Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go over there and pray." And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me." And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, "So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, "Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand." — Mt 26:36-46
I'm going to be honest-- I struggle with praying before bed. As soon as I get under my sheets, I begin to yawn and while I do my best to thank God for the blessings of the day and lift up the burdens, I'm pretty much like the disciples-- I'm dozing off before I hit, "In Jesus' name..." So, I get it, and I empathize with the clueless disciples. They couldn't even stay awake an hour. Jesus is in agonizing pain knowing what lays before him. He asks his friends to just stay awake. Relatively, the most simple command he's given them-- much simpler to complete than say, leaving their livelihoods, or walking on water. Sit here, and stay awake. And they couldn't do it. Three times He commands, and they still doze off.
Their falling asleep gave Him every opportunity in the world to take matters into his own hands: he could have run away, deep into the hillside, and avoid what was to come. He could have slipped off literally without notice. Honestly, who could blame Him? Bearing the weight of the sins of the world sounds like something I'd do almost anything to avoid. And yet, He stayed.
He knew both what He had to endure-- and for whom He had to endure it. For those clueless, sleepy disciples dozing in the corner. For Peter, the impulsive fisherman who He knew would deny knowing Him in mere hours not once or twice, but three times. For you, and for me.
The love and sacrifice of Jesus is more real and deep and true than Peter or the other disciples could imagine-- and than we can imagine. We have the joy and privilege to look on their story with the grander understanding of what is to come, and that Jesus will die but also rise. But there is also this sense of urgency in Jesus' voice to His disciples who truly are clueless about what's happening that I think is also relevant to us today.
I don't think I'm the only one who dozes off in prayer. I know I'm not alone in lacking a sense of urgency about doing God's work, about pursuing His kingdom, about knowing God and making Him known throughout the world. I say, "well, when I have more time, I'll do it"; "when I pay off my loans, I'll go into full time ministry"; "when I find the Right Person, we'll serve together"; "when the kids grow up, I'll have time to pray again". The temptation to doze, to hit a soft pause on right now and put off the work of God for later is a great and evil temptation. We say we want God, we want to walk with Him and pursue His will, but we also want to do what we want, when we want. Eugene Peterson's version of Matthew 26:40-41 is for us, my friends:
“Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”
Lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire. Ouch. But it's true, it is so easy to fall into that temptation of putting off prayer, putting off seeking God's will, putting off pursuing His kingdom. We don't see the rush, we don't feel the urgency, because it will always be there. And praise Jesus, He is always there, and His kingdom IS coming. But sometimes, I think we need to be jolted from our leisurely sleep, from our apathetic slumber, to recognize and respond to what He's calling us to right now. This is not a condemnation, but a confession from a lazy old dog sleeping by the fire: I need to be alert, constant in prayer, willing to do and go where He leads. He wants to cultivate faithfulness in you, and in me-- and we have to stay awake for that to happen.
Dear God, You are faithful even when I am not. You love me with a fierce love even when I seem apathetic to it all. You don't put me off, even when I do so to you. Lord, stir up our hearts in a way that we want You and You kingdom come now-- not in the future, not when we have the time or the resources or the energy. Come Jesus, come. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Dig Deeper: Where do you need to be alert to God's calling?