I don’t know about you, but prayer can seem to be such a battle some days. Over this lockdown period, I have had more time. More time you might think to come to God in prayer, to really engage with Him and seek His face. Yet I’ve found that it has been tough, a struggle even to begin to pray in a meaningful way.
In the Bible, we see the disciples struggling to stay awake to pray for Jesus and for themselves at the darkest time of His life. Jesus and His disciples had gone to the garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:36 – 46) where Jesus would soon be betrayed by Judas and led away by soldiers to be falsely accused and condemned to death on the cross. He knew what was coming and pleaded with His heavenly Father to take this dark path away from Him, yet ultimately He would do His Father’s will (v39, 42). Peter, James and John were with Jesus and He told them just how bad He was feeling (v37). If ever He needed His earthly friends it was now! However, as He prayed in deep anguish of soul, the disciples fell asleep! This happened not just once, but three times altogether (v40, 43 & 45). Then it was too late; His hour had come (v45, 46).
When I was younger I used to read passages like this in a judgmental way; how could the disciples give in like that? Now I can’t think like that because I realise more my own weakness. When I have time on my hands, what am I more likely to do? Pray or scroll through various things on my phone? Pray or play silly games on my phone? I’m afraid that more often than not it’s doing the silly, trivial things that takes precedence over the spiritual.
No doubt the disciples at this stage were exhausted and their tiredness was overwhelming. Mostly I don’t even have that excuse! Other times I begin to pray and then my mind wanders onto other things – have I got such-and-such out of the freezer for tea? Oh, I need to put on a dark wash. It’s quite embarrassing, but all these things happen on a regular basis.
Of course, the enemy of our souls doesn’t want to see us in prayer. He knows that prayer is powerful and that the God we come to is all-powerful, yet interested in the affairs of our lives. He would have us distracted by many things, amused by the trivial instead of focused on the eternal. I feel disappointed in myself for not using this time more productively. I think it is harder to decide to sit down and pray than keeping going once I have started.
There is encouragement in God’s word for those times when we come to Him and just don’t know what to say.
“..the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26
“For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in times of need.” Hebrews 4:15, 16
We can come to Him knowing that He knows everything there is to know about us, all our motives, fears and longings. He knows the sin in our hearts, the things we’d rather push to one side. We come humbly knowing what it cost for us to be made right with Him, yet deeply thankful that He was willing to pay that price for sinners such as ourselves. We come knowing that our battle is not “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). He Himself will give us the words to say and enable us to keep going. Let’s put down our phones, switch off the TV, go to a quiet place and speak to Him in prayer. We’ll be glad that we did!