Prayer is a gift and a blessing. But sometimes it’s hard to know how to pray. That’s especially true when we go through tough times or when we face circumstances we would rather avoid. Sometimes it seems like we have to choose between praying honestly (asking for what we want) or praying spiritually (asking for what God wants). But I believe that prayer that honors God includes both. It should both exemplify our relationship with him and at the same time exalt him as the sovereign LORD of the universe.
In Mark 14:36, we have such a prayer. This short, model prayer by Jesus captures the essence of what our prayers should be like when we face tough times. It occurs in the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus is preparing to face the cross to suffer for our sins. From this prayer, we can see four important principles to guide our own prayers in times of great challenge.
“And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).
The first principle is sonship. Jesus cried out, “Abba, Father.” He spoke intimately with God because he was his only begotten Son. He spoke according to his relationship with him. Likewise, when we pray, we should remember who we are in relation to God. In Christ, we have been adopted as his children (Ephesians 1:5). He is our Father, and we can address him intimately and know that he cares for us. We can cry to the Father like Jesus did because we have received the Spirit of adoption and he is now our Father too (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). So, when we pray, we should remember to pray as sons to a loving father.
The second principle is sovereignty. Jesus prayed, “All things are possible for you.” By doing so, he affirmed that his Father is the one who “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). God Almighty reigns; he does whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3). Jesus acknowledged that if the Father wanted to preserve him from suffering, he could do it because he is sovereign over all things. Likewise, when we pray, we should pray in a way that recognizes God’s sovereignty. We should pray believing that God can do all things and that he alone controls all things. Nothing is outside his control.
The third principle to keep in mind when we pray in tough times is sincerity. Jesus said to his Father, “Remove this cup from me.” He prayed sincerely. He spoke honestly. Being fully man (as well as fully God), he did not want to go to the cross and suffer the wrath of God against man’s sin. Understandably, he would’ve rather avoided the experience. Likewise, when we pray, we should be honest with God and tell him exactly what we want and how we feel. We don’t need to pretend or put on an act. We can share our hearts with God because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). So, when we pray, we should pray genuinely.
Finally, the fourth principle is submission. Jesus prayed, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” He submitted his will to his Father’s. After acknowledging his sovereignty and praying honestly, he concluded his prayer submitting himself to his Father and trusting that his will was best. “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). In the same way, when we pray in difficult circumstances, we should always be willing to submit ourselves to the loving wisdom of our Father in heaven who promises that he will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). His will is always best, even when we don’t understand (Romans 8:28). Jesus’ submission resulted in victory and exaltation. The same will be true for us. So, when we pray, we should humble ourselves and pray in submission to the Father and his will for us.
Looking at Jesus’ prayer, we have a model prayer for difficult times. We see that we don’t have to choose between honesty and submission. We should pray as sons, recognizing God’s sovereignty, speaking honestly, and ultimately submitting to his will. Jesus’ prayer is both to-the-point and powerful. Let’s follow his example.