Lehman Strauss wrote that God always answers the prayers of his people. His answers are not always the ones we seek. Sometimes there is a delayed answer. Our timing is not always the same as the Lord’s. Sometimes his answer is in the form of an outright denial. After all, “we do not know what we ought to pray for” (Romans 8:26). There are many examples of this in the Bible.
Sometimes the answer God gives is different than what we ask for. When Paul prayed for healing from a physical affliction the Lord answered his prayer by increasing his supply of all-sufficient grace. But he did not take away Paul’s affliction.
When our Lord Jesus entered the great crisis in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his crucifixion, he prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken away from me. Yet not as I will but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). It seems that Jesus was asking if there could be any other way to accomplish the redemptive purpose of God than by his suffering. Could it possibly be otherwise?
God answered, but not in the affirmative. What do we learn from this?
Jesus knew God heard his prayer. In John 11:42 Jesus prayed, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me.”
Jesus knew that God loved him. In John 5:20 Jesus said, “The Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.”
Jesus knew God would always do the right thing. He will always act in accordance with his good purpose. That is why our Lord concluded his prayer with “Yet not what I will but as you will.”
Jesus knew that God’s purpose involved his sacrificial death and resurrection. He repeatedly told his disciples that that would happen in Jerusalem at Passover. Now the time had come for him to “taste death for everyone.” This is further expressed in Hebrews 2:10 where it says that God “should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.” In his dying, our Lord’s human experience was completed or perfected.
Jesus’ agonized plea, “may this cup be taken from me” was answered with a denial. But his prayer of absolute submission to God was answered with “yes!” Jesus had to reconcile his natural horror of death with the knowledge of God’s purpose for him.
Of the profound lessons on prayer we learn from Jesus’ Gethsemane experience, none is greater than this. We, like our Lord, must learn to submit our desires and wishes to his higher purpose. We must always pray as Jesus prayed, “Not what I will, but as you will.”