The night before the cross, Jesus took his friends to a commonplace: the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew His suffering, humiliation, and death were near, but He didn’t hide. Instead, He prayed and asked His closest friends to pray with Him.
“And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’” (Matthew 26:39)
There’s much truth, beauty, and goodness to be unpacked from this passage in its entirety. But I want us to focus on how Jesus’ prayer instructs our prayers in the midst of our suffering.
Prayer and Happiness Aren’t Always United
Prayer is painful in suffering. How do we pray to the One whose sovereign hand allowed this to occur? How do we pray to the One who does as He pleases and doesn’t change His mind? How do we pray when our faith is feeble? How do we pray when we’re angry with the lot God has drawn for us?
In moments like this, God doesn’t expect us to wash the tears from our faces before kneeling at His throne. We can come honestly, like Christ: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”
Jesus didn’t fear death because He knew He would enter into glory with His Father. What He grieved was the impending weight of the Father’s wrath. He grieved, as the sinless Second Person of the Godhead, carrying all the sins of His people. His distress was so intense that he sweat beads of blood (Luke 22:44). Matthew uses three different words to explain Christ’s sorrow. The ESV translates them as sorrowful, troubled, and very sorrowful. These each encompass the feelings of grief, distress, sadness, and exceeding sorrow. Jesus felt emotional agony knowing the cross was ahead.
The Agony of the Cross
Christ experienced this kind of grief for us. John Calvin quotes Ambrose in his commentary saying,
He grieved for me, who had no cause of grief for himself; and, laying aside the delights of the eternal Godhead, he experienced the affliction of my weakness. I boldly call it sorrow, because I preach the cross. For he took upon him not the appearance, but the reality, of incarnation. It was therefore necessary that he should experience grief, that he might overcome sorrow, and not shut it out; for the praise of fortitude is not bestowed on those who are rather stupefied than pained by wounds.
Jesus didn’t simply appear as human, but He was fully human. He is our sympathetic high priest, knowing both our struggle and our frailty. He knows what great grief is like so we would never have to experience the greatest grief of the Father’s wrath forever. As the author of Hebrews wrote, "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:14–16)
Christ, as your meditator to the Father, doesn’t expect you to come with all the right answers and your prayers neatly bundled. Instead, He shows us how we can come to the Father in our hurting humanity. We can trust that our tear-soaked prayers will reach the ears of a compassionate Father who sees us through the work of Christ.
We Can Come Again and Again
Three times Jesus prayed the same words to the Father. They weren’t eloquent words. They weren’t increasingly joyful. He returned and prayed the same grieved words over and over again.
Sometimes in our grief, we don’t have any new words to add. Sometimes our grief continues, and sometimes it worsens. What can we say? Our Father doesn’t tire of hearing our requests again. He doesn’t wag his finger at us. Instead, He continues to listen (as He always does) to our sobs.
What Jesus condemns is the vain and mindless repetition that expects the words themselves to do something magical (Matthew 6:7). In contrast, He encourages His disciples to persist in their requests before God, trusting that He does hear and will act justly (Luke 18:1–8).
Fight for faith in your heart to continue returning on your knees before His throne. In Christ you are a child of God, and He wants to hear you. Because of Christ, because He suffered the greatest suffering, you will be heard and cared for.
Christ Will Hold You
Often our prayers in the midst of suffering can feel weak. We start losing hope, we start wavering. Sister, cling to Christ. Cry out to Him, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Cry out for more faith. In all of our suffering, Christ will not let us go. He promises to never lose any the Father has given Him (John 6:39). Though your suffering is unbearable, Christ will not let you go. He will not turn you away. He will not criticize your prayers. He will never condemn you. Keep coming, keep kneeling, keep pleading. He sees each tear and He hears each word, no matter how frail.
Lara d’Entremont is a Biblical Counselor-in-training, and her desire in writing is to teach women to turn to God’s Word in the midst of daily life and suffering to find the answers they need. She wants to teach women to love God with both their minds and hearts. Lara is married to Daniel and they live in Nova Scotia, Canada.