He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.
Perhaps there is disappointment on Jesus’ face as He comes this second time and finds the disciples asleep again. He had asked them to watch with him, to stay awake and pray, to be there for Him in this moment of heaviness and sorrow. And yet they slept. He had returned that first time and implored them to watch and pray, lest temptation come to them, for their own benefit and not just His. And yet they slept on. He sees them sleeping and goes away again to pray alone. And when He comes back after that third time, it is too late. They had missed the moment. They lost an opportunity. Now the moment of truth would come. Now a fight would ensue not against sleep, but against the powers of darkness. Now it was time to be going to the next step of the plan, and they would be ill-prepared for what came next.
Maybe at times we also underestimate the importance of spending time in prayer, of being willing to miss out on something, like sleep, in order to be strengthened, encouraged, and equipped through that precious time with the Father. It is like leaving Jesus alone when He wants that fellowship and communion with us. And not only do we miss out on that, but then we are left unprepared for the battle that comes next.
For the disciples, instead of having confidence in God’s will and purpose and having His help to know what to do next, perhaps they wake up groggily from sleep when Judas and the soldiers arrive. They react in panic. Peter cuts off the ear. Jesus is arrested and they flee. Peter follows afar off and denies his Lord. They weren’t ready to respond differently because they didn’t pray. And perhaps at times we find ourselves making a mess of a situation or reacting in some way we regret because we weren’t willing to spend that time, to push aside other distractions, to make it a priority to simply spend time in prayer.