Thursday, April 02, 2015

The fight between sleep and prayer

The Sleep of the Disciples - Alexandre Bida
The Sleep of the Disciples - Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 14:12-72

TO CHEW ON:
"And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, 'Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation' … And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him." Mark 14: 37,38,40

No doubt the disciples' sleep was a legitimate physical response to physical fatigue. Yet one gets the sense that there is also a spiritual component to their napping here, while a few feet away, Jesus agonizes in prayer.

Several thoughts...

On prayer:
1. Jesus, the very Son of God, who had unprecedented access to the Father, still desired the disciples' prayer company and support. " 'Could you not watch one hour?' "  Mark reports Jesus saying (Mark 14:37). Matthew adds " 'Could you not watch with me one hour?' " (Matthew 26:40).

2. Jesus' desire for them to be praying was also for their benefit: " 'Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak' " Mark 14:38.

On sleep:
1. The persistence of the disciples' sleep, even after Jesus' warning, alerts us to the fact this may have been more than mere fatigue. They were seemingly embarrassed and perhaps even puzzled by their inability to stay awake: " … they did not know what to answer Him" - Mark 14:39.

2. Luke's account says: "He found them sleeping from sorrow" - Luke 22:45. This suggests their sleep may also have been a form of escapism.

Some insights for our lives as modern disciples from this part of the passion story:
- Prayer: 

  • It aids us even as it supports others.

- Sleep:

  • We do need a healthy amount to function. But could an inordinate sleepiness at times when we set out to pray be an aspect of spiritual warfare?
  • When we're overwhelmed by life situations, maybe we should more often escape into prayer than sleep!
  • Could our inability to stay awake during prayer be a symptom of a dull spiritual state? Perhaps spiritual things just don't seem real enough; prayer doesn't seem important enough to keep us alert and awake. The Bible uses sleep as a metaphor to illustrate spiritual dullness and oblivion:
"… now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed" - Romans 13:11.

"Therefore let us not sleep as others do, but let us watch and be sober" - 1 Thessalonians 5:6.


See also Mark 13:35,36  |  Romans 11:8  |  Ephesians 5:14.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I confess I have often slept when I should be praying. Please help me to understand what's at stake in maintaining times of prayer. Amen. 

MORE: Maundy Thursday

Today the church celebrates Maundy Thursday. The liturgy for the day begins with this collect prayer:


Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.



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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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