This article was originally published in Edition (6) of Prayer Magazine,  Apr-Jun 2006.

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”  He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.

So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?

Matthew 26.36-46NIV

If we wanted to find the ultimate model for leadership and for prayer in the Bible then obviously we need look no further than Jesus Christ himself. In this passage Jesus goes to Gethsemane on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. It was a favourite place for him to be alone, but according to Matthew’s account this time he takes his inner circle of Peter, James and John. So troubled and sorrowful is Jesus that he reveals to his friends that it’s killing him.

Before too long Jesus is flat on his face in prayer crying out in anguish.

The posture for prayer was standing up, in Luke’s version of this story we see Jesus kneeling, but in Matthew and Luke Jesus is on the floor demonstrating his extreme desperation. I wonder if you have ever faced such a desperate situation, one where heartfelt and anguished prayer seemed the only solution? 

Jesus shows his intimacy with God the Father by using the Aramaic word ‘Abba’ – one that Jews thought too respectful, but it was that intimacy and care from his Heavenly Father that Jesus was seeking.

So troubled was Jesus that he asked for the cup of God’s wrath to be removed from him. In other words he was asking if there was a way to avoid suffering and death. I guess most of us can remember occasions when we’ve pleaded with God to avoid the tough things, and leadership would be so much easier without the suffering and the sacrifice- but we’d do well to remember that leadership never reaches its full potential without suffering and sacrifice.

It’s as if Jesus is momentarily tempted to take an alternative to death in order to fulfil God’s purpose, but he doesn’t succumb to that temptation. Instead he willingly placed himself in submission to God’s will. In Luke’s version an angel appears to strengthen Jesus, and then Jesus sweats blood. He’s close to physical and mental exhaustion, but by praying so desperately and fervently he’s gained the immense spiritual strength he’ll need.

Meanwhile, the disciples have fallen asleep. They are getting physical rest but have missed out on the opportunity to gain the real strength they need by praying. In contrast, Jesus has agonised in prayer and he’s ready to face his betrayer and his destiny.

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