Why did Jesus ask his friends to pray with Him? And what does that teach us?
Posted in , Aug 14, 2017
The scene of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane is familiar to many. It portrays Jesus in agonizing prayer and ultimate submission before His arrest, trial and crucifixion. But it also shows Jesus asking for His closest friends to pray too:
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:32-42, NIV).
Have you ever stopped to ponder why Jesus asked His friends to “Stay here and keep watch?”
He didn’t mean for them to guard against arrest; He purposefully went “as usual to the Mount of Olives” (Luke 22:39, niv; italics added), a place that Judas, His betrayer, would know well. He wasn’t avoiding capture, but preparing for it.
So why did He ask them to “Stay here and keep watch?” Wasn’t Jesus capable of praying for Himself? Weren’t His prayers good enough and powerful enough? Did He need to activate the “prayer chain?”
I think He wanted His friends to “keep watch” with Him for several reasons—reasons that can instruct and encourage us:
1. Pray to show your care for others.
In His dark night of the soul, Jesus craved the care and support of His friends. He had His own prayers to offer, and according to Luke, He had an angel come to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). He probably also knew that whatever His disciples prayed would be quite different from His own requests. But praying for someone is an act of friendship; it is a form of caring. It is not hard to imagine that Jesus would have liked for His friends to show their love for Him through prayer.
2. Pray to be a companion to others.
Jesus’ words upon finding His friends sleeping are thick with pathos: “Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour?” He felt let down. He felt alone. Imagine the encouragement He might have drawn from them if He had found them praying with Him and even for Him. So it is with us. When we pray for others, we come alongside them and link arms with them. No matter how many miles may separate us, we are “boon companions” to those for whom we pray.
3. Pray to prepare for what is ahead.
After Jesus found them sleeping, He added to His request of His closest friends. He said, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” He may have meant the temptation to fight back against those who came to arrest Him, which they would soon face. He may have meant the temptation to desert Him, or to despair. Or all of the above. Having been disappointed by their lack of care and companionship, He may have hoped that they would at least prepare for what was ahead.
4. Pray to strengthen yourself.
When you pray for others, your prayers also strengthen yourself. In fact, I think it is nearly impossible to intercede for others without deriving some benefit for yourself. So, when Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” He may have been doing more than making an observation; He may have been granting them grace (“The spirit is willing”) while also pointing out their need (“the flesh is weak”), which could be met through prayer.
What an opportunity Peter, James and John missed on that fateful night. It is an opportunity not unlike that which we face anytime a friend or acquaintance expresses a need, one that imparts care and companionship to others while preparing and strengthening ourselves. It is an opportunity we might pray never to miss.