no’ to some things but ‘yes’ to others. But he trusts him – and learns to obey him. Jesus trusted his heavenly Father in the Garden – and obeyed him.
Is there an issue in your life which you’re finding very hard to accept? You’re allowed to ask God questions – but you need to listen to Him for his answer. See what he says to you – it may not come then or be what you want or expect. It may be that God wants you to hand the issue over to him (like Floyd knew he needed to do). Hand over the result, accept whatever his will is and come to a deeper level of trusting him.
I’ve been at St Barnabas now for six years and we’ve seen some good growth, but, of course, I’ve longed to see more people come to faith in Christ. God hasn’t answered my question of ‘why?’ but he’s shown me that he’s worked in me – more patience, it’s not all down to me, learning how a parish like this works – all sorts of great lessons – and for Roger as he visits tough areas, he understands from the inside.
So, when you pray, ask God to show you how to pray.
If we can’t say, ‘thy will be done’ from the bottom of our hearts, we will never know any peace. We will try to control people and our environment. Yet, this is beyond our abilities and we become bitter, despondent and hardened. Joseph Scriven accepted his losses and knew that Jesus was his friend – and that it the greatest gain in the world.
The profit of prayer
When olives are put under huge pressure, oil flows out which was used for all sorts of things in the ancient world. Gethsemane means ‘The oil press’ and for Jesus that garden became a place of intense pressure as he battled in his soul to say ‘yes’. But, as he prayed he was strengthened by an angel and was able to get up and face his accusers.
What does submission in prayer lead to?
Perspective. In prayer, God gives us his perspective, or we catch an insight as to what he’s doing in our lives – or someone else’s – like getting to the top of a hill and suddenly seeing the land.
Self-Knowledge. As we pray, God shines the spotlight back into our lives. He pulls back the layers of our heart and we see what’s really going on – our own pride and self-centredness.
Surrender: And this leads us to surrender to God.
Trust: and increased trust.
and from that Strength. Like Jesus, through prayer, God gives us enough strength to go on.
Presence of God – and his presence.