Sometimes prayer changes our circumstances; other times, it changes us.
Look no further for an example of this than the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus and His disciples. Here we find Jesus on the threshold of His crucifixion. The road to the cross will be an agonizing one; Jesus knows what’s ahead and He’d like to get out of it, if possible. The disciples (bless their hearts) seem clueless. Nonetheless, since so much hangs in the balance, Jesus opts to spend time alone with God – and invites His friends and ministry partners to do the same.
Mark 14:34 details Jesus’ request: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…stay here and keep watch.” How do his closest companions respond? They fall asleep – and Jesus catches them snoozing. He admonishes them, but this teachable moment is cut short as the Roman soldiers approach. Jesus is arrested and led away. The next three days bring shame, confusion, and heartache to those in Jesus’ circle.
It’s difficult to read this passage without sheepishly seeing myself as one of those sleepy disciples. How many times to I drift off to dreamland in a half-hearted prayer, unconcerned or unaware of the burdens that weigh down my family or friends?
Spending time in prayer can guard and prepare our hearts. The events in the garden beg the question: How would the next three days have been different if the disciples had committed that time to pray like Jesus asked?
Would Peter have paused instead of chopping off the soldier’s ear?
Would the other disciples have stayed rather than choosing to run away and hide?
Would Peter have had the fortitude not to deny Christ if he had spent time praying on his teacher’s behalf?
Would more passersby have realized who was struggling to carry the cross, rather than joining in with their insults?
Would the other thief have kept his contempt in check and instead reached out to the man who was hanging beside him?
Surely God’s eternal plan would have been accomplished with or without people. From the time man first rejected God in the garden, Jesus knew his purpose was to live on earth, be crucified, and defeat death by resurrecting three days later. Then again, the power of prayer isn’t necessarily about what situation is improved. It’s also in who is transformed in the process.
If you’re discouraged in your prayer life, take heart. Christ is never done with us. The One who arose from the grave and returned to the very same disciples who deserted Him waits for you, sleeping or otherwise.