“Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He asked Peter, ‘So, couldn’t you stay awake with Me one hour? Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’” Matthew 26:40-41 (HCSB)
When I was a new Christian, I discovered a pamphlet entitled, How to Spend an Hour in Prayer. I was intrigued. I’d heard about people called prayer warriors who placed great emphasis on conversing with God. Prayer seemed to come to them naturally. For them, spending an hour in prayer must surely be a breeze.
But honestly, back then I found it difficult to keep my thoughts from wandering when I prayed. Oftentimes today I still do! Instead they ricochet all over the place as I try to focus.
I settled myself on a park bench, opened my Bible, looked down at my pamphlet and began to do what it suggested: “Spend five minutes thanking God for the blessings in your life. Spend five minutes praising God for His character qualities,” and so on. Apparently, breaking down the various categories into five-minute increments was supposed to help. But it didn’t help me. Five minutes seemed like an eternity.
Pretty soon a jogger happened by. He was carrying a small portable radio — without headphones — and the blaring music distracted me.
Two hyper squirrels decided to chase each other up and down a tree, and around and around my bench. I laughed at their antics, but again lost my place. Even when the animals and humans quieted down, I still had trouble concentrating.
I couldn’t focus; I kept thinking of all the things on my to-do list. And I was tired! The thought of just chucking my plans and heading home to take a nap seemed like a better idea. So, after about 23 minutes, I gave up, packed up and headed home. My conclusion? I just wasn’t cut out to be a prayer warrior. I’d rather sleep.
It seems I am not alone. Today’s key verse tells us that even Jesus’ own disciples had a hard time with prayer. They fell asleep on the very day before Jesus was crucified. If ever someone needed the prayers of friends, it surely was then!
Jesus verbalized the trouble with our best-intentions-turned
-sour when He told His disciples this: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41b). How true! My spirit wants to connect and converse with God. But my flesh would rather be off getting things done. Or mentally making my grocery list. Or — worst yet — even copping some zzzzzs!
In order to see progress in our prayer life, we need to make prayer a matter of prayer! No. That isn’t a typo. We must pray first — before anything else — that God would help us rein in our wandering thoughts. That’s our only hope to battle against the urge to doze off and win the struggle over how we spend our time.
This doesn’t mean we’ll turn into prayer warriors overnight. But it does mean we’ll want desperately for Jesus to meet us in our weakness and teach us to do the hard work of making prayer a priority. He is faithful. We must be, too.
Today is Good Friday. The day we remember Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. As you go about your day today, could you sacrifice some time in prayer?
Remember that God sees our hearts and knows our struggles. He doesn’t expect perfection. But He does want us to keep striving for improvement in the crucial area of daily communication with Him.
Father, forgive me for the times that I have let my flesh win when my spirit wanted to pray. May I never cease trying to develop the important habit of spending intimate time with You in prayer. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Folded-Hand Prayer Pretzels
The process of making pretzels was once used to teach kids about prayer during Lent. The shape of a traditional pretzel mimics the folding of hands in prayer. Make homemade pretzels as a family, and while they are baking, think of someone nearby who is in need of prayer. Look up the following verses in the Bible and discuss what they say about talking to God in prayer:
James 5:16: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” (HCSB)
Psalm 17:6: “I call on You, God, because You will answer me; listen closely to me; hear what I say.” (HCSB)
Jeremiah 33:3: “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” (ESV)
When the pretzels are done, enjoy some as a family and wrap up the rest to take to that person and let them know you are praying for them. If you make a big enough batch, you can take them to multiple people!
1 c. very warm water
2 Tbs. dry yeast (or two packets if using pre-packaged instead of bulk)
½ c. + 3 tsp. honey, divided
½ c. butter
1 Tbs. salt
2½ c. whole milk
8 c. whole-wheat white flour (or unbleached flour)
In a large bowl, mix warm water, yeast, and 3 teaspoons honey. Let rest. In a large saucepan, melt butter. Add remaining honey, salt, and milk. Heat this to 120°F over medium heat (use a candy thermometer). Take off stove and let cool 10 minutes. Pour milk mixture into yeast mixture and stir well. Add flour 2 cups at a time. You may need to add a little more or less than 8 cups to make a slightly stiff dough. This depends on the humidity of the day.
Knead dough for 5–10 minutes. Place in a large, oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise for 1–1½ hours, until doubled in size.
Punch dough down to release air and knead on a lightly floured surface for 5 minutes. Take a piece of dough about the size of a tennis ball. Roll it into a rope about half an inch thick. Make it into a pretzel shape by crossing the ends, leaving about two inches on the ends. Then twist at the intersection of the two ends one time. Fold the ends down to touch the sides, creating a traditional pretzel shape. Repeat with remaining dough. (Makes 10-14 pretzels on average)
Place pretzels on a cookie sheet that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 20 minutes at 350°F until golden brown. Do not over bake.
When you remove pretzels from the oven, brush them with additional melted butter, then sprinkle coarse salt on top. Serve plain or with mustard or sharp cheddar cheese spread. Enjoy!