Not so sweet dreams
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
41 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Ever fallen asleep praying? You’ve got the best of intentions. You want to finish the day with God. But you’re just so tired. Everything has been so busy. You jump into bed and finally have some quiet time. Maybe you grab your Bible from the bedside table and read it, or if you’ve already turned the light off you open your Bible app on your mobile. You read a chapter or find a verse or passage that speaks to you and then you put it down to pray. You close your eyes. The covers are warm and the pillow is soft and you start thinking about the day. But you want to pray, so you wrest your wayward thoughts back to God. Soon you find yourself thinking about something else again. No! This time you’ll pray properly. Father in heaven, please . . . Then your alarm goes off . . .
Familiar? Or is it just me? We have all the best intentions but there are a few things wrong with this model of praying.
Time: We need to set aside time to pray, not just add it as an afterthought to our church service, our worship time, our mealtime or our bedtime. Jesus sought out prayer time and connection with His Father as a necessity and a priority. It was the first thing not the last thing He did. Before food and water he turned to prayer. Not only did he set aside time, but He spent decent amounts of time praying. When was the last time I spent an hour in prayer? I won’t answer that question but why do we find it so hard to pray, when Jesus couldn’t live without it? We create formulas, charts and fancy acronyms for effective prayer, yet we don’t simply spend time doing it!
Power: If we want to pray with power, we have to invest significant time and energy into it. It’s not something that will just happen. As Jesus said, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Jesus tells his disciples to watch and pray so temptation doesn’t overcome them. On our own steam, we cannot create our own spiritual power—we cannot make an impact in the world or the supernatural realm. Paul reminds us that the struggle is not against flesh and blood but against powers we cannot see. So why do we spend so much time trying to do more and be busier and better and even, run amazing church programs, without tapping into the Holy Spirit’s power first. Jesus drew His power from His Father. He filled up His tank, especially before and after big encounters, like Calvary. He is about to go into the battle for all the souls in the world, the climactic event of His ministry and He is found here recharging, wrestling and communing with His Father. It was the first thing He did and the last thing He did. Jesus knew where His power came from. Why don’t I remember?
Perspective: We don’t see the urgency or importance of prayer. Even when it was late and everyone else was asleep, it was something Jesus did fully, not half-heartedly. Notice in this passage, he tells His disciples to watch and pray. Evil does not sleep. The priests and soldier and the betrayer are up late (or early) to try to work their own agendas. We must not allow ourselves to become complacent and this comes from our perspective on the world. If we are complacent about our spiritual health, then we will be caught napping. If we see prayer as a nice ritual or a necessary one, then we have missed the point of prayer. Prayer is to empower us, to encourage us, and ultimately not about us but about God.
So often our perspective is so firmly on ourselves that prayer is inconvenient. Our physical needs take precedence. When our perspective is on God, when our focus is His will and our mission is Holy Spirit led, then we will need our instructions from Him. When our perspective shifts off ourselves and onto our God, then we can truly be free to minister to the world effectively and live a life more abundant.
The hour has come. So take up the challenge to have a more focused and persistent prayer life. You can start today!
Jarrod Stackelroth is associate editor of Adventist Record.