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There Is No Power in Prayer Itself


As Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before His crucifixion, He was distressed about His coming task. Luke tells us that He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” When He had prayed this, “there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.” Yet Luke immediately goes on to say that “being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:42–44). And ultimately, of course, Jesus did drink the cup of God’s wrath on the cross.

In other words, the cup that was distressing Jesus did not go away, and the distress did not go either. What, then, did the prayer ultimately do?

This incident serves to remind us of something that may sound like heresy or heterodoxy at first: there is no power in prayer. Jesus did not employ “the power of prayer” to rectify His situation. His prayer was an expression of humility as He bowed before His Father and submitted to His will. He prayed to the Father, knowing that there is no power in prayer alone. All of the power is in God.

In other words, Christians do not exercise power on their own behalf when they pray. Rather, they seek God, who exercises His power on their behalf and according to His perfect will.

 There is no power in prayer, because prayer is simply how we communicate with the real source of all power: our good, omnipotent God.

Christians and skeptics alike are eager to talk about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of prayer, about its personal benefits, about its physiological and psychological outcomes. There’s no doubt that such questions are important, but they’re not the point. Prayer is not a method to achieving an outcome. It is an appeal to Almighty God, who gives good things to His children (Matt. 7:11) and who can “do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). There is no power in prayer, because prayer is simply how we communicate with the real source of all power: our good, omnipotent God. 

In the garden, Jesus did not seize what He wanted from the Father. He essentially said instead, “Father, you have power over everything. You can do anything You choose. From eternity, we determined together with the Holy Spirit that the cross was the plan. You planned it, I am to procure it, and the Holy Spirit will come behind Me and apply it.” Jesus’ prayer in the garden did not take away the necessity of suffering, nor did it take away the experience of it. What it did was allow Him to put Himself in His Father’s hands and receive strength for the task.

As we heed the call to take up our crosses and follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24; Luke 9:23), we risk disappointment and disillusionment if we see prayer as an easy escape from the trials and temptations through which God, in His sovereign mercy, intends to carry us. We will, however, find strength to face the task if we entrust ourselves to our heavenly Father, who cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), who promises to keep us (Heb. 13:5), and who intends to glorify us with Christ in eternity (Rom. 8:17). We’ll find power in prayer to the degree that we put ourselves in the hands of our all-powerful God.

This article was adapted from the sermons “Suffering Servant” by Alistair Begg.


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