Key to prayer: Jesus' way (Hebrews 5:7)
I have been doing a series on prayer – I guess a basic question we ought to have asked before we began is "why do we pray?" - O.K., It's obvious, we pray to talk to God. But when we talk to someone the important thing is that we are heard - otherwise it is a waste of our breath. Does God hear when I pray? How do I know He hears? and, more importantly, what causes God to hear when I speak? Do you want to know how to make God hear? God heard Jesus when He spoke to Him, do you know why God heard Jesus' prayers? This is a great key to prayer, and it is found in [OHP1] [Hebrews 5:7 In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.] There it is, Jesus' secret of prayer – God heard Him because of His piety. What on earth is piety? – it is certainly not a word we use much today – probably because there is not much of it around. I want today to look at the example of Jesus – how did He pray? can we learn from His example: His piety?
There it is in this verse, the secret of Jesus' prayer, the reason why He was heard: PIETY. I knew this verse contains the secret – I had to find out just exactly what is this "piety". So I had a look at a few other translations of the Bible – they said God heard Jesus'' prayer because of: His "godly fear"; because He "truly worshipped God"; because of His "reverence"; because He was "humble and devoted"; because He "feared", because of His "devotion to God"; because He "honoured God"; because of His "reverent submission". The old amplified usually gives a pretty full rendition, it says: "He was heard because of His reverence toward God [His godly fear, His piety, in that He shrank from the horrors of separation from the bright presence of the Father]." - as always there's a bit of interpretation thrown in as well. I don't usually bother you with Greek words but this principle is of such significance that I wanted to ensure that I found out precisely what is meant. The Greek word is εὐλάβεια – literally means "receive well", "good acceptance" – it comes from a word meaning "devout". It is the internal attitude of reverence toward a person thing or event. I really wanted to find out what this word means – so you look up the dictionaries and commentaries – this is what they have to say: eulabeia signifies, firstly, "caution" then "reverence" "godly fear" – holy fear, that fear mingled with love which, combined, constitutes the piety of man toward God. The word can mean you are cautious, want to avoid something, even dread it, fear or anxiety – Jesus dreaded the agony of what He was going to suffer; but it is more the fear of God, the dread associated with One who is awesome and great, in absolute authority, so it can have the sense of reverence, veneration - godly fear, i.e. Piety. In our prayer we need reverence – I don't know where the reverence of God has gone. In the new style of worship there is great emphasis on coming into the presence of God, intimacy with Him. And while this is true, at the same time we must retain reverence. Hebrews says [Hebrews 4:16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. And Heb 10:22 So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith, with hearts that have been purified from a guilty conscience and with bodies washed with clean water.] but it also says [Hebrews 10:31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God! And Heb 12:28 Let us be grateful and worship God in a way that will please him, with reverence and awe;] - "awe" the very word eulabeia used in this verse. [Revelation 15:3, 4“Lord God Almighty, how great and wonderful are your deeds! King of the nations, how right and true are your ways! Who will not stand in awe of you, Lord? Who will refuse to declare your greatness? You alone are holy. All the nations will come and worship you, because your just actions are seen by all.”]. So eulabeia is the fear of an awesome God that brings reverence and complete submission to His will. Another commentary said Eulabeia is taking good hold or careful hold – it denotes the cautious regard which a wise man pays to all the circumstances of an action. In regard to God eulabeia means that reverent submission to His will which caution or prudence dictates. It is the reverent caution , the fear lest He should oppose God or seem to over-persuade Him. This heart was heard and answered was expressed in the petition "not My will but Thine be done". The truest answer to this reverent submission was to give Jesus the cup to drink and thus to accomplish through Him the faultless will of God. To have removed the cup and saved Him from death would not have answered the eulabeia, the reverent submission, of the prayer. The word occurs in only one other place in the N.T. (Heb 12:28) where it is translated "godly fear" or "awe". There is a sense of "fear" in this word – you know, we have lost the fear of God? We emphasise intimacy in prayer, and that is true but there needs also to be a fear of God. Jesus had it. God was the object of Jesus' fear, He is called the fear of Isaac, Jacob said, [Gen 31:42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had not been for me.] We need to cultivate the fear of the LORD. A prayer I regularly pray is based on [Psalm 86:3-12 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to You I cry all day long. Make glad the soul of Your servant, for to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in loving-kindness to all who call upon You. Give ear, O יהוה, to my prayer; and give heed to the voice of my supplications! In the day of my trouble I shall call upon You, for You will answer me. There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like Yours. All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and they shall glorify Your name. For You are great and do wondrous deeds; You alone are God. Teach me Your way, O יהוה; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name. I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and will glorify Your name forever.].
In this verse in Heb 5:7 it is referring to Jesus' prayer in view of His crucifixion "and was heard in that He feared" (KJV); "because of His piety" (NASB); "because of His reverent submission" (NIV). The last is the closest to the Greek which is "on account of His good acceptance of what He was accomplishing as the High Priest" – that was His role in His crucifixion. His fear of God caused Jesus to accept His will as good, acceptable and perfect, despite that everything in Himself recoiled from it. As a human being, He had an aversion to physical death which He expressed, showing that He was truly man and the Son of man. However, as God in the flesh He had full and immediate acceptance of His role in the work of mans redemption. It was on account of His direct consciousness of acceptance of His deity. As God in the flesh, Jesus received the cross and death well from God the Father [Matthew 26:39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Matt 26:42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Mark 14:36 And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” John 12:28 Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”]. Jesus' prayer was indeed answered, not by sparing from physical death, but by giving Him eulabeia, good, joyful acceptance of what He would accomplish through death. Jesus in Gethsemane at once surrendered his will to that of the Father who heard his plea and enabled him to embrace the Father’s will. That is the essence of prayer – not arrogantly getting God to do what you want but becoming aligned with the Father's will. Through prayer we come to lay aside our own will and come to embrace God's will as the best thing that we delight in.
Sometimes if you look at the opposite it can help to get a clearer idea of the meaning of a word – the opposite of piety I would term bolshiness, and we see quite a bit of it today. The presumptuous prayer, all pally with God, "Hi there Dad!"; telling Him what to do, claiming your rights as a King's kid, demanding this, claiming that, binding this, loosing that, taking authority, stamping your foot, loud and insistent. Insisting the way things must be – Where is the fear of God?! You are talking to GOD!! Jesus, the Son of God Himself, never prayed like that, He had reverent submission, piety. We need piety: reverence, fear of God, submission, acceptance of His will when we come to pray. Jesus was heard because of His piety, so let's look at the example of Jesus in prayer [OHP2]:
1. Prayed for God's glory [John 12:28 Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” John 17:4, 5 I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. Matthew 6:9 Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.]
2.Listened to God [John 12:27 Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say,?]
3.Came with thanksgiving and praise [John 11:41 Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. Matthew 11:25 Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.]
4.Prayed in the Spirit [Mark 7:34 Jesus looked up to heaven, gave a deep groan, and said to the man, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Open up!”]
5.Piety [Hebrews 5:7 In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.]
6.Prayed for God's Kingdom [Matthew 6:10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.]
The very keys of prayer we have looked at, Jesus Himself practised, here are some more characteristics of His praying [OHP3]:
•relationship – to His father [Matthew 6:9 Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.] In every recorded prayer of Jesus, He addressed God as "Father" except on the cross when He said, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" and there the relationship had been broken [Mark 14:36 And He was saying, “Abba! Father! ] - you cannot talk to God unless you are in close relationship with Him
•disciplined – early in the morning [Mark 1:35 In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.] It takes discipline to pray – everything will come against you.
•earnestness – sweat drops of blood [Luke 22:44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.] [James 5:16-18 Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.] - dispassionate and rational but earnest and fervent.
•focused – same prayer for three hours. Milton Smith used to say we need to take our shoes off when we read this passage – indeed we are treading on holy ground, it is an awesome insight into the depths of Jesus' heart, just what He went through - He was alone when He prayed this, we only know by revelation of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 26:36-44 Then Jesus *came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and *said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He *said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” And He *came to the disciples and *found them sleeping, and *said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying (persistence) that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.] - the same thing over and over again, not distracted here and there, kept at it in prayer, the same matter until it was resolved. We pray all around the world.
•persisted in prayer – all night [Luke 6:12,13 It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles.] - remember the parable of the importunate widow? [Luke 18:1-6 Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’ ” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge *said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”]We need to keep on keeping on. Never give up praying.
•Laid aside His will [Mark 14:36 And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”] that is piety! - that is the essence of prayer, the greatest prayer that can be prayed – piety, reverent submission. Setting aside our own will, our own agenda, plans and schemes and embracing God's – that is what prayer is all about. "He must increase, I must decrease".
If there is one great quality the church has lost it is the fear of God, another is holiness – in a word "piety". It is a word not much used – for good reason: there's not much of it about! But that is the key to prayer – it was the quality that caused Jesus' prayer to be heard and answered. We need to learn piety – the fear of God, of who He really is, reverence and awe, absolute submission and subjection to Him. There is the secret of power in prayer. I know it but don't have it but it is worth seeking. "I stand, I stand in awe of You! I stand, I stand in awe of You! Holy God! To whom all praise is due – I stand in awe of You!"
"Have Thine own way. Lord, have Thine own way;
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mould me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting yielded and still.
Have Thine own way. Lord, have Thine own way;
Search me and try me, Master, today.
Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,
As in Thy presence humbly I bow.
Have Thine own way. Lord, have Thine own way;
Hold o'er my being absolute sway.
Filled with Thy Spirit till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me."