The Spirit is Willing But...
“Stay awake and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).
It had been a long day.
For that matter, it had been a long week. It started with the big meal in Bethany followed by vast crowds greeting Jesus as he entered Jerusalem followed by all the commotion when he cleaned out the temple followed by days of controversy in the temple precincts. The city was clogged with pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for Passover. Everyone was talking about Jesus, wondering who he was and where he came from. Meanwhile dark clouds of opposition had gathered round their Master. You couldn’t ignore it. You could sense the hatred, feel the rage, see the faces contorted with anger. Even without being told, they knew that something was going to happen to Jesus. Something bad. Something horrible. But what it was, they could not say.
Then came the Last Supper on Thursday night when Jesus washed their feet and gave them the shocking news that one of them would betray him. Judas had left but no one knew where he had gone. Now it is almost midnight in Gethsemane. They have come with Jesus to watch with him as he talks to his Father.
But they were so tired, so weary, so frightened, so confused, so worn out from the pressure that they fell asleep. Thinking about it that way, one could hardly blame them. We all have our breaking point. Fatigue makes cowards of us all. We fight to stay awake, and then we wake up four hours later, dazed and confused.
Against all that, we have these words of Jesus. They are spoken in sorrow, not in anger. If there is rebuke here, it is gentle. Jesus knows what tomorrow must bring. He sees clearly the “cup” he will soon drink. Knowing all that, he urges his disciples to stay awake and pray.
What Jesus said to them, he says to us: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” We will fight this battle every day until we finally go home to heaven.
But we must fight!
If we sleep when we should stay awake, we ought not be surprised when we find ourselves falling into temptation. Pressure and stress wear us all down, but it is precisely then we must be most vigilant.
“Let us live like men on enemy ground, and be always on our guard” (J. C. Ryle).
This calls for earnest prayer. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to be distracted when you pray? Just as you bow your head, the phone rings, or you get a text message, or some music distracts you, or you suddenly remember that you have to check the roast in the oven. A thousand things come crowding into your mind. Sometimes it seems as if the devil’s best work comes when we decide to pray. He unloads his full armory of distractions against us.
Better a short prayer from the heart than a long prayer that puts you to sleep.
Brothers and sisters, let us take to heart the words of Jesus. We're not as strong as we think we are.
Lord Jesus, help! Our flesh remains so weak. You fought and won the battle. Help us to watch and pray so we might win the battle too. Amen.