Jesus And Prayer
You have to love how Jesus is committed to a life of prayer. Over and over again in the Gospels, we read Jesus’ public prayers, we learn of his withdrawing to quiet places to pray and be with his Father, and we see Jesus in the single most stressful and difficult moment of his ministry in prayer.
In Mark 14, Jesus is preparing to be betrayed by one of his disciples and arrested by the Romans. And he determines to spend the entire night in fervent prayer. Other Gospels report that when Jesus is praying here, sweat falls like blood from his brow. His prayer and his anguish are that intense.
Jesus is committed to prayer. And Jesus has something to share with each of us from this particular prayer in Mark 14.
Take a moment and read Mark 14:32-42.
Among the many things that are worthy of our attention from these 10-11 verses, as I read this text this time, the phrase that rises to the surface comes from verse 38: “the spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.”
Later in the New Testament, Paul will have much to say about the difference between being led and guided by Spirit or being led and guided by flesh. The obvious message from Paul is to be guided by God’s Spirit rather than by our own flesh. It is a lesson to follow Jesus on the path to the cross–to become cruciform ourselves. But here, Jesus is still preparing to go to the cross himself. And so, I think it is helpful to have Paul’s ideas in mind here, but I think there is more to uncover too.
Jesus finds his disciples sleeping after he has gone off a little further in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray for an hour. And honestly, I can’t blame the disciples. It’s the middle of the night, Jesus has instructed them to wait while he prays–sleep seems like a natural response and a natural way to pass the time. What I mean is that I don’t think that the disciples are willfully sinning or trying to go against what Jesus is instructing them to do.
And so, when Jesus comes and finds them asleep, he invites them into prayer too. [SIDEBAR: Whenever you find yourself in despair, Jesus’ example shows us that prayer is the place to turn. Not only that, but in his despair, Jesus invites others into prayer too.] And it is after he invites the disciples into prayer that he tells them the spirit is eager but the flesh is weak.
And this is what Jesus, I think, wants us to learn about the life of prayer. We are weak-willed so often when it comes to following the instructions of Jesus. When it comes to sin, just like Paul would later say, being guided and led by the flesh is a recipe for disaster. But here, Jesus invites us into prayer. Constant, vigilant prayer. Stay alert and pray. Prayer is the means by which we set aside the flesh and our sinfulness. Prayer is the means by which we learn to follow Jesus. Prayer is the means by which we engage in the spiritual life.
It is through prayer that we come to the will of God. In fact, that’s exactly the content of Jesus’ own prayer: “Not what I want but what you want.”
Prayer is our first and best tool in learning to follow Jesus. And this can seem so counterintuitive, especially today. There is so much work to be done. Good work. Things that honor and give glory to God. Serving others in the name. of Jesus. Giving to the poor. Working for equity in a world in which power is protected at all costs. Lifting up and encouraging those who are in the midst of intense personal turmoil. All of these things are good and right, and we should do them! But, Jesus gives us the example that prayer is always our first and best tool in following Jesus. It is in prayer that our spirits are given the courage and strength to follow through what the flesh will eventually grow tired of doing. It is through prayer that we are brought into the heart of God and given the empathy, compassion, and love to serve others, give to the poor, work for equity, encourage, and all the rest that our faith leads. us to do.
And so today, remember that the spirit is eager even when the flesh is weak. Start praying now that you would be ready to follow Jesus, wherever he leads.