By Jaime Sherman
This week we come to a verse that specifically addresses the wholehearted nature of a praying life, the intertwining of the heart, soul, mind, and strength in communication with God. Peter, who earlier stated that the passions of the flesh wage war against the soul (2:11), now charges his readers to be alert and sober-minded for the sake of their prayers (4:7). Depending on the translation before you, you might read “be self-controlled and sober-minded” (ESV) or “be of sound judgment and sober spirit” (NASB) or “be therefore sober, and watch” (KJB). In the original language of the text, the words imply a mental restraint that informs one’s physical responses.
This verse is wedged between Peter’s reminders of Jesus’ suffering here on earth and takes us back to the Garden of Gethsemane in the moments before Jesus was betrayed and then nailed to a cross to take the punishment we deserve. Let’s read the account:
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” — Mark 14:32-42
We are so often like the disciples with an inability to focus on what really matters in moments of suffering or uncertainty. Sometimes sleep seems like the only viable option, while other times we drown our anxiety with various binges on our screens, in our beds, on our credit cards, on our plates, and in our mugs. We carelessly allow our minds to be distracted by the shiny appeal of the things of this world, and we become intoxicated with worldly cares and pleasures, which quickly snuff out the intimate communication with our Heavenly Father that should be our first line of defense in the face of hardship and joy alike.
Jesus set forth an example of being alert and sober-minded, of bringing one’s whole self before God in prayer. He carved out time to be with His Father, and He physically fell to the ground as He cried out to God with what Luke described as an anguish and earnestness in prayer that brought forth sweat “like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Jesus’ heart, soul, mind, and strength were all active in communication with His Father. Prayer was not a passing thought but the only thing that could take Jesus from the manger to the pain of the cross.
Peter wrote earlier in his letter, “…prepare your minds for action, and being sober-minded set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:13). He knew from his failure to stay awake on the night of Jesus’ betrayal that being wakeful and watchful with an eye on the hope with have in Christ promotes prayer. But being drowsy with the cares of this world and the fleeting pleasures of the flesh prevents prayer and ultimately our ability to love others as Peter goes on to instruct us to do, saying, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (3:8). A life without prayer will result in a love for others that is half-hearted at best and a courage that flees at the first rooster crow.
We’re going to talk more on this blog and at the women’s retreat in April about the importance of prayer in our lives — and the struggles we have with it. But for this week, I want you to sit with one question and then ask by faith and with courage for God to do something big in your life in the coming days. Oh that we might be conformed to His ways for His glory and our good!
First, ponder: How am I intoxicated with worldly cares and pleasures that keep me distracted from praying? If your immediate answer is, “I’m good,” I encourage you to consider how you use your time and resources when you are having a bad day or an endless number of them. What is your go-to? What do you try to justify in your life because you just need a break, a pick-me-up, a way to forget? Therein may lay the answer to the first question.
Second, pray to be wakeful and watchful in prayer: If you need a place to start, here’s an example — God, I am so easily distracted from talking with You because my heart is divided. My spirit wants to follow Your ways, but my flesh is so weak and prone to wonder. I am so easily drawn to things of this world that will never offer me what You have already given me. Please do a work in me right now. Show me where I am falling asleep to You and Your ways. Rid me of anything that keeps me from wholehearted devotion to You. Praying these words is hard because I know a change in my life will mean giving up something my flesh enjoys, but I want You more. Be the Lord of my life. In the Jesus name, Amen.