Weak Flesh and the Need for Prayer

The episode of Jesus at Gethsemane teaches us, among other things, about prayer.

First, Jesus, the one and only Son of God, prayed. And if Jesus prayed, why should we not? If Jesus prioritized prayer, should we not view the practice with supreme importance and devotion and perseverance? If prayer mattered to Jesus, let it matter to us.

Second, Jesus embodied his own teachings on prayer. There are multiple allusions to his teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount. For example:

  • “My Father” (Matt. 26:39, 42; see 6:9)
  • “as you will…your will be done” (26:39, 42; see 6:10)
  • “that you may not enter into temptation” (26:41; see 6:13)

We learn here that Jesus doesn’t just teach his disciples what to pray. The teaching for his disciples was the example he himself modeled.

Third, there are times we’re not praying when we should be praying. Jesus had asked the disciples at Gethsemane to “remain here, and watch with me” (Matt. 26:38), and this watchfulness probably involved a call to prayer because of 26:41: “Watch and pray.” Yet when Jesus returned to Peter, James, and John, he found them sleeping (26:40, 43). Earlier Jesus had told the disciples they would fall away “this night” (26:31), and yet disciples slept instead of prayed. Jesus had told Peter “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (26:34), yet Peter slept instead of prayed.

Fourth, we need to pray because we are weak. We’re not as strong as we think we are. The disciples had already declared their intentions: Peter insisted he wouldn’t fall away or deny Jesus (Matt. 26:33, 35a), and all the disciples claimed the same (26:35b). They had willing spirits, but good intentions don’t sustain devotion to Christ. Jesus said, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (26:41). Prayer comes from a recognized position of weakness not strength. Prayer says, “I am weak and tempted, but God is faithful and able to deliver.” Jesus and the disciples were heading into temptation, but only Jesus prayed.

Fifth, we need to pray because God’s will matters most. We have desires, and God invites us to ask and intercede and plead, but prayer also involves the practice of submitting our desires to God. Think about these words: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will….My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matt. 26:39, 42). True prayer is not an exercise in manipulating God to accomplish our will on earth.

“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.”
Matthew 6:9-13

“Prayer and the Pastor’s Heart”

Today on Dan Dumas’ blog, I had the privilege of contributing a post on “Prayer for the Pastor’s Heart.”

The beginning:

Listening to sermons each Lord’s Day, while important and necessary, comes with a danger that must be faced and overcome by God’s grace. We already know that pews fill up with some people who may not respond to the sermon in a way that honors God, people who may be hearers only, and not doers, of the preached word (see James 1:22-24). But the pastor must keep in mind his own temptation during the sermon time. Because he is a herald of God’s word, he is also a hearer of it, yet he may leave the service a hearer only. Pastors face the weekly danger of not sitting under their own sermons.

When Satan is Preying, Jesus is Praying

These words of Jesus disturb me, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31).

The context doesn’t answer my questions, like “How did Satan present his demand?”  And, “Why should God grant what Satan demands?”  Also, “Why focus on Peter?  Satan had already entered Judas and tempted him to betray Jesus.”

After his ominous warning, Jesus shines a ray of hope, “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).

What does it mean for Peter’s faith to not fail?  I think Jesus means that Peter would not ultimately abandon faith.  His three denials didn’t constitute an abandonment, since he is a follower after Jesus’ resurrection (John 21) and ascension (Acts 2).

If Peter’s denials meant that his faith failed, then Jesus’ prayer went unanswered.  But the Son doesn’t seek what is contrary to the Father.  Besides, Jesus told Peter, “…the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:34).  Jesus knew that Peter would deny him.

By praying that Peter’s faith would not fail, Jesus was asking the Father that Peter’s denials would not lead him to apostasy.  And Jesus’ prayer was answered.  Peter, though weak in faith, did not abandon faith.  He was sifted, yes, but he was sustained by the intercession of Jesus.

We are too weak to sustain our own faith.  Rather, the strength and power of Jesus enables us to persevere in spite of our weaknesses.

Be encouraged, believer: when Satan is preying, Jesus is praying.