And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:39-40, 45-46, ESV)
At the end of the Passover meal, Jesus set out for the Mount of Olives “as was his custom.” The disciples, familiar with His prayer habits, followed. Jesus took Peter, James, and John a little farther than the others and admonished them to stay there and pray so they would not fall into temptation. Then He moved a short distance away, fell on His face, and entered into deep, agonizing prayer (Matthew 26:39). He knew what lay ahead.
But while the Lord prayed, the disciples soon succumbed to sleep.
Have you ever wondered how the disciples, especially His inner circle, could so easily fall asleep while their Friend and Teacher agonized in prayer just a short distance away? He gave them one instruction, watch and pray, yet they were unable to do the one thing He asked. Not once, not twice, but three times He admonished them to watch and pray only to later find them sleeping each time. Perhaps the weight of their sorrow (verse 45) caused them to sleep.
We will never really know “what might have been” had the disciples prayed instead of slept. Were there lessons to be learned that they missed because they did not pray? Would they have stayed by His side instead of fleeing in fright if they had first fortified themselves with prayer?
Sleep can be restorative, but under certain conditions, it can be unsafe. While sleeping, we are completely unaware of what may be happening around us. We are not alert to any threats coming our way. Have you ever been awakened while in deep sleep? It takes a little while to become alert enough to understand what’s happening. Our thinking is sluggish and our actions slow. Sleepiness on the job not only reduces productivity but can also lead to unsafe conditions. We make mistakes. A sleepy driver becomes a hazard to anyone around him.
Spiritual sleepiness is also dangerous. We are no longer alert; our senses are dulled. It is so easy for the enemy to attack while our guard is down and we are unaware. We cannot allow our minds to be clouded with sleep.
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (I Peter 5:8, NKJV)
The warning that Jesus gave the disciples is very applicable to our present day. We live in perilous times, and the Lord may return for His people at any moment. Satan would love for us to become careless in our spiritual walk and dulled by sleep. Now is the time to watch and pray. We must stay alert.
“Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2, CSB)