Holy Week Devotional: Praying out of temptation
Matthew 26:36–41 (ESV): Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 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.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
I will never forget visiting the Garden of Gethsemane with some of our church members in 2012. To walk in the same grove of olive trees on the Mount of Olives was a surreal experience. I remember thinking how pleasant the olive grove was, how quaint and beautiful the trees were. To think that Jesus prayed on that same hill the night he was betrayed, it really made me feel the reality of what he went through. Jesus was a flesh and blood human being as much as he was the divine Son of God.
As a human being, Jesus experienced real sorrow and stress. He needed friendship, comfort and support. So when he faced the prospect of crucifixion, he did the only thing he could do at that point. He went to the olive grove, just a bit outside of Jerusalem, to pray.
His recorded prayers are intensely human and vulnerable. Jesus did not want to die. He did not want to be tortured. He did not want to be crucified. He asked God for some other way to accomplish his purposes.
It’s like when you need to do something painful, like having a hard conversation with a loved one, or giving up an addiction, or facing a challenge you fear. You look for alternative, painless ways to address the situation. But you know there are no shortcuts. There are no easy ways out.
In the midst of this anguish, he checks in on his friends. They are too weary and sorrowful to pray. Jesus warns them to pray so they can avoid the severe testing ahead. Like a good friend, he was looking out for his disciples, even as he himself faced the severest crisis.
This is one kind of prayer we do not pray often enough. Even though it is in the Lord’s Prayer, that we should ask God not to “lead us into temptation,” many of us probably do not think about the importance of praying this way. It is difficult to pray in advance for something you do not yet see.
The temptations that could come are many. For Jesus, he would have faced the temptation to despair or to give up. For the disciples, the temptations would have been to completely lose their faith or to abandon Jesus for good.
For us, the temptations we might face on any given day are to lapse into a fleshly way of living and thinking, forgetting the way of the Holy Spirit within us. Instead of praying for forgiveness after lapsing, Jesus models for us the intense struggle in prayer we should engage in before the temptations ever come
As we identify with Jesus in his inner battle of prayer, we can take comfort in knowing that Jesus identifies with us in our own struggles against the flesh. It is not easy to be people of the Spirit in a world of flesh. But we have the same mighty source of strength that Jesus had, which is prayer.
As we reflect on Jesus’ journey toward the cross, let us identify with him in praying mightily against the temptations that could come to derail our faith. What are the ways in which Satan comes to you? Pray against those things in advance. The more we do this, the more God’s purposes will bear fruit in our lives.
Father, we praise you for Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord. He obeyed you faithfully, even to the cross. Help us, like Jesus, to be prayerful in order that we can be faithful. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Strengthen us in the spirit so that we can overcome our flesh. Through our victory, may we be a blessing to our loved ones, our neighbors and to the world.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.