After they celebrated the Lord’s Table, the Bible tells us that Jesus and the disciples were singing as they traveled to the Mount of Olives. As they arrived there, Jesus told His disciples, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” The question that Jesus asks here varies, depending on which Gospel you are reading, but it has to do with the disciples not being able to stay awake and pray. In the Gospel of Mark we read, “‘Simon,’ he said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Could you not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’” Luke records it this way: “When he rose from prayer and went to the disciples, he found them asleep exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’”
If one reads the gospels, one will learn a great deal about the prayer life of Jesus. The Spirit led him into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. His response was to have a time of prayer. Mark wrote this about the ministry of Jesus: “He also drove out many demons, but he would not let demons speak because they knew who he was” (Mark 1:34). Mark is not content to tell the reader what Jesus did; he also tells us how Jesus did it in the next verse: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
In my teenage days in Detroit, I had a teacher who told us that God helps us when we pray. There are some prayers which he called lightning prayers or crisis prayers, such as “Lord, help me now!” However, he said that major changes happen in our life and in our society when we are in prayer for many hours. It is this time of prayer that Fanny J. Crosby wrote about in her hymn: “O the pure delight of a single hour, that before thy throne I spend, when I kneel in prayer with thee my God and commune as friend to friend.”
The motto of the Benedictine order was orare et laborare – prayer and work. The great reformers such as Martin Luther and John Wesley wrote about spending hours in prayer in the early morning before facing the world. Like Jesus, they took their schedule, their plans, and the people they would encounter to God before they started on their first task.
We can say that in the Mount of Olives story, the apostle flunked their prayer commitment. The good news is that they were good students and learned really fast. In the Book of Acts, we find out that “the apostles all joined constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus and his brothers.” All the major activities of the apostolic church were bathed in prayer. In Acts 13, we read that “while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said: ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work which I have called them.’ So, after they have fasted and prayed, they place their hands on them and sent them off.”
If one analyzes our individual lives and the lives of our churches, we must confess that while we have many things that are going well, prayer is not one of them. I come from a church that would spend almost the entire day in church on Sunday – 9:00 prayer time, 10:00 Sunday School classes, and an 11:00 worship service. In the evening, we would hold committee meetings at 4:00, choir rehearsal at 5:00, the youth worship service at 6:00, and the evening worship service at 7:00. We all lived close to our church because prayer, worship, and fellowship built our community. In contrast with the church in Asia, Africa, and Central and Latin America, an hour of prayer is almost unknown to the American Church. For that reason, some of us are prone to falling into temptation like the disciples on the Mount of Olives.
Is there a possibility that, during this Holy Week, Jesus comes and finds us sleeping, just as he found his apostles? Is there a possibility many of us fall into many temptations because we have fallen asleep and fallen into the temptations that Satan has sprung in our lives? May we wake up like the apostles did and build a resistance to the evil one through our prayer time.