Have you ever fallen asleep in the middle of your prayer time? Come on, be honest. We get still, close our eyes, begin to petition the Father, and the next thing we know, we're waking up a half hour later with a crick in the neck and a guilty conscience. It happens. In fact, it happens far more often than it should. It even happened to three of Jesus' closest friends here on earth.
Awkward! After assuring the disciples that he was about to die a horrible death, he beckons Peter, James and John to pray with him on the Mount of Olives. I'm sure the three could tell Jesus was in a serious--even somber--mood. Surely, they could sense the heavy burden he was bearing. Yet, instead of laying their petitions before the Lord, they were sawing logs. I don't know how long they were there or even how long they prayed before they fell asleep. But does it really matter? They fell asleep at the time Jesus needed them the most.
Why do we do that? Why is it we can stay up late and watch television or push through various activities, yet we can't make it more than ten minutes in prayer before we're nodding off? Jesus gives us the obvious answer.
You got that right! The spirit is willing. There is a part of us that wants to pray fervently. There is a longing in us to get in touch with God regularly. But, then there's the flesh, which would much rather sit back and do nothing. Yep, the flesh is definitely weak.
But I see another reason in the above passage why Jesus was able to keep praying while the disciples couldn't keep their eyes open. The verse says, "And he went a little farther." I realize this is talking about physical distance, but I think we can glean a spiritual application as well. Peter, James and John were content to pray in the same way they had always prayed. "Lord, please bless so-and-so and please heal what's-his-name." I can relate. There are days when I feel like I'm praying the same prayers over and over again. But more than that, I'm even using the exact same words. It's like I don't know how else to say it, so I do my best to keep it simple and concise. The result is stilted and seemingly insincere prayers. No wonder I get sleepy! Who wouldn't?
Jesus, however, went beyond the "normal prayer." He poured out everything he had (including blood). His prayer was not merely a list of wants or a recitation of requests. It was fervent. It was heartfelt. It was meaningful. But understand me here, it wasn't the words He said that made the prayer so effective; it was the heart and emotion behind it.
Perhaps if we put a little more heart and emotion into our prayers, we wouldn't fall asleep mid-sentence. Maybe if we said what we mean and mean what we say, we could go a little farther in our walk with God. It's time we stopped settling for a mediocre prayer life and found out what it's like to pray with power and sincerity.
Now, I know this has been a little rough, and I've probably ruffled a few feathers or stomped on a few toes, so I'll leave you with some good news. God knows our flesh is weak, and though He longs for us to pray as Jesus prayed, He knows we won't always do so. And for that reason (and others), He gave us the Holy Spirit. Huh? Yep, the Holy Spirit is heavily involved in our prayer life. Check this out:
We don't know what to pray. We don't understand how to pray. God gets that, so He gave us the Spirit who intercedes for us. In other words, He speaks to God on our behalf. So, when we're stuttering and stumbling in our prayers, the Spirit interprets our gibberish. And yes, even when we doze off mid-prayer, the Holy Spirit speaks up and says, "Father, please forgive this child of yours for succumbing to sleep. You know her flesh is weak. But you also know the needs of her heart, so I implore you, give her the desires of her heart." And then, I believe, He goes on to say what we didn't say before falling asleep.
This doesn't excuse our lack of fervor in our prayer life, mind you, but it does comfort us to know that even when we fail at prayer, prayer never fails us because the Spirit is always interceding for us, and God cannot deny Himself. That's not to say we'll get everything we ask for, but it does mean that God, who knows all things, will bring about what is best for us. Even while we're sleeping!