Are You Still Sleeping?

40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

(Matthew 26:40-41)

 We all know how hard it can be to stay awake late at night when we know there is a reason to stay awake. Some may work the night shift in their job. Soldiers pull guard duty. Those in law enforcement go on a stake out (surveillance) to watch someone. In both cases this can be done at night as well as during the day. Mother’s may have to stay up late with a sick baby, watching for certain signs of distress if the baby is sick enough. Truck drivers drive long hours and some may drive through the night. Whatever the situation, we all know how hard it can be to stay awake during the times we must be alert.

Some of the disciples had this very problem. After celebrating Passover with His disciples, Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him to Gethsemane so He could pray. Beginning in verse 38, Jesus instructed them several times to watch with Him while He prayed and in verse 41 he had even told them not only to watch but to pray lest they fall into temptation:

38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” 40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The dictionary defines the word “watch” to mean to observe, to keep guard over, to be vigilant or alert. Jesus’ soul was grieving over His impending death and He needed to pray but wanted some of the disciples to keep watch with Him. Jesus knew Judas would be coming soon with a great multitude from the chief priests and elders of the people to take Him away. The three he chose to be close by Him were part of his inner circle and He trusted them to keep watch. Yet, in His hour of need, they could not stay awake to watch as He had asked them to do.

In verse 40, Jesus gives an indication of how long it would be before He would be arrested…one hour. One hour does not seem like a lot of time to remain awake, but when you walk everywhere, live in heated conditions (desert), and are working with people, on top of going through emotional highs and lows especially after hearing you won’t have a loved one with you much longer (Jesus), fatigue can come quickly when you stop and sit. We see in verse 41, Jesus tells them a second time to watch, but now instructs them to pray as well, unless they enter into temptation. Their spirit is willing but their flesh is weak. He knew they wanted to do what He had commanded, but their flesh was weak. Fatigue overtook them causing them to fall asleep. Jesus wanted them to pray regarding temptation…that they might not be overcome by the temptations of the situation they were about to be involved in. We can see the need for such a prayer as later on Peter fell into temptation and denied Jesus three times when others mentioned about him being with Jesus (verses 69-74).

In verses 43 and 44, Jesus returns to the disciples only to find them sleeping again, but this time left to go pray without saying a word to them:

43 And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.

When Jesus returns the final time, he states the following in verses 45-46:

45 Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.”

Have you ever gone through a difficult situation and only wanted someone close to you for support. You may not have wanted them to do anything but to just remain close to you for comfort. Maybe you needed them to keep an eye on things for you as you were in distress over something or maybe wanted them simply to lift you in prayer. How did you feel when they didn’t come through for you? Or maybe you were the one who was needed but you weren’t fully there for the other person. It’s hard to imagine anyone not being there for someone they love, especially at such a difficult time, but it does happen. We simply fall asleep to others needs. Maybe not physically but in spirit or emotion.

Being asleep is defined as being in a dormant or inactive state, or to rest. It is also described as being numb like a foot, hand or leg. So when we fall asleep to something, we become inactive. This can happen in our Christian walk and in our walk through recovery. Sometimes the state of our situation or that of others can be so distressing we do not want to be active any longer. We become tired and weary of moving or even thinking. We only want to rest and not do anything or think of anything. We just want a break. So, we take little rests when life slows down some, though we should still be moving forward. We pray a little less and enjoy life a little more. We stop being alert to our surroundings and allow ourselves a little space or freedom. Freedom is a great thing but when you go past the boundary lines, you allow yourself to venture into more dangerous territory, sometimes without even realizing it. This can come in the way of your thoughts, allowing more negative thoughts to enter into your mind instead of positive ones. It can come in the way of your walk in recovery, allowing yourself to associate more with the very people who encouraged you down the wrong path to begin with. It can come in the way of your Christian walk, by allowing yourself to participate in worldly ways while you let your time with God slip further and further away.

What we need to realize is that Jesus also gives us commands to stay awake, watch and pray through His Word. He knows He is coming soon and He does not want us to become tired of waiting and watching and to fall asleep. He does not want us to have a surprise attack, so He warns us ahead of time of any danger possibly lurking in our path. He warns us about the End Times and what to look for in the books of Daniel, Matthew, Mark, Luke and in other books of the Bible.

If Jesus gave several commands to His disciples to stay awake, alert and to pray and they fell asleep, the very same thing can happen to us. As we read this scripture, thoughts can come to mind on the possible reasons why the disciples fell asleep at such a distressing time. Jesus can give us several warnings to remain awake, alert and to pray but many times we fall asleep especially when it seems like there is nothing going on. The disciples did not physically see anything going on at the moment. They celebrated Passover with Jesus and now they were waiting for Him while He prays. How many times have they seen Him go off and pray in the past? Probably many times yet nothing happened. Could they have thought the same this time? Did they not really comprehend what happened at the celebration of the Passover when Jesus informed them the one who dips his hand with Him in the dish will betray Him? Did they not really hear Judas ask Jesus if he would be the betrayer and Jesus’ reply of “You have said it” In verse 25? Or were they simply “asleep” to what was really going on. Maybe everything appeared normal to them on the surface, but they just weren’t truly aware of what was happening behind the scenes and out of their sight. Jesus had given them clues but it’s possible they didn’t quite catch it. And if they did, they didn’t quite know what to do with it. Or maybe they simply knew what was going on and were just mentally and physically exhausted.
Although, each of those thoughts are very possible, as we research scripture more we discover the answer is actually the final thought. We can find this in Luke 22:45:
“When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow.”
It had to be very distressing to hear Jesus drop hints of what was going to happen to Him, that one of them would betray Him, and to see Him in such distress. They were not only concerned about what was going to happen to Him, but concerns could also be filling their minds of what was going to happen to them. Many times when we or our loved ones are going through difficulties, we can become emotionally and physically drained. We may not want to “fall asleep” but in reality, we can tend to shut down from the stress.
As we continue to look at the definition of being “asleep” part of it speaks about being numb such as when the foot, leg, hand, falls asleep. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul compares the body of Christ to the parts of the body such as the foot or an eye. If in the physical, parts of the body can go numb and fall asleep, then it can happen in the spiritual as well. If the disciples, who are part of the body of Christ, can fall asleep though they had been warned by Jesus Himself to stay awake and pray due to an oncoming dangerous situation, can’t we fall asleep as well though we are given the same warnings and told what to do? The enemy is very cunning and crafty and is good at distracting us or getting us to work so hard that we become weary and fall asleep. Though everything on the surface seems to look “ok”, it’s the things below the surface, the things we cannot physically see that we need to pray about though they may not have come into play yet. Jesus gives us many clues in what to look for in the signs of the end times in scripture such as in Daniel or Matthew 24. We receive clues on how to remain on the right path and what dangers to be weary of. But are we really listening?

So the question is…are you still asleep?  Are you being distracted by life and what the world has to offer or are you alert, watching and praying? Are you keeping yourself unnecessarily busy, missing the signs and skipping time with the Lord or are you taking time to be with God, allowing Him to change what needs to be changed in you?

We must be careful not to be like five foolish virgins in Matthew 25 where all ten virgins fell asleep waiting for the bridegroom to come.  The five wise virgins had what they needed, oil for their lamps, while the five foolish virgins only took their lamps but had no oil for them. Because of this, only the five wise virgins who had the oil were prepared to go with the bridegroom to the wedding when He came for them. The five foolish virgins were not prepared and while leaving to purchase their oil, missed the coming of the bridegroom and were denied access to the wedding.

We must be spiritually prepared at all times as we never know when the Lord may be returning. We must not procrastinate and think we have enough time to prepare ourselves spiritually, to reach others for Christ, to do what the Lord has called us to do. We must not become weary in serving the Lord and fall asleep. The disciples fell asleep, not realizing how close the time was for Jesus to be taken away. We must not fall asleep or remain asleep as we do not know when the time will come for Jesus to return.