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New City Catechism 39.2

Question 39: With what attitude should we pray?

Answer: With love, perseverance, and gratefulness; in humble submission to God’s will, knowing that, for the sake of Christ, he always hears our prayers.

Jesus provided for us the greatest example ever of what it means to pray “in humble submission to God’s will.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that the time for his torture and death was imminent, Jesus called out in prayer, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). Jesus was filled with dread of what was to come, and it was perfectly natural, according to his human will, that he would desire to escape it. And so he made a request of the Father that, if at all possible, he might pursue some other means of fulfilling the purpose for which he came. Was there possibly some other road he could find that would accomplish the goal of his mission to bring salvation to the world? Was there some way to deliver humanity from death without having to walk through the horrific death that had been set before him? If so, he asked the Father to grant it.

But he did not stop there. He ended his prayer by acknowledging the supremacy of the divine will over the human. In humble submission to the Father, he acknowledged that in his human limitations, he could not take in the whole perspective on reality and dictate to the Father what must be done. Can you imagine how we would relate to God if he responded immediately with a “yes” to everything we asked? He would become our own personal genie. And let’s be honest: if we really had the power to get God to do anything we asked, would we ever dare use that power, not knowing all the various ways imposing our will on the world through our own manipulative prayers would end up causing untold destruction that we never could have foreseen?

This is why we pray to a God who is not a personal genie but who is our sovereign Lord, whose power, knowledge, wisdom, and perspective are infinite, and whose plans are never changed by our suggestions. In prayer, we unveil our hearts before God, making known our desires, while also submitting joyfully to whatever he has decreed for his glory and our good. When we pray, gladly submitting to the will of God over our own, we imitate Jesus’ own practice in prayer.

Suggested passage for personal or family reading: Matthew 26:36-46. What does Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane teach us about prayer? How can we pray in submission to God’s will? Looking back on matters for which you have prayed that were not granted in the way you desired, are you able to give thanks to God now that he fulfilled his will instead of yours?

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