Prayer Tips: Keeping Attentive

They had one job to do: stay awake and pray. Peter, James, and John, often like the rest of us, failed to accomplish the one simple task they had. Christ took his most trusted inner apostolic circle deeper into the garden with Him as He went a stone’s throw further to spend time in prayer. He simply asked the three to stay awake, watch, and pray. Yet in perhaps an eerie foreshadow of Peter’s later denial, three times Christ had to come wake them up from their slumber. Yet how often does the slumber of the apostles on the night of their Savior’s betrayal simply mirror our own? Prayer is often one of the most difficult spiritual endeavors, a challenge caused by varying circumstances and reasons. Attuning one’s heart to the transcendent Creator of the universe is hard enough for finite creatures, but the task is made even more difficult when doing so while jumping the hurdles of life in a fallen world. To top it off, many of us have imbibed the western value of busyness, always jumping from one activity to the next without a moment’s breath in between. Our minds, in sync with the rest of ourselves, move from one subject of thought to the next, often revolving around what the next task is that needs completing or wondering what unexpected cliff we will encounter next.

Keeping attentive in prayer isn’t simply about carving out some time in one’s schedule. After all, Paul instructed the Thessalonians in 1 Thess. 5 to “pray without ceasing.” Surely he didn’t mean to tell the church there that they all had to quit their jobs in order to devote their time to praying. Rather, keeping attentive in prayer must stem from a heart always in communion with God and a mind always prepared for battle. It is these two characteristics of a believer that should drive an attentive and diligent prayer life. So how do we see these play out in the moment of weakness for the three apostles?

“Then He said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch with me.’” This is what Matthew records Christ saying to Peter, James, and John when He first leaves them to pray. Notice firstly that Jesus divulges His own demeanor to them in that moment. He is sorrowful, even to death. This moment in the life of Christ was filled with levels of sorrow and holy angst that no one else will ever experience. He was about to go to the cross, bearing the weight of sin and receiving in Himself the Father’s just wrath as a result. Sorrow would seem an understatement. Yet He chooses to share this moment with His trusted friends. Notice also the last two words in this verse: “with me.” Though Christ would walk another short distance to pray, He still saw the three apostles as being there with Him. Even though distance may have separated, they remained in communion with Christ.

Beloved, this is no different for us today. Though we are physically absent from Christ as we traverse the dirt of Earth and Christ sits at the right hand of the Father, the Scriptures tell us that we are in communion with Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we can approach the throne with boldness because we are united to Christ by faith through the work of the Spirit within us. Jesus Himself tells us at His ascension that He is with us always. The three disciples perhaps lost sight of Christ as He prayed and thus lost sight of their union with Him. Our own inattentiveness in prayer isn’t any different.

“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” This is what Christ tells the three apostles when He returns to find them sleeping. Christ knew fully the war that was being waged, a war not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of this world, against the Devil himself. But the apostles had no clue. Jesus warns them to pray with Him in order to guard their own souls against the coming onslaught of evil. His betrayal, arrest, trial, and execution would be the darkest days of the lives of the apostles. All of them would fall to one degree or another, culminating in Peter denying the Lord three times. If the apostles would have only known that the enemy was at the gates, like a soldier watching a sieging army marching towards the walls, they would have been wide awake and preparing for war. Yet they didn’t, and so they slept.

Again, we are no different. The New Testament is replete with calls for believers to be ready and prepared for the battle against evil. Paul tells us of the spiritual armor we should equip. Peter reminds us of the enemy at our gates, a roaring lion seeking to devour. Yet how often amid life do we forget these simple truths plainly revealed in Scripture. Our minds wander to the small and petty things of life because we fail to see the more important battle at hand. With hearts attuned to our Savior and with minds prepared for battle, attentiveness and diligence in prayer can only be a natural response of the faithful Christian.

Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.

Keith Kauffman