After sharing the meal with his disciples, Jesus went to pray in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew what lay ahead of him. Luke tells us that as he prayed in the garden, Jesus began to sweat drops of blood and there appeared to be an angel which came to strengthen him. Jesus’ prayer was, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
We have no real understanding about the kind of anguish and struggle that Jesus was facing in that moment. It is not surprising that he asked his Father if there was another way to accomplish his purpose. The most difficult part of the prayer might have been “not my will, but yours be done.”
There is no more difficult prayer than this: dying to our own self-will. This prayer in the garden is an example of what is called ‘prayers for indifference.’ Sometimes, we tack that phrase ‘your will be done’ onto the end of a prayer as a statement of apathy or low expectations. Yet it is really a prayer requesting we would be indifferent to everything but the will of God. When truly understood, it is a prayer of surrender – and surrender is not something we do easily.
Our greatest enemy with this kind of prayer is self: “I want what I want.” When we lay our plans and desires on the altar, we need to be okay with the outcome: God’s will. Often, we are still strongly attached to our preferred answer.
Around the world today, many Christians are marking the beginning of Lent. During this season, it is traditional to ‘give up’ something, to deny ourselves in some way as a means of remembering the sacrifice of Jesus. What if we ‘gave up’ wanting to get our own way in every situation? What if we ‘gave up’ having to be right about everything or knowing the answer to every question? What if we ‘gave up’ having to be treated with proper respect or acknowledged for each act of service we have done? What if we ‘gave up’ those expectations? What if we ‘gave up’ demanding that God answer our prayers in the manner we desire?
The prayer for indifference is real. We have trouble really meaning it when we pray because it calls for surrender. During this season of reflecting on Christ’s sacrifice, it might be worthwhile to consider what it means to truly deny self.