Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Jesus said, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." This phrase, which you have undoubtedly heard on several occasions, means there is a constant struggle between our spiritual desires and our human weaknesses. The apostle Paul once said: I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing" (Romans 7:18).
I am sure we can all relate to what Paul said. We want to do what is good, but we don't. Instead, we do what is evil. Consider personal prayer, for instance. Or reading Scripture. We know these are good things that will help us in our spiritual journey, yet, we are so lethargic when it comes to spending time alone with God or reading his word. Very often, sleep overtakes us when it's time to pray, just as it did the apostles in the passage we are reflecting upon today.
Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane with his apostles, knowing in a few moments, one of them would return with soldiers to arrest him. He knew torture and death would follow and asked his friends to pray with him, but they couldn't keep their eyes open. They fell asleep. It is a reminder that we, too, may fall asleep, both literally and figuratively, when it comes to our spiritual lives and must continually strive to stay alert and connected to God.
How do we do this? One word: discipline. Discipline is crucial in spiritual practices like praying and reading God's word because they require a consistent and intentional effort. Without discipline, it can be easy to neglect them or only engage in them sporadically, which can limit our spiritual growth and relationship with God.
So how do we cultivate it? One of the most effective ways to attain discipline in prayer and Bible study is to create specific goals and hold ourselves accountable to them. For example, we might commit to reading a certain number of Bible verses or chapters each day or spending a specific amount of time praying each day. It can also be helpful to use tools such as prayer journals or Bible study guides, which can provide structure and focus for our daily routines.
Another key to attaining discipline in prayer and Bible study is approaching these practices with purpose and intentionality. We should remind ourselves of the importance of these practices and their benefits, such as deepening our relationship with God, strengthening our faith, and providing guidance and wisdom for our daily lives.
There are no shortcuts here, so don't look for them. There is no such thing as instant spirituality. So, let us do what it takes, knowing we will be blessed for it.
May the Spirit be with you.