Last week in our beginnings small group (for college students and 20-somethings), we discussed prayer. One of the questions we pondered was, “Why would God not answer a prayer?” As we discussed we began to wonder who from the Bible may have experienced this.
One of the college students mentioned Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus has gone to the Garden to find a quiet place to pray. He knows what is about to happen. The guards are going to come and arrest him. He will be put on trial and convicted. He had talked about that night during the Passover meal.
But, here, in the stillness of the garden he prays for this cup – the role he is about to play in the salvation history of humanity – to pass from him. We can all imagine that the pain of the next day would be too much to bear. Yet, we are reminded that Jesus is a man of prayer.
And what a bold prayer he prays that night. “Let this cup pass from me,” yes, but also, “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
When Dad was sick with prostate cancer, I would pray and pray asking for healing. I would plead with God to take the disease away. But Dad just got sicker and sicker. It seemed that my prayer was going unanswered.
After many doubtful days, I began to pray a different prayer. It was one of those days in an empty church when the words just came to me. It was, no doubt, one of those listening moments in prayer. “Your will, not mine, God.” It was a hard prayer to pray. It was a prayer filled with a lot of what ifs. But in those days when the cancer was winning, it was the only prayer I could pray.
John Ed Mathison, a United Methodist minister from Montgomery, Alabama, says that when we reach the point where we are able to pray for God’s will over our own, “God helps us out. God helps us conform to his will.” The idea of prayer leading to conformity may be an interesting one. Prayer, listening to as much as talking to God, leads us into an almost mystic understanding and peace of God’s will. For me, the more I prayed for God’s will to be done where my dad was concerned, the easier it got for me to deal with his sickness and eventually his death.
God’s will is not always what we want, and it is not always the happy ever-after ending we long for. But God’s will is God’s will. The more we pray, “thy will be done,” the more we trust God’s will, and the more we find ourselves at peace.