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What I Learned About Prayer from the Garden of Gethsemane

Carolyn Dale Newell

Carolyn Dale Newell

Contributing Writer
Published: Mar 21, 2023
What I Learned About Prayer from the Garden of Gethsemane

Our feelings can also distract us from prayer. That’s why the enemy keeps us tangled up in emotional bondage.

How vital is prayer in your life? I want to pray more often, but I want my prayers to be fiery, effective, and powerful. Prayer is the most important conversation we have on any given day. It connects us to God. We intercede on behalf of others to bring about change in their lives, and we desire change in our lives too.

Last Easter, I read the account of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. I felt like I was reading it for the first time. Have you ever read a passage of Scripture that you’ve read over one hundred times, but this time, a light bulb comes on? You see something you never saw before. Isn’t that wonderful when the Holy Spirit brings something to life that we never knew, no matter how familiar the Scripture was? I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you.

We’ll use Matthew 26 for our reference. Jesus and His disciples had eaten their Passover meal together in the upper room. Jesus had washed their feet like a humble servant. He even washed the feet of Judas. Later, He excused Judas from the meal because Jesus knew Judas was the betrayer. Knowing what was about to transpire, Jesus led His disciples out to the Mount of Olives, where they went into the Garden of Gethsemane. He told His disciples to wait for Him to pray, but He took Peter, James, and John with Him.

Pray When You Are Sorrowful and Overwhelmed

Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38 NIV)

Of course, we pray when we feel grieved and at the end of our ropes, but do we tell our closest friends to pray for us while we retreat to another area to pray? Perhaps we pray with our friends, or we wait until we are alone. Jesus knew He had little time left, and He had to use that time wisely.

I know I don’t put enough emphasis on prayer in those times when my heart breaks into a million little pieces scattered on the floor.

I have been so numb from the burdens of life that I can’t offer more than a prayer that says, “Help me, Lord!” Yet, that is all we need.

The times we don’t feel like praying are the times we need to pray most. Someone else has probably said that somewhere, but it’s so true. We fail to find the words we need, but if we look at what Jesus prayed to the Father, His prayers were short and to the point, but He did pray three key times this night, which brings us to the next thing I learned from this passage.

Pray with Persistence

I once heard someone say they pray about something once, and that’s it. The Bible disagrees. Jesus prayed three times before He saw Judas and the soldiers coming to arrest Him. He might have prayed even more if they had delayed. If Jesus Christ needed to pray three times, then we certainly need to persist in prayer.

In the Old Testament, Elijah prayed for rain. He sent his servant seven times to look out over the sea for signs of rain. Each time, the servant returned to Elijah, saying that nothing was there. Each time, Elijah, still praying, said, “Go again.” (1 Kings 18:43b NIV)

On the seventh time, the servant saw a small cloud. Elijah believed that tiny cloud would soon be a downpour. 

Paul prayed about his thorn in the flesh three times, though God refused to remove it.

We see how crucial persistent prayer is throughout Scripture.

Pray for God’s Will

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 NIV)

We can see three lessons in this verse. First, Jesus asked God to remove the cup of suffering. He asked if there were any other way to accomplish redemption for His people. God, as our loving Daddy, wants to comfort us. He wants us to ask Him to remove suffering, disease, and burdens. It doesn’t mean He will always do it. Sometimes, our cup of suffering is the only way God can accomplish something in our lives, and so it was with Jesus.

The next thing we see is Jesus submitting to the Father. As much as Jesus dreaded bearing the sins of others on the cross, He still submitted to the will of God. Do we pray submissively? Do we surrender our desire for God’s will? Do we trust God the Father with our lives as we surrender our plans?

Finally, we must be willing to hear “No!” Although it’s not in this passage, we know what happens. God said “No” to Jesus. Are we ready to hear Him say, “No"? Can we accept that? This ties in with submissiveness, but in Jesus' case, the answer was final. No.

Never believe you lack faith because God says “No.” Jesus was perfect, and God still said, “No.” We will hear that often in our lives.

Intercessory Prayer

Then he returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.  (Matthew 26:40 NIV)

How heart-wrenching to agonize in His greatest need of prayer only to find His three trusted disciples sleeping instead of praying. He addressed Peter, who had just declared he would die with Him (Matt. 26:35).

I ask myself, what kind of intercessor are you? An intercessor is someone who prays on behalf of another. If you’ve been in the church for even a short time, you have probably been an intercessor when the sick are prayed for. It seems like cancer is raging, and I am praying for five people with cancer right now. I am interceding on their behalf, not because I am a super saint, but because the Bible says we should pray for one another. Do we pray for those who ask us to pray for them?

Praying for others gives me great joy. We just need to make sure we keep our word when we tell someone we will pray for them. It’s best to pray right then so we don’t get busy and forget. What kind of an intercessor are you?

Spirit or Flesh?

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41 NIV)

In this verse, Jesus addressed His question to Peter concerning their inability to stay awake and pray, but sleeping is only one way the flesh keeps us from praying. A busy schedule distracts us from prayer, and our flesh swiftly falls into that trap. Our feeble minds can easily forget prayer if we don’t have a set time and place to pray. 

Our feelings can also distract us from prayer. That’s why the enemy keeps us tangled up in emotional bondage. When we don’t feel good, or we feel tired, the flesh can overcome our desire to pray. We must defer our flesh by disciplining ourselves, as the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

Prayer Prepares Us for Suffering

We return to the need to pray when anxiety or agony fills our souls. I perceive this as being slightly different. Despite how Jesus felt, He knew He was about to go to the cross. We don’t always know when suffering lies ahead of us. On the occasions when we have a surgery scheduled, we must pray. When we know a loved one is in a terminal condition, we must pray. When an important court day is set, we must pray. Some trials catch us off guard, but on the occasions when we know what to expect, we must be bathed in prayer.

Friend, I hope something I have learned from Jesus' prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane will enrich your prayer life. We all need to rely on prayer every day. I pray we can turn to God when we are filled with sorrow. I pray we will become better intercessors and discipline our flesh. I hope we can pray in preparation for times of suffering. Prayer is powerful because God is powerful, and He hears our prayers.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/jirivondrous

Carolyn Dale Newell headshot with dogCarolyn Dale Newell is an author and certified speaker. She knows what it is to live with blindness, but she calls her disability a gift from God. Her passion is to equip women to break free from emotional strongholds through her book, Faith That Walks on Water: Conquering Emotional Bondage with the Armor of God. You can connect with Carolyn on her website and her women’s ministry group on Facebook