God Heard His Prayers Because… « Element Church Insider.
On Sunday, I was doing my normal quiet time with God before heading to church and I read a verse that I saw for the first time, or at least saw it in a new light. I’m in Hebrews right now, which by the way is an INCREDIBLE book. So rich and deep. Anyway, I came across Hebrews 5:7 which says this “7 While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God.”
Now think about it. Theologically, Jesus WAS God. God incarnate. God in the flesh. THE God man. So you might think that the verse should read “And God heard his prayers because HE WAS GOD”. But NO! It says God heard them, because of his “deep reverence for God.” (We won’t get into the lengthy and unending discussion of “If He was God then why did he need to pray, and was he praying to Himself?”) It just made me think. If Jesus’ prayer was heard because of His deep reverence for God…what does that say about me?
I think sometimes when I pray I have a deep regret…or a desperate situation…or a deliberate request…or a demanding requirement…and there isn’t anything bad necessarily with any of those things. The problem is, I often feel like God will hear me because I have the deep regret. Or because my situation is desperate or my request is deliberate or I’m facing a requirement that’s demanding. And I’m not saying that God doesn’t hear us, it just struck me that JESUS was heard because of His DEEP REVERENCE for God, not for ANY of those other things. Not because of his pleadings, loud cries or tears…but His reverence.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be the kind of prayer that comes to God out of deep reverence for WHO He is, not WHAT He can give me. I get the feeling from Hebrews 5:7 that that is why Jesus went to God in prayer. And because of that, God heard Him.
Calvin gives us better insight about Christ’s prayers. As he rightly observes, the eulabeia, the gripping thought of anxiety, fear, what Jesus had rightly apprehended (for that is also the meaning of the Greek word) was the trials that he would undergo.
that no one might think that Christ had an iron heart which felt nothing; for we ought always to consider why a thing is said. Had Christ been touched by no sorrow, no consolation could arise to us from his sufferings; but when we hear that he also endured the bitterest agonies of mind, the likeness becomes then evident to us. Christ, he says, did not undergo death and other evils because he disregarded them or was pressed down by no feeling of distress, but he prayed with tears, by which he testified the extreme anguish of his soul.
Jesus prayed earnestly, in other words, for personal relief, quite contrary to Maness’s claim. He was heard, as Calvin notes, not in the removal of the impending suffering of scourging and crucifixion, but in God’s strengthening him. We most clearly see this in the Garden when Christ’s prayer’s produce sweat like drops of blood and then the remarkable change of scene:
And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
He prays and an angel strengthens him and so he is in more agony and prays more earnestly? And there it is. That is the meaning of Hebrews’ writer. Note how the disciples fall asleep from sorrow where Christ’s sorrow is intensified as an answer to prayer. Really? How deep then was their sorrow? Well, then, how deep was their fear of falling into temptation? How well did they understand all that Christ had told them about what to expect? And is this not the case with us, the weariness of prayer even though we have been told to expect trials in this life? We have a dull sense of the moment, truly, a vaporous grasp of the will of God. For we like sheep are slaughtered all day long. We are told that in this life we will have trials. Yet we are to: “stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” The conflict is apparent. The disciples are not greater than their teacher and if all that was written befell him, what then should we expect?
The reality of what Christ was to face evoked prayer and God’s answer was to strengthen the desperation of the moment, creating a deep, stretching out for relief. There could not be a more personal, desperate reason for the prayer. It is most certain that Christ, the Son, had the utmost reverence for his Father, yet, the reasoning behind Christ’s plea is simple, “If there be any other way, let this cup fall from me.” It was the event, a thing prayed for, contrary to Maness, from which Jesus was asking relief. The answer though is not what we, as men would hope, for Christ’s trials are magnified and he strengthened so as to endure them to the utmost.
As we follow the momentum, Christ is being crucified and he again rejoins the prayer. If we follow the reasoning of Psalm 22, there can be no doubt that it is in the midst of suffering and dying that Christ’s cries are heard. The result is not that he is succored by angels coming down and removing him from the cross. To the contrary, he is fighting for every breath and preaching with every word and is being strengthened to do so. As Calvin says:
It is indeed certain that he was reduced to great straits; and being overwhelmed with real sorrows, he earnestly prayed his Father to bring him help.
And what is that conclusion to the Psalm. The Father did not turn his face away, he heard the cries of the afflicted and… Christ breathed his last and died. It thus was that Christ’s prayers were heard because of his cries. He prayed for relief and was given what he asked, the strength to die. That the will of the Lord should be fulfilled, is clearly marked out in Scripture. And so also is the meaning of eulabeia in Hebrews, for it refers to the cries, loud pleadings, and tears concerning the pains of scourging, crucifixion and death.
Here is in part what Maness gets right. Many believers believe that the reason for prayer is to get relief from the sorrows of life, to be relieved of burdens, to be “blessed” in this life. The opposite was true of Christ as John 17 demonstrates. His prayers we not that he be relieved, but rather that he be sanctified by what was going to happen. Rightly, he prays that he sanctifies himself. That is, he sets himself apart for the purposes that the Father before the foundations of the world had ordained.
So should our prayers be. God has ordained whatever circumstances we find ourselves in and in them we should be content Paul reminded us. Following Christ and Paul, we should pray whatever God’s will is that we be strengthened in it. Pray for relief. Pray the circumstance change, by all means. But pray, never the less, not my will but God’s be done.
Just so we might applaud Maness also for reminding us that it should be in reverence that we pray, let me remind the reader that disciple’s pray to the Father. The laud at the beginning and at the end of the Our Father should book-end our prayers. Let us also be reminded that it is not because of our reverence that we are heard, but because of Christ’s. Because of his purity, his work, because of his sufferings, we have boldness to enter the throne room of grace, and not because of what, or why, or how we pray, or who we are. We do not even know how we should pray, as Christ did. We ask because of Christ and according to his authority so that whatever we ask according to his will will be done… if we ask it in his name knowing what he has done to merit for us the grace of God we are assured that he hears us. We are utterly undeserving, demeritted it has been said. We receive despite us. As Christ reminds us, even though we do all that is required of us, we are unworthy servants, our best works are as filthy rags. Even our reverence.