Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not 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 body 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 is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Matthew 26:36 – 46 NIV
The Message version of the Bible phrases Jesus’ question and statement like this:
“Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”
I’ve heard it discussed that the Passover festival was a party. On Passover night, it was normal for these people with Jesus to pull an all-nighter. They would stay awake all night talking about God and celebrating His redemption of Israel. You’d think that if this was normal for each Passover, then the disciples should’ve been able to stay awake with Jesus. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to them that they were going to be awake for the majority of the night.
As we consider this passage, it is rather easy to come to the conclusion that if we fall asleep in our time of prayer, then we are not “spiritual” enough. After all, Jesus didn’t seem pleased but rather disappointed when he returned to find his disciples sleeping.
This was a matter of life and death, literally and figuratively. The closest thing we can probably imagine would be if our closest friend or relative were unjustly convicted of murder. The trial is scheduled for tomorrow. Do we go fast to sleep that night, or does this occasion call for vigorous prayer up till decision time?
However, what if we are spending our prayer time in mere fellowship with God? What if we are experiencing His peace, His rest? As you explore God’s peace, you may find that His peace is the provider of good sound sleep. God’s peace supplies for us the highest form of rest available. There is no need to be upset with yourself if you fall asleep occasionally in your prayer time; you may just be saturated in God’s serene love and care.
In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.
Psalm 4:8 NLT
It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.
Psalm 127:2 NLT