I took a place in the sanctuary away from the few that were already seated. It was quiet and reverent, each of us there to spend time in prayer. A specific prayer emphasis had been introduced to the congregation and the doors opened for any who would come. This could not have been a more timely opportunity for me, a confirmation of sorts for what God is leading me to in a few short days.
I love the atmosphere of His presence in the sanctuary. I know He is with me always in every place, but there is something special about a house built for the purpose of worshiping the One True God. When I enter this room, particularly when it’s quiet, it is so easy to leave the rest of the world outside and find a sense of refuge and protection. I am humbled with my first words of thanksgiving for the freedom I have to enter this place without fear of retribution. The refuge and protection I find has more to do with the pressures of this life than any sense of persecution that so many across the world are experiencing. As I think on these first things, I pray for the many who are risking their lives to worship and I pray that their faith hold firm.
I didn’t bring a list of things to pray for. I am weary of trying to come up with the right words to pray for all the things I think I should be praying about. The number of people and circumstances and situations that need our prayer is overwhelming; if I’m not careful I am stuck before I ever get started. So I sit before Him and wait. I am waiting for Him to tell me what I should pray.
He leads me to read the account of the disciples who were with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was experiencing the intense pressure of what was about to take place. He was sad and grieved and He asked Peter, James, and John to “keep awake and keep watch” with Him. Matthew says He went a little further from them, threw Himself on the ground and prayed “…not My will, but Yours.” When He came back to the disciples He found them asleep…
….What! Are you so utterly unable to stay awake and keep watch with Me for one hour?
Before He takes me any further in this passage, He impresses on me the importance of the amount of time we spend with Him in prayer. He doesn’t want us to make a “law” out of a certain number of minutes or hours that we are required to pray. But He tells me that one of the biggest frustrations that we have in our prayer lives is that we don’t give Him enough time. We pray through our lists without ever asking Him what we need to pray, and then become frustrated when our quick five-minute prayers go unanswered. There is something about sitting with Him until we have prayed through what He wants us to pray, no matter how long it takes.
All of you must keep awake – give strict attention, be cautious and active – and watch and pray, that you may not come into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
When Jesus asked them to stay with Him and pray, He didn’t tell them to pray for Him. He told them to pray that they would not come into temptation. He knew they were true to Him and that their spirits wanted to follow Him completely. But their flesh was weak. The temptations were coming to run, to deny Him, to lose faith in what was really happening through His crucifixion.
I can only imagine how the disciples felt. They had just spent their last hours with the One they loved telling them He was leaving. Not only was He leaving, it would be by death. Luke writes …He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from grief. They were emotionally drained and He tells them to stay awake and pray. What was He telling them to pray? I believe He wanted them to pray the same thing He was praying: Not my will, but Yours.
I don’t understand this mystery of prayer. He is God. He can make anything happen at any time, yet He chose to include us in the method His will would be accomplished on this earth. He gave to us the most amazing privilege and the greatest responsibility in one act: prayer. And He promised that tremendous power is made available through those who pray earnestly (James 5:16)
So as I ask Him what He wants me to pray, He leads me this way and that. There doesn’t seem to be much order to the way He is taking me….the young woman going through difficult times….the homeless in our area….the starving children in third world countries….the ministries in our own church….the missionaries across the world….the little girl who lives next door…. but I leave this hour knowing that I have waited with Him and that He is working.