Perspective: God’s Will or My Will?
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matthew 26:39b “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.”
At this torturous moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had said He was about to die of a broken heart (v. 38). He was alone, lying face down in agony.
Even in anguish unfathomable to us, Jesus showed a childlike trust in the Father. “Thick as the cloud was, He could see God as a Father through it” (Henry).
Jesus described the problem confronting Him as “this cup”. Referring to drinking from a cup was a common metaphor for terrible suffering. It referenced the bitter dregs that often collect at the bottom. For Jesus, “this cup”, the worst cup possible, would be His separation on the cross from the Father, and His bearing the full load of God’s wrath against sin. Jesus literally drank our cup of damnation dry.
Paul believed it; God “made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Peter realized it; “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24 NAS).
There was at least one other significant reason Jesus trembled in agony at the prospect of becoming sin. He knew in that moment He would be the enfleshment of the very toxin that causes the worst pains in us, the beings He loves most.
Becoming sin was almost more than Jesus could bear. Thus He wondered; was there any other way God’s wrath could be satisfied, and sinners be saved?
Jesus was not seeking to escape His duty. He was merely deliberating. Was it morally possible, within the master plan of redemption, to find another way that would be consistent with God’s will and His purposes to save us from our sins?
Our text gives us a look into the midnight of Jesus’ human existence. He had a choice to make. God the Father sent the Son to die, but did not force Him to die.
His agony teaches us that our goal in prayer is not to be emotionless and unfeeling. Jesus begged to the point of sweating as it were great drops of blood; an angel had to come from Heaven to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43-44). In prayer, we want to be intense, to feel deeply, but we should also want to keep the pain if needed to see God’s will be done. The goal in prayer is not painlessness, but victory despite pain. Ask God, cry out, plead, beg, agonize, but always add. . .
Matthew 26:39c “Yet not as I will, but as You will.”
Easy to say; hard to mean it. Jesus here revealed the secret ingredient in all effective praying. “If mankind were granted only one prayer, what other could we choose? For this prayer is all prayer in one prayer” (Buttrick). The most important act of the Christian life is obedience to the will of God. Holiness matters most.
Maybe the best, most accurate, test of whether or not we are spiritually mature is; can we honestly pray these words? When Paul refused to let the people’s warnings about his being arrested in Jerusalem deter him, they said, “The will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:14). James warned us against proudly making bold predictions of what we might do. He urged us to humbly say instead, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15). In my dad’s family, it was customary to say we would do such and such, “Lord willing.” I fear it sometimes was said from habit, not conviction, but the original intent behind it was worthy.
Effective praying submits. It aligns itself with the Father’s will. The highest victory of prayer is when we turn our will toward God’s will, for when we agree with the Father, we are being drawn into an ever-deepening closeness with Him.
Our best prayers change our minds, not God’s. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
Sincerely praying, “Not my will, but Yours, be done” means putting in first place what God wants. It also means putting others in second place in our prayers.
When it comes to petitions, to requests, our attitude must be self last. Supplications are fine; just like we make requests of each other. But we must let the Father decide what is best for Him first, others second, and ourselves third.
When we adamantly—to the point of shaking our fist in God’s face—try to force God to acquiesce to our wish, we are in essence seeking to become our own god. This domineering spirit is a major reason why some believers renounce faith.
Many walk away from Christianity because their prayers did not get them what they wanted. The way we show love for God is to agree with Him, however painful His decision is to us. We win if we can sit in His presence, though hurting, and say, “Having Your smile means more to me than having anything of Earth.”
If we could learn to make this prayer the mantra of our lives, it would make trials lighter. It would take away the inner wrestling that causes us so much angst.
Do we envy someone more gifted than we are? Intercede for that person, and pray our text for us. Do we ever wonder why God made us the way we are; do we sometimes wish we were someone else? We have to move into the “clay” position. The Potter created and owns us. What He does with us may be painful, but is okay.
Have we been sick a long time, missing the active life? Do we feel a harsh attitude in us sometimes? Has a loved one died? Did we not get a promotion? Are things bad at work? Have family members strayed from God? Has a relationship gone bad. Do we sometimes have to admit we are angry with Heaven, “Why won’t God fix this?” Pray our text. It may not change situations, but will make us better.
God does not always take the cup of suffering away from us. It may be essential that we drink the bitter dregs, for the good of God, of others, of ourselves.
No one ever prayed with purer heart or with greater intensity than did Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, God of very God. Yet the Father said no to His plea.
Beware thinking prayer is unanswered if God’s answer is not yes. No and wait are as legitimate an answer as yes. Many in this room will learn on Judgment Day that God’s most gracious gift to us was a no to many of our requests. God protects with no; Satan destroys by letting people say yes to their every whim.
An ancient heathen poet once pictured Jupiter as throwing certain prayers to the wind—dispensing them capriciously into empty space. God our Father is not this way. He weighs, measures, and answers every prayer for our good.
Let me interject here a helpful truth. Know this; regardless how little we feel the spiritual power we have in prayer is, nonetheless pray. Leave results to God.
The Bible commands us, whatever our prayer prowess, to pray without ceasing. Henry Ward Beecher, famous Pastor of the 1800s, said what most made him love God was; the ultimate God of the Universe wanted sinners to talk to Him.
God wants us to pray, to converse with Him. If we never get another request granted in this life, we should love Him, for the act of prayer is a marvel indeed.
We cannot increase God’s strength or His greatness. However, we can increase His happiness by taking time to talk to Him.