Praying vs. Sleeping

Speaking of sleeping on the job, Peter was rebuked more than once in a single night for dozing off at his post. On the night of His betrayal, Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane. Leaving them, He moved into the garden a short distance and began to pray. Every time He came back to check on His disciples, He found them asleep (Matt. 26:39-46).

What if Peter had listened to Jesus’ admonitions and stayed awake to pray with Jesus? Could he have avoided denying Christ three times in the courtyard of the High Priest’s home? What if Peter had been found praying three times instead of sleeping all three times Jesus came to check on him and the other two disciples?

Why should Peter have prayed in the Garden with Jesus instead of sleeping?

To Avoid Being Sifted by Satan

God tests man by permitting Satan to tempt him. He allowed Peter to be tempted in order to test him. “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren’” (Lk. 22:31,32). G. Campbell Morgan summed up Jesus’ warning, “Satan has obtained you by asking”. Testing is the work of both God and Satan. God tests man so he may conquer, be reproved and improved never to produce sin. Satan always tests us to produce sin in our lives. All power belongs to God. Satan could not have hurt a single flea on a hair of Job’s oldest camel without the permission of God (Job 1; 1 Cor. 10:13).

To Discourage His Over-confidence

After Jesus warned Peter about Satan’s desire for his faith to fail, Peter claimed, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” Jesus predicted, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.” (Luke 22:33,34). Christ prophesied that Peter’s faith would fail. In the end, Peter did not lose his faith. Peter thought he was strong enough. Jesus knew his faith was too weak without watching and praying. 1 Corinthians 10:12 warns against over confidence in our strength: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

To Overcome His Temptation

A driver tucked this note under the windshield wiper of his automobile. “I’ve circled the block for twenty minutes. I’m late for an appointment, and if I don’t park here I’ll lose my job. ‘Forgive us our trespasses.'” When he came back he found a parking ticket and this note: “I’ve circled the block for twenty years, and if I don’t give you a ticket, I’ll lose my job. ‘Lead us not into temptation.'”

Prayer was also a necessity for Peter to overcome temptations. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (Mt. 6:13). Sandwiched between petition for forgiveness and petition to be delivered from evil. Note that God never tests us. It is to petition God who controls temptation and trials, so that we do not go back into the same sin we were forgiven of and thus be delivered from evil. Unlike real war, we need to avoid the enemy when possible. Jesus ordered the three disciples to pray “that ye enter not into temptation” (Mt. 26:41).

To Help His Weakness

Christ warned the Peter, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:41). Temptations have strength through our weaknesses. Causes of human weakness may be the sin that has destroyed our spirituality. Evil may have corrupted our hearts. Our desires become corrupted in the evil thoughts of the heart (Mk. 7:20ff). Our physical weaknesses can lead to trials of our faith as in the case with Peter. We are spiritual/physical beings functioning in a material world. We need sleep. Sometimes this need can hinder spirituality (Mk. 14:38).

Death was often the sentence throughout history for the soldier who fell asleep on his watch (Mt. 28:13,14). Remember though, a lion will devour a sleeping victim before he will choose a fight. The “sleeping” Christian is unaware that Satan is near and unprepared to meet the unexpected temptation. Satan is looking out for the Christians who are not looking out for him.

You don’t have to go far to see the application for the modern-day Christian. Worship service is the right place for a faithful Christian to be. However, coming to doze off on hard pews, expecting to be entertained or just day dreaming is not the right kind of activity for the occasion.

To Watch Out for the Devil

In the days of the Vietnam war, recruits attended a training session called, “Combat Orientation: Southeast Asia.” During these sessions soldiers were informed: “Don’t ever underestimate the enemy and overestimate yourself. And, remember, the enemy in Vietnam is not the conventional enemy of history. The enemy will use any tactic he can think of. He will try to move in your direction and destroy you through any possible means. He may show up anywhere, at any time or place. In other words, the combat zone is unlimited!”

Christians are commanded to be watchful. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Jesus told his three disciples to watch and pray in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed. “Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.’ He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, “What? Could you not watch with Me one hour?” (Mt. 26:38,40). We must watch as we pray – keeping alert [Note: “watching” and “praying” are often linked in the scriptures see 1 Pet. 5:8; Ac. 20:31; 1 Th. 5:1-8)]. Don’t set yourself up for an ambush. Watch out day and night for the Devil’s attacks.

To Pray with Christ Who was Praying for Him

When Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest, He prayed, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (Jn. 17:14,15).

Mutual prayer is mutually encouraging. How uplifting it would be to have a prayer meeting with Christ as He is praying for us. It is also encouraging to pray with and for fellow Christians. “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). Perhaps if Peter prayed the other two disciples would have stayed awake and prayed with him. Who knows, Peter may have had the support of James and John in the courtyard to support him during the temptations. Jesus prayed for Peter to encourage his brethren, “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Lk. 22:31,32).

To Gain Wisdom

If Peter was going to deal with the temptation to deny Christ, he was going to need wisdom. God is willing to give us wisdom. However, we are required to pray for it. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

To Do God’s Will

Jesus was praying through his struggle to overcome temptation and do the Will of God and go to the cross. Peter needed to pray in his struggle to overcome his temptation to give into the desire to sleep. Instead he needed to pray God would deliver him out of temptation so he too could do God’s Will. “The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations” (2 Pet. 2:9).

Could Peter have avoided denying Christ? Could he have withstood the temptation if he had but prayed in the Garden with Jesus, James, and John? Jesus thought so. He had even made the following promise three times to Peter and the other disciples. “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (John 15:16). “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you” (John 16:23).

– Daniel R. Vess

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