Jesus prays in Gethsemane, Mark 14:32-41

Rev. Shay Craig, St. Michael's Episcopal Church
Shay Craig

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.” (NIV)

It has often been said that THE MOST DANGEROUS PRAYER that anyone can pray, is the one Jesus utters here, in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before he is arrested:

“Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

It is a bold promise. To say to God, “I have things I think I want: goals I have set for myself; possessions; experiences; achievements and dreams. All of the things I have imagined for myself, I set aside. And I choose instead to do what GOD wills.”

It is a bold promise. Your average person would look at what God had dished up for humanity in the scripture and think the LAST person they wanted to take the wheel was Jesus. Floods and locusts. Famine and fire. Flooding the whole earth. Crashing down great towers of men. A voice from a bush, a talking donkey. People turned to ash. People turned to salt. Injury, poverty, transience, incarceration, torture, and death. All of this is the kind of leadership God has exhibited in the past.

Who would sign on to that?

Well, here’s my thesis:  Kansans. Specifically, Western Kansans. If your people, like mine, have been carving a living out of this land since the 1800’s (or even if you moved here last fall!), then all of that listed above – that was one bad summer.

When you read through your Bible you find that God has done some pretty challenging things to the people who have promised to follow God. But the Kansans I have come to know are pretty tough in that way. What makes this prayer a challenge to these people is that it … IS NOT ABOUT WHAT GOD CAN DO TO US.

A far more challenging element of this prayer is that it invites God to change us, from within. Not my will about who I work with or who I play with. Not my will about how I feel about myself or my personal hurts. Not my will about how I act around people of the opposite sex, or people of color or homosexual people. Not my will, but yours be done. The far greater challenge to all of us, is to let God change us on the inside. Change our minds about issues we have taken a firm stand on. Change our hearts about things we care about deeply. That is the kind of change that really challenges us, the realization that IT IS ABOUT WHAT GOD CAN DO IN US.

This kind of change comes on gradually.  It looks like little pokes in our conscience that leave a lasting bruise. Or a flutter in our gut that you can’t shrug off. Or a whisper in our heart that echoes and echoes.  And then suddenly we understand things in a new way. In God’s way. We begin to approach things with love and not fear. Now, here is a caution, this is the most challenging part of the prayer because it may change us radically. It may cause us to see things we have done in the past with regret. It may cause us to lose friendships, to challenge commitments, to quit the job, sell the house, change our lives entirely. What God has in mind for us may be a radical, frightening, one-hundred-and-eighty-degree change. Are you willing to pray the prayer yet? Because that’s not all.  The most dangerous prayer is not about what God can do to us, it is about what God can do in us … AND WHAT GOD CAN DO WITH US.

This is the really scary part of the most dangerous prayer, that through us God can change everything.  When we are willing to talk in the path God sets before us, we are led to compassion, to fairness, to kindness. We have more energy for service and more patience with irritating things. In short, we begin to behave in accordance with God’s will, not our own. Or, more accurately, God’s will becomes our own.  Then we begin to see what the most dangerous prayer is about.

When we let ourselves be led entirely by God, we lose our fear of change, we are empowered by the Spirit to speak up, to stand up, to put ourselves in the way of grace and justice. We become the change that God seeks in the world.

Jesus spoke the words of this powerful prayer at his lowest moment. When he feared his own will could not take him to the end of his journey, he opened himself to God and let God guide him. In doing so, he saved the entire world. So, here is the Easter question I invite you to consider, knowing what you know now, are you ready to pray the most dangerous prayer in the world?

Rev. Shay Craig is the Vicar of St. Michael’s and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Churches in Hays.