Stories of those who pray in the middle of sleepless nights inspire me, but also convict me. I’m inspired because my heart desires spontaneous intercession, but I’m convicted because most nights I’m asleep before my head hits the pillow. Not only that, if I wake during the night, and cannot go back to sleep, praying invariably helps me to drop off quickly.
And (Jesus) came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40–41)
My spirit is willing. The need for prayer is great. Many people ask for it. Those who do not believe in God express thanks for it. Statistics say that a great majority of people, even those who claim to be agnostic or atheistic, pray daily.
But the flesh is weak. The Greek word for ‘weak’ usually pertains to a state of limited capacity. In the above verses, the disciples had the capacity to pray, so that was not the problem. In other passages being weak suggest illness or being physically incapacitated, with ‘flesh’ referring to their physical bodies. This was not their problem either.
In the Bible, ‘flesh’ often means our sinfulness. A few passages use ‘weak’ to describe moral weakness or unbelief. This would mean that the disciples were weak because their desire to sleep was more important to them than the distress of Jesus or the need of the moment. They were selfish.
Perhaps this sleepiness came from a combination of stress and confusion as they heard Jesus talk about His coming betrayal and death. In any case, their fatigue was stronger than their desire to follow Jesus in prayer and they gave in to the temptation instead of praying against it.
This hits me. When I am sleepy but unable to sleep, I often pray that God will help me sleep. Here, Jesus is telling the disciples to watch and pray so they would not be tempted, and so they would pray along with Jesus as He prayed.
And how did He pray? With a willing heart, not wanting what was about to happen, but yielded entirely to the will of God.
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
Translated into the simplest situation of wanting sleep that will not come, that means being willing to stay awake and pray if that is what Jesus wants from me. If sleep is more important, He will let me sleep.