Jesus’ prayer on the eve of His crucifixion is given in a familiar account. One phrase is particularly striking: “Not my will, but yours” (Luke 22:42). These five words demonstrate the Son’s submission to the Father—a heart disposition essential to all proper prayer.
Earlier in Luke, the disciples had asked Jesus to teach them to pray. His well-known response is recorded in chapter 11:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation. (vv. 2–4)
Unsurprisingly—but no less amazingly—Jesus practiced what He preached. In Luke 11, His disciples were to pray to the effect that God’s kingdom would come; in Luke 22, Jesus pleads, “Not my will, but yours.” With our Bibles open to Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives, we can gain wisdom in prayer by looking at Jesus’ circumstances, listening to His words, and learning from His disposition.
Look at Him
The scene in Luke 22 is unusual to say the least: it presents a picture of a distressed Christ. The Gospel accounts give us a multifaceted view of Jesus as a teacher, a friend of sinners, an authoritative miracle-worker, etc. But on this occasion, taking Peter, James, and John with Him, Jesus’ “soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:34). Further, Luke observes in 22:55 that this particular night was cold enough for the high priest’s servants to have kindled a fire—yet even in cool temperatures, Jesus sweat profusely on account of His deep anguish (v. 44). We must never allow familiarity with a passage like this to prevent us from looking at its pages with fresh eyes. The picture before us is a shocking one!
Jesus was nearly overcome with the emotions He’d accumulated on His journey to Jerusalem. Having repeatedly asserted the divine necessity of His suffering (Luke 9:22–27; 17:22–23), when confronted with its imminent prospect in prayer, He was overwhelmed. Viewing the creator of the universe laboring beneath the weight of His impending sacrifice was no doubt stunning—but it’s the portrait the Bible paints for us.
Nothing necessary to humanness was lacking in Christ.
If we were to enroll in Theology 101, we would study in some detail what Luke’s account assumes: namely, that Jesus was truly God and truly human. His humanity wasn’t somehow absorbed into His deity. He had a human physiology and psychology. He experienced the full gamut of human emotion. Just as in Christ there was a complete Godhead, so, too, was there a complete manhood. In a word, nothing necessary to humanness was lacking in Christ. He was, as the author of Hebrews writes, “as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).
Listen to Him
Kneeling in distress and humility, Jesus addressed God as “Father”—an indication of the intimacy that true prayer allows us to enjoy. The feelings of intense desire, fearfulness, and longing converged, bringing our Lord to pray, “If you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Interestingly, Luke tells us that an angel was dispatched from heaven to minister on Christ’s behalf (v. 43). Just as angels announced Jesus’ arrival in the manger and accompanied His temptation in the wilderness, so now a divine messenger was sent to minister to the Lord of Glory in His distress. In anguish, He then petitioned again for the cup to pass, His sweat becoming like “great drops of blood” (v. 44). But as the following chapters reveal, the Father didn’t remove the cup of suffering from His Son.
God always gives the right thing at the right time, regardless of how wrong it seems in our experience.
There was good reason for the Father not to grant His Son’s request. In praying “Not my will, but yours,” Jesus embraced the Father’s will for Him. He wasn’t relying on prayer itself but upon the God who answers prayer according to His wisdom. We recognize with Christ that our faith isn’t in prayer but in our Father who answers prayer. God, who gives good things to those who ask Him, will always give the right thing at the right time, regardless of how wrong it seems in our experience.
Learn from Him
What lessons can we learn from our Lord in prayer? There are many, but we might group them into three categories.
Learning from Christ’s Person
We learn first from Christ’s person, or His humanness. Jesus wasn’t a detached Christ; He was an involved Christ. He was truly human. It was His genuine humanness and His willingness to identify with fallen humanity that got Him into trouble with the religious establishment. It’s because He was who He claimed to be—the eternal God in human flesh—that He was deemed a social and religious outcast. That’s what His incarnation involved. He lived among blasphemers. He was proximate to disease and death, to sadness and squalor (John 1:10–11).
There isn’t a darkness we’ve faced that our Lord hasn’t. There isn’t a temptation known to us of which Christ is ignorant.
We’d do well to heed the example of our incarnate Lord. He was enmeshed with the world as salt and light (Matt. 5:13–16). How are we supposed to reach a world in which we don’t live? How can we address the pressing issues of our day if we haven’t the remotest notion of our cultural predicament? Sanctimonious tone and religious cliché are fitting for the pharisee but abhorrent for the Christian. If we would learn from Christ’s person, we will do real ministry among real people.
Learning from Christ’s Passion
Second, we learn prayer from Christ’s passion. When we find ourselves emotionally overwhelmed, under insurmountable pressure, or unsettled in our souls, we discover we’re in the company of our anguished Messiah and sympathetic High Priest (Luke 22:44; Heb. 4:15). He understands our turmoil. There isn’t a darkness we’ve faced that our Lord hasn’t. There isn’t a temptation known to us of which Christ is ignorant. He’s experienced these things and endured.
If we’re honest, we can acknowledge that many of us live lives marked by a quiet desperation. If we were to advertise our emotional trauma, onlookers would be both overwhelmed and sympathetic. Yet with Christ, we need not endure trials alone. We can look to Him, the distressed Savior, and find relief. Because of His sufferings, we can rejoice with the hymn writer:
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood,
Sealed my pardon with His blood;
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Learning from Christ’s Plea
Finally, and perhaps most obviously, we learn from Christ’s plea in Luke 22:39–46. In Jesus’ plea to have the cup removed, we discover that God won’t grant us all our requests. Jesus prays, “If you’re willing,” and the Father responds, “I am not willing.” We, like Christ, must bridle our affections by the God’s Word and God’s will.
In prayer, we bridle our affections by God’s Word and God’s will.
In His wisdom, God doesn’t always give us our requests. And we rejoice in that, for we’re often poor judges of what’s good for us and others. In God’s economy, the things we imagine may be good are actually often harmful, and what we perceive to be bad may often be vital for our Christian formation (Heb. 12:3–11).
So, we look at Him, the distressed Christ. We listen to Him as He cries humbly and honestly. And we learn from Him: from His humanity, His anguish, and His plea. Ultimately, for us to pray like Jesus is to submit our wills to the Father’s, echoing the Son’s words: “Not my will, but yours.”
This article was adapted from the sermon “‘Not My Will, but Yours’” by Alistair Begg.