38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” 39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” 40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:38–41, NKJV)
Our faith is strengthened by the example of Jesus in the hour of His temptation at Gethsemane. Our attention is drawn to the sharp contrast between His watchful prayers of singular devotion to the Father’s will, and the sleep that overcame His apostles. We must remain watchful in the moments of temptation, vigilant in prayer to see and to resist sin’s enticements. Our task is to combine a willing spirit with an obedient body. Resisting temptation involves recognizing the spiritual danger, plus activity fleeing from its allurement (Jas. 1:14; 1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Tim. 2:22). By relying on the Lord’s strength, we can avoid entering the door of temptation that leads to sin and death (Jas. 1:14-15). May our prayer ever be, “Our Father…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:9, 13).
1 The Elder, To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth: 2 Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. (3 John 1–2, NKJV)
Recently I was asked for some Scriptures that talk about offering prayers for the physical health of others. Today’s passage is one such passage. We should absolutely be praying for one another’s spiritual health: “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jas. 5:16). It is also right and good to pray for others as they face the trials, uncertainties, pain and discomforts of illness and disease. James instructed calling for the elders to pray over the sick in James 4:14. A general statement to offer supplications (requests) for all people is given in 1 Timothy 2:1, no doubt including prayers for the flesh as well as the spirit. The church’s prayers for Peter’s life necessarily included his physical well-being (Acts 12:5). Paul told of praying about his physical ailment in 2 Corinthians 12:7-8. God answered Paul’s prayer, confirming He hears and answers prayers about our physical health, just as surely as He does those offered for our spiritual health. When we pray for someone’s health or our own, we do so fully assured God hears and answers us according to His will (1 Jno. 5:14-15). Whatever the outcome, we rejoice in God’s grace and the strength we have in Christ (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. (Matthew 6:9, NKJV)
Once our motives for prayer are pure we are prepared to learn how to pray. The manner of our prayers matters to God. If how we pray is of no consequence, then when His disciples asked Jesus to “teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples,” He would have simply said there is no need to do so (Luke 11:1-2). Yet, He fulfilled their request and taught them to pray. Like them, we need to learn to pray. Jesus offers this model prayer to help us learn to pray reverently and acceptably (Matthew 6:9-13). Prayer is not a liturgical, ceremonial event. It is the disciple’s communication with God. So, Jesus said our prayers must show respect and honor for God’s paternity (“Our Father in heaven”). We are His children, and we trust Him as our Father. God’s holiness defines Him, and our prayers must also acknowledge His sanctity (“hallowed be Your name”). Acceptable prayer is respectful of God. When we pray we praise God’s greatness and admit our lowliness. Recognizing God’s holiness brings us before Him with humble dependence instead of bringing prideful demands before Him.
5 And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:5–6, NKJV)
Just as with alms, our motive for prayer is crucial. Jesus stresses the “why” of our prayers. We have denied the power of prayer and elevated ourselves instead of God when we turn prayer into an opportunity to be seen and praised by others (Luke 18:9-12). We are hypocrites to think God accepts us when we pray with motives of self-importance. Public praise is not the reason to worship God. When that is our motive, that is the only praise we will receive. Jesus is not indicting public prayer given in reverent worship (see 1 Corinthians 14:15-16). It is needed instruction that helps us examine why we pray. When we pray to be seen by God, He will reward us generously and obviously. Let us check why we pray so our Father in heaven will hear us and answer us.
And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace. (Jeremiah 29:7, NKJV)
Judah was in Babylon, exiled by the Lord God because of her sinful rebellion against Him (Jeremiah 29:1, 4). In this letter to the elders of the people, God’s prophet instructed them to build houses, plant gardens, maintain their families, and be at peace with those who ruled over them. Like them, we live in a strange land as we live for heaven. In times of societal distress we are tempted to become militant against unrighteous governing powers, forgetting that God rules over every nation (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:17). During times of peace as well as turbulence, Christians supplicate heaven, giving thanks and praying “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:2). While the mobs gather, we live for a better country, a heavenly one. Instead of repaying evil for evil, “have regard for good things in the sight of all men” so that, “if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:17-18). In His time, God rights every wrong with just vengeance (Romans 12:19). We are to promote peace in righteousness. That is what sojourners do while living in a foreign land (1 Peter 2:11-12).
15 “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” 16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth, 17 Seeing you hate instruction and cast My words behind you?” (Psalm 50:15–17, NKJV)
The wicked, who defy God’s law and break His covenant, have no ground to stand upon and declare what God will or will not do. God is not a talisman or lucky charm to be called upon to conjure up blessings in a moment of crisis. Yet, too many people think of God this way. They have little time or use for God until a crisis occurs, and then they can be heard crying to God for help. God is not a fire-extinguisher on standby only when we have a problem that needs fixing. He commands and deserves our gratitude and faithful allegiance always. The Lord God hears and answers the cries of the righteous (1 Peter 3:10-12). Are you responsive to what God wants from you (His words of instruction)? If not, how can you expect Him to respond to your cries for help? What right do you have to say what God will or will not do, seeing you have rejected His word? Come back to God and obey His word. Then, He will hear and answer your prayers according to His will, not yours (1 John 5:14-15).
147 I rise before the dawning of the morning, and cry for help; I hope in Your word. 148 My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word.” (Psalm 119:147–148, NKJV)
There are no better ways to start your day than prayer to God and reading God’s word. Unhindered by the distractions and pressing demands of the day, such prayers rise early and reach the throne of God like incense from the altar (Revelation 5:8; 8:1-3). Our hope is in God’s response, which is sure and certain (Revelation 8:4). Reading and meditating on God’s word at the break of day equips us to be prepared and faithful throughout the day. Should sleep escape us during the night, even then, God’s word will be on our minds. Prayer is the communication of God’s children with their Father in heaven; His word is His communication to us. In tandem, prayer and the word form an unbreakable cord that assures our faith and anchors our hope. Make time for both (whether morning, noon or night). The spiritual blessings you derive from prayer and reading God’s word will be immeasurable.