This is Part 4 of 5 parts answering the question, “Can there be peace in a world filled with suffering?” in the larger question, “Why does a loving God allow suffering?” Part 5 will be posted tomorrow.
God’s Peace Keeps Us in Vigilant Prayer
We often pray for things that we need or for wisdom in making decisions. However, it is suffering that teaches us to be reliant upon the Lord Jesus for every breath and step. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane teaches us to trust the sovereignty of God in the midst of impending trials,
36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. 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 asleep, 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.” 42 Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. (Matt. 26:36-44 NKJ)
We learn many things from this passage. The first is that Jesus was willing to be vulnerable about the impending trial, even though the disciples did not fully understand. Secondly, Jesus humbled Himself completely before the Father and asked to be relieved of the cross. Thirdly, He admonished His disciples for their failure to remain alert and be in prayer and supportive of Him, but He left them again to pray. Fourthly, He went back to pray two more times fully entrusting Himself to the Father (and not to the disciples), because the disciples did not remain in prayer support. Fervent prayer like that maintains the peace of God that surpasses understanding.
Jesus also prayed while He was on the cross in the midst of His suffering. The first prayer He said on the cross was one of forgiveness toward His persecutors, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34 NKJ) It’s the peace of God that motivates an attitude and an action of seeking forgiveness of others.
Jesus’ last words were an appeal to the Father, “Father, `into Your hands I commit My spirit.” (Luke 23:46 NKJ) This revealed an attitude of dependence on the sovereignty of God and an acceptance of the Father’s will.
There are times we don’t know how to pray, which is why our prayers must be translated by the Holy Spirit to the throne room of Grace, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Rom. 8:26 NKJ) And sometimes we pray and don’t know what to expect. For example, the early church was praying for Peter and was surprised when their prayers were answered,
Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church.2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3 And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. 4 So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover. 5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church… 12 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. 13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. 15 But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.” 16 Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. (Act 12:1-5, 12-16 NKJ)
The disciples were praying correctly for Peter, but they didn’t even know their prayer was going to be answered! The Holy Spirit was certainly involved! Rhoda was so surprised that she left Peter at the gate and ran to tell the rest of the believers who were praying. They did not believe it either at first – the expression, “You are beside yourself!” meant they thought she was out of her mind! Fortunately, the Holy Spirit comes alongside of us and interprets our prayers for us.
Even when our prayers need to be re-interpreted, the peace of God motivates us to be fervent with them. Paul exhorted the Colossians to pray earnestly, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” (Col. 4:2 NKJ) The illustration Paul used was putting on the armor of God and praying with perseverance, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—“ (Eph. 6:18 NKJ) In fact, Elijah prayed that it might not rain for three years and his passionate prayers were answered, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.” (Jam. 5:17 NKJ)
Part 5 will be posted tomorrow.