(Mark 14.32-42; Luke 22.39-46)
36Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane. When they got there, he told them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
37Jesus took along Peter and the two brothers, James and John. He was very sad and troubled, 38and he said to them, “I am so sad that I feel as if I am dying. Stay here and keep awake with me.”
39Jesus walked on a little way. Then he knelt with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, don't make me suffer by drinking from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want.”
40He came back and found his disciples sleeping. So he said to Peter, “Can't any of you stay awake with me for just one hour? 41Stay awake and pray that you won't be tested. You want to do what is right, but you are weak.”
42Again Jesus went to pray and said, “My Father, if there is no other way, and I must suffer, I will still do what you want.”
43Jesus came back and found them sleeping again. They simply could not keep their eyes open. 44He left them and prayed the same prayer once more.
45Finally, Jesus returned to his disciples and said, “Are you still sleeping and resting? The time has come for the Son of Man to be handed over to sinners. 46Get up! Let's go. The one who will betray me is already here.”
Growing up in the church it was common for me to go with my family to prayer meetings. Some of these meetings lasted for an hour or two and occasionally they stretched throughout the night. For me as a very young child the hour seemed as long as a full night but as I got older the midnight prayer shift became a test of endurance. More than a few times I fell asleep only to be abruptly awakened by some dear old saint shouting glory.
In the hours before Jesus’ arrest he took his disciples to visit one of his favorite prayer spots. The Garden of Gethsemane was known for its grove of ancient olive trees and was located at the foot of the Mount of Olives just a short walk from the crowded streets of Jerusalem. He took with him Peter, James and John. This wasn’t the first time they had fallen asleep just when Jesus needed them. This time Jesus told them to pay attention so that they could attest to what was happening. But sleep overtook them. It was obvious that they were not experiencing the same level of trauma that Jesus was going through.
It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t harshly scold them for sleeping but rather admonished them to pray themselves and to be watchful because soon after his death they would face many temptations and they needed to be alert.
These days it’s hard to get people to pray. If you’re like most Christians your prayers are brief and shallow. When was the last time you prayed so long that you fell asleep? The little “now I lay me down to sleep” prayers of some Christians doesn’t scare the enemy. Satan trembles when Christians communicate wholeheartedly with their God. How about setting aside some time to have a serious conversation with God?
Dear Lord, teach us to wait upon you until our knees get sore and our eyelids get heavy. May our willing spirit cause us to have a disciplined body so that we can be alert and pray.
Dr. Barry Slauenwhite is Canadian Regional Director for Best Christian Workplaces Instiute. He is also President Emeritus of Compassion Canada where he has served since 1983. Barry's advocacy for the poor has taken him to 61 countries. From his experience as a pastor and a ministry leader, he passionately works to promote holistic child development through the local church as being the most effective kingdom-building strategy available to the Christian world. Barry's latest book, Strategic Compassion, addresses the theological implications of poverty and draws a conclusion that the gospel is the most effective tool the church has to eradicate poverty.