Why Prayer is Hard

Luke 22:39-46

March 25, 2012 | Brian Bill

Lord, you are holy, holy, holy and you reign in heaven and desire to reign in our hearts.  We come to you today through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, knowing that you invite us to enter boldly into your presence with our needs, worries, concerns and fears.  We come as a group of people, called to this place at this time to blend our prayers and praises into a unified expression of adoration for who you are and for what you’ve done.  It’s our desire that your will would be accomplished in heaven and on earth.  We ask this in the name of our blessed Savior, Jesus Christ your Son, who together with you and the Holy Spirit is worshiped and glorified, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

A dad was giving instructions to his three kids before they headed off to church.  Right before they left he asked them one final question: “And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?”  His oldest son quickly responded, “Because people are sleeping!”

It’s easier to catch some zzzz’s than it is to fall to our knees.  I want to suggest today that if you wait to pray until it’s easy, you’ll never pray.

Our format today will be interspersed with preaching, praying and praising.  In planning this service, we wanted to make sure that we don’t just hear about prayer but that God actually hears us praying.  We’re going to begin in Luke’s gospel as our baseline but we’ll also pull in some details found in the other gospels.  

We’re going to see a pattern in Jesus’ prayer that we can follow in our own prayers.

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

1. A Place of Support.

We see in Matthew 26:36 that Jesus wanted his disciples to be with Him so He took them to an Olive Garden called Gethsemane, which means, “oil-press.”  Scholars believe that the olives were crushed at this location to get oil.  Luke 22:39 indicates that He spent a lot of time here: “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.”  This was the custom of Christ.  John 18:2 tells us that when Judas came looking for Jesus; he “knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.”

Two things strike me about this.

  • Prayer was his practice
  • He wanted to be with people

It’s interesting to me that as the suffering of our Savior begins; He wants to be with his friends.  We don’t think much about this, do we?  Jesus had a need for fellowship.  Matthew adds that eight of the disciples are told to sit down while Jesus takes three others deeper into the grove.  

As we go to a time of prayer right now, I want to ask families that are here together to hold hands while we pray.  As we pray, ask God to help you as a family spend more time in prayer together.  


2. A Place of Sorrow. 

Matthew 26:37 tells us that Jesus was “sorrowful and troubled.”  This means that His holy heart was heavy.  The word itself means to be “distracted to the point of separation” from others.  Hebrews 5:7 says that Jesus “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death…”  Have you ever had so much sorrow that you felt no one else could enter it with you?  In verse 38, Jesus put words to what was happening, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  This is sorrow in the highest degree.  To be “overwhelmed” means to be “encircled with grief.”  Grief had so gripped Him that He felt like He was dying.  

Many of you are going through pain and sorrow and heartache right now.  Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.


3. A Place of Solitude. 

Here’s the picture.  The eight disciples are somewhere near the entrance to the garden, the three are allowed to go deeper, but then Jesus leaves them and Matthew 26:39 says that He went “a little farther and fell with his face to the ground.”  This word “fell” was used of someone collapsing at the knees.  Luke adds that it was a “stone’s throw away.”  Jesus is now alone as the King of Kings falls on His face in reverence and awe before His heavenly Father.  

Let’s go to a time of silent prayer right now.


4. A Place of Struggle. 

The second half of Matthew 26:39 reveals His struggle: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”  In the midst of all that Jesus is going through, I love how He addresses God in prayer, “My Father.” In Mark 14:36, we read that Jesus actually prayed, “Abba, Father.”  He’s literally saying something very tender, “Daddy, Father.”  

Jesus then asked that the “cup” might be taken from Him.  The word “cup” in the Bible was figurative for God’s blessings (Psalm 23:5) and was also used to describe His wrath (Psalm 75:8).  As Jesus looked into this “cup,” what did He see?  Why did He want it taken away?  Pastor C. Matthews suggests that there were at least five things that He saw in the cup.

  • Sin.  As Jesus is moving toward the cross, He realizes that the punishment for all the sins of the world is about to be poured out on Him.  This was something we can’t even imagine.  Isaiah 53:6: “…and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  
  • Suffering.  In his agony, Luke 22:44 says, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”   In his book called, “The Case For Easter,” Lee Strobel quotes a medical expert who says, “What happens is that severe anxiety causes the release of chemicals that break down the capillaries in the sweat glands.  As a result, there’s a small amount of bleeding into these glands, and the sweat comes out tinged with blood” (page 15).  I have never prayed with that kind of intensity.  Most of my prayers are pretty perfunctory compared to that. 
  • Sacrifice.  As He looks deeper into the cup, He sees beyond the sin and the suffering as He recognizes His role as final sacrifice.  John 18:1 says that when they went to Gethsemane, they crossed over the Kidron valley.  The Brook “Kidron” was the drainage ditch from the temple.  During the Passover, commentator William Barclay estimates that as many as 250,000 lambs were slain.  And the blood of those lambs would drain down through this brook into the Jordan River.  On Passover night, when Jesus was going to Gethsemane, He stepped over that brook, and He could see it polluted with the blood of lambs.  He knew that in a few hours, He was going to be slain as the final sacrificial Lamb of God, His blood satisfying the righteous demands of God’s justice.  
  • Separation.  As He continued to look into the cup, Jesus saw something that caused Him to shudder in horror.  He had never experienced this before.  He would face separation from His Father when all the sins of world were heaped upon Him.  We see this in Matthew 27:46: “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’- which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” 
  • Salvation.  Ultimately, Jesus knew that He had to drink the cup in order to save us from our sins.  This is why He came.  Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  
We are weak people and we need to pray for God to change us, from the inside out

Now, as Jesus struggled with what was in the cup, the disciples snoozed.  Look at Matthew 26:40-41: “Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter.  ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.’”  

We are weak people and we need to pray for God to change us, from the inside out.  Let’s pray now that God would transform us, that He would cause us to long for His Word so that we can live by the spirit and not be controlled by the flesh.



5. A Place of Submission. 

Jesus is beginning to surrender to the cup of sin, suffering, sacrifice, separation and salvation in the last part of Matthew 26:39: “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” I want you to notice carefully that His prayer is slightly different the second time in verse 42: “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”   The first time He prayed, “If it is possible,” and now He prays, “If it is not possible.”  In his first request he longs for the cup to be taken from Him; now He mentions drinking it.  In the first plea, He says, “Yet not as I will” and in the second He declares, “May your will be done.” Warren Wiersbe writes, “Jesus was not wrestling with God’s will or resisting God’s will, He was yielding Himself to God’s will.” 

There are two elements to Jesus’ prayer that should be instructional for us.

  • HE EXPRESSED HIS OWN DESIRE.  “This is what I want!  I want to escape the cross.” 
  • HE SUBMITTED HIS DESIRES TO THE FATHER. “Not My will, but Your will be done.” 
A pagan prayer is when we try to get God to do what we want Him to do

Some of our prayers are more pagan than they are Christian.  A pagan prayer is when we try to get God to do what we want Him to do.  A Christian prayer is when we express our request and then surrender to God’s will

Prayer is simply expressing our thoughts and our desires to the Heavenly Father, and then submitting our will to His direction.  Prayer is where I align my will with God’s will.  I like how Spurgeon puts it: “Let it be as God wills, and God will will that it shall be for the best.”


6. A Place of Strength.  

We can see that Jesus has been strengthened in verse 46: “Rise, let us go!  Here comes my betrayer.” Something profound happened during this three-hour prayer time.  Jesus had gone into the garden very sorrowful and now emerges strengthened.  Before He finished His prayer, Luke 22:43 says, “An angel from Heaven appeared and strengthened Him.”

When Jesus got up from this place of prayer, He was resolved and ready to go to the cross.  Max Lucado adds, “When you do God’s will, God will give you the strength needed to complete it.”

We want to give you the opportunity now to come up front if you would like a church leader to pray for you.  You can pray where you are while we sing or feel free to slip out of your row and have someone pray for you.


Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?