“Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He asked Peter, ‘So, couldn’t you stay awake with Me one hour? Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’” Matthew 26:40-41
When I was a new Christian, I discovered a pamphlet entitled How to Spend an Hour in Prayer. I was intrigued. I’d heard about people called prayer warriors who placed great emphasis on conversing with God. Prayer seemed to come to them naturally. For them, spending an hour in prayer must surely be a breeze.
But honestly, back then I found it difficult to keep my thoughts from wandering when I prayed. Oftentimes today I still do! Instead, they ricochet all over the place as I try to focus.
However, one day, I decided that things were going to change. So I headed to a park with Bible in hand and a resolve in my heart to follow the step-by-step guide. I felt like a spiritual giant.
I settled myself on a park bench, opened my Bible, looked down at my pamphlet and began to do what it suggested: “Spend five minutes thanking God for the blessings in your life. Spend five minutes praising God for His character qualities,” and so on. Apparently, breaking down the various categories into five-minute increments was supposed to help. But it didn’t help me. Five minutes seemed like an eternity.
Pretty soon a jogger happened by. He was carrying a small portable radio — without headphones — and the blaring music distracted me.
Two hyper squirrels decided to chase each other up and down a tree, and around and around my bench. I laughed at their antics but again lost my place. Even when the animals and humans quieted down, I still had trouble concentrating.
I couldn’t focus; I kept thinking of all the things on my to-do list. And I was tired! The thought of just chucking my plans and heading home to take a nap seemed like a better idea. So, after about 23 minutes, I gave up, packed up and headed home. My conclusion? I just wasn’t cut out to be a prayer warrior. I’d rather sleep.
It seems I am not alone. Today’s key verse tells us that even Jesus’ own disciples had a hard time with prayer. They fell asleep on the very day before Jesus was crucified. If ever someone needed the prayers of friends, it surely was then!
Jesus verbalized the trouble with our best-intentions-turned-sour when He told His disciples this: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41b). How true! My spirit wants to connect and converse with God. But my flesh would rather be off getting things done. Or mentally making my grocery list. Or — worst yet — even copping some zzzzzs!
In order to see progress in our prayer life, we need to make prayer a matter of prayer! No. That isn’t a typo. We must pray first — before anything else — that God would help us rein in our wandering thoughts. That’s our only hope to battle against the urge to doze off and win the struggle over how we spend our time.
This doesn’t mean we’ll turn into prayer warriors overnight. But it does mean we’ll want desperately for Jesus to meet us in our weakness and teach us to do the hard work of making prayer a priority. He is faithful. We must be, too.
We should always take time to reflect on Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. As you go about your day today, could you sacrifice some time in prayer?
Remember that God sees our hearts and knows our struggles. He doesn’t expect perfection. But He does want us to keep striving for improvement in the crucial area of daily communication with Him.
Father, forgive me for the times that I have let my flesh win when my spirit wanted to pray. May I never cease trying to develop the important habit of spending intimate time with You in prayer. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Karen Ehman is a New York Times bestselling author, a Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker, and a writer for Encouragement for Today, an online devotional that reaches over four million women daily. Married to her college sweetheart, Todd, and the mother of three, she lives with her family in Michigan.