The sun was dazzling in a clear azure sky. The morning temperature hovered in the 70’s with the whisper of a light breeze. Austin’s mind briefly noted these facts as he climbed out of his car and trudged across the parking lot to his office. The weather changed as soon as he opened the door. Storm clouds were brewing and boiling. The air was charged, like it is just before a lightning strike. Office personnel were hunkered down in their cubicles, staring at their computer screens in the vain hope that they would escape the deluge.
The economy had tanked. Trillions of dollars had evaporated in the stock market taking with them the hopes and dreams of millions of people. Unemployment and home foreclosures were on the rise. Sales were off at the company for which Austin worked, by the double digits. The company was hemorrhaging money and upper management was trying to stop the flow by any means possible. One of those methods, of course, was eliminating personnel.
The fact that he might lose his job consumed Austin and ate at his life and relationships like some kind of mutant microbe. Office conversations with his co-workers were curt and edged with the helpless anger that he felt. Contacts with his clients had deteriorated to hard sell tactics—just short of pleading. Austin had vowed that he would never allow his family to bear the burden that he carried. Time with his wife was spent in brooding silence. Their sex life went the way of the dodo bird. Austin’s encounters with his son and his daughter usually resulted in yelling and tears.
Austin prayed. O, how he prayed. Austin prayed long and hard. He begged God. He reasoned with God. Nothing! Austin began to doubt God’s love, God’s power, even God’s existence. In desperation he prayed a prayer he had learned long ago from a wild and wooly youth director. In the silence that followed he saw a faint glimmer of light, and the tension and fear that controlled him for such a long time began to ebb.
Prayer can move mountains.
Maria and her family were cruising smoothly along the road of life until Maria’s son, Diego, developed bruises all over his body. The appointment with the pediatrician took longer than expected and it was followed by a day long series of tests. When the results came back, the doctor called Maria and her husband into his office and said the dreaded word—cancer. Diego had leukemia. The prognosis was good, but it involved months of chemotherapy and possibly a bone marrow transplant.
Maria’s world turned upside down in a heartbeat. Her career was put on hold and her life became filled with doctor appointments, hospital stays, chemo and tests—always more tests. The hardest part of all for Maria, was seeing her precocious, energetic eight year-old transform into an old man—thin, listless and bald. The life that once glistened in Diego’s eyes dimmed.
She would be strong for her family, Maria vowed, and she was. Yet, when Maria was alone, she collapsed and her body was wracked in uncontrollable sobbing. Maria prayed. She prayed for Diego’s health, that the chemotherapy would be effective and that the bone marrow transplant would take. She prayed as she stroked Diego’s back while he emptied the contents of his stomach into the toilet. She prayed as Diego slept a sleep so deep that it almost seemed near death. As she traveled that hellacious path toward healing with Diego and her family, though, God seemed silent and distant.
One day, while Diego played video games, Maria picked up her Bible—she didn’t have anything else to read. She paged through it glancing at the words. She came to a story about Jesus and her eyes lingered. At the end of the story, Jesus prayed. His prayer became Maria’s prayer, and as she prayed that prayer she began to feel a peace that she had not felt in months.
Prayer can move mountains.
Several times the gospels record that Jesus prayed, but they rarely record what he prayed. Of course, when his disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he taught them the Lord’s Prayer. It probably would better be named “The Disciples’ Prayer,” though, because nothing indicates that this was a prayer that Jesus often used when he was with his Father. A notable exception to not knowing what Jesus prayed is found in John 17. Jesus prays for his disciples and for the Church. This is a powerful praye,r one that is still being answered millennia after it was spoken. It is not the prayer, however, that Austin remembered or Maria stumbled across. That prayer is recorded in Luke 22:39-42. (It’s also found in Mark 14:32-42, and Matthew 26:36-46.)
It was Thursday night, the night of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest and trial. Jesus had just celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. After the meal, Jesus leads his group of merry men to an olive grove called the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus parks his disciples at the edge of the grove and then proceeds farther in to pray. As Jesus struggles with the suffering and his execution that looms before him, he prays the prayer that saved the world. Today that same prayer moves mountains. It also alters circumstances and transforms lives.
While wrestling his destiny, Jesus probably said several things to his Father. At the end of his time in prayer he simply says, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” That’s the prayer!
We are so busy telling God how to run the world and what to do in our lives. We give God a list of our wants and desires and we include the needs of others. Certainly God doesn’t condemn such prayers, on the contrary God welcomes them. But, they are not to be the sum total of our prayer lives. There is something powerful in admitting our weakness. There is something comforting in confessing our lack of control. A profound transformation takes place in our lives and in our perspective on life when we come to the realization that we live and breathe not to accomplish our will, but to be participants in the will of our Lord. The birds don’t necessarily start to sing, all of our problems may not be solved and the brokenness of our lives may not be all pieced back together, after all, Jesus still hung on the cross. But life is different.
The prayer, “Not my will but yours be done,” is not giving up. It is not a prayer spawned out of desperation or weakness. This prayer is a prayer of trust in a God we acknowledge to be a God of love and grace. To open our hands and let go of our pseudo controls on life, and to open them and be receptive to God’s grace takes courage, strength and resolution. This prayer is not a one-time prayer, either. It is a daily prayer. It is a prayer we say with every breath we exhale.
Jesus may not have said The Lord’s Prayer every time he entered his Father’s presence, but this desire for God’s will is at the center of the Lord’s Prayer. It is what we and our brothers and sisters pray when we say, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” With this prayer on his lips Jesus received Judas’ kiss and began his last day on earth. Jesus’ last words, “Into your hands I commend my spirit,” were a variation of this prayer.
“Not my will, but your will be done,” is truly a prayer that moves mountains.