The night before the crucifixion, Matthew chapter 26 tells us that Jesus and his disciples went to a place called Gethsemane. There He gave them four commands. The first two were “sit” and “stay.”
We might associate those two familiar commands with dog obedience. Well, this was obedience school, but for the disciples! And it is for all of us, too, because when it comes to prayer, those two things are so important.
The emotional tension was extremely high for the eleven disciples that night, though they didn’t realize what the next 24 hours would bring. And though Jesus fell with his face to the ground to pray, to His disciples He just said, “Sit.”
Sometimes because of sheer desperation we know what it is to be prostrate on the floor before God in prayer. Other times we may do that out of sheer worship of our high and holy God, like Isaiah did.
Dr. Oswald J. Smith said that his favourite way to pray was to walk — he said the reason was just to keep himself awake! It’s true that some physical exercise can cause our minds to be more active and more focussed in our prayer. And maybe you’ve done a “prayer walk” in your community — praying for the homes you walk by.
Of course, you don’t have to walk. You can just stand and pray. Or you can sit and pray, like David. But oh how beautiful it is also to kneel and pray. Paul said, “I kneel before my God.” And then you can even, as the Psalmist said, “lie in my bed and commune with God.” May God help us to use every posture as a prayer posture.
But here Jesus gives them the word “sit.” The reason was to slow them down, and to calm them down.
The second command was to “stay.” Sitting and waiting are not easy for aggressive servants of Christ. Yes, there are agendas that God wants us to pursue, but He also wants every one of us to wait on Him.
You know how we guys are. If there’s something that needs to be fixed, we just go ahead and fix it. But when our mentally and physically handicapped son was born, God knew there was no way I could “fix” him. What God was saying to me was “just wait.” And I’m sure everyone of you can think about your own personal situation — things for which all you can do is wait.
But that’s not all. Jesus says that while you are sitting and staying you need to “watch” and “pray” (vs. 41). Watch simply means keep alert. It’s interesting that the disciples did obey those first two commands, but they had trouble with the next two.
Jesus found them asleep twice and, if we’re not keeping alert, we too can fall into all kinds of temptation. Our minds can begin to wander into sin even while we’re holding God’s Word in our hands. That’s why Jesus said, “Watch.” Keep alert. Keep focussed in your praying.
He also said, “Pray.” Jesus prayed all the time, yet there were also some strategic times of prayer in His life. He spent 40 days in prayer and fasting as he entered His public ministry. Then, before choosing His disciples, Jesus spent a whole night in prayer. No doubt many of God’s servants today can tell how prayer was a vital step in preparing them for ministry.
Do you have a habitual, regular, faithful prayer time? I know our schedules get all mixed up, but a Christian cannot be effective in his ministry if he is not regular in his prayer life. We all seem to be able to carve out a time to eat, but we need to be as insistent on praying as we are on feeding our physical bodies.
John Blanchard said that to attempt any work for God without prayer is as futile as trying to launch a space probe with a pea-shooter! Many missionaries today have big challenges in front of them … bigger than anything they can handle, and they need prayer.
D. M. McIntyre said, “Pray till you pray.” We can go through prayer, and haven’t really prayed. I like the wrist bands that the young people in our church are wearing … “P.U.S.H.” — Pray Until Something Happens!
In Matthew 26 we see Jesus before the greatest event of human history — the sacrifice on the cross for our sins. And He prays … oh, how He prays! And God has called us to prayer. My simple encouragement to you is four words: sit, stay, watch, pray.
This article was adapted from a message Jim Reese gave at NCEM’s General Conference in August of 2000, while he was serving as pastor at Benton Street Baptist Church in Kitchener, Ontario.
Adapted from our Northern Lights magazine (Issue #477).