It happens more mornings than not. My phone alarm goes off at 5AM. I hit snooze. It goes off again. I snooze it again. Usually by 5:30, I’ve rolled out of bed.
With a blanket wrapped around me, I sit down with my Bible and journal. I open my Bible to the passage for the day, say a quick prayer, and start reading. Slowly, I read the passage a few times, looking for spiritual insight, trying to encounter God in the pages of Scripture. Too often, I feel like I’m just trying to stay awake in the garden with Jesus.
Staying Awake with Jesus
A few weeks ago I heard a sermon about the Garden of Gethsemane, and I reflected on it more during one of these tired mornings. This passage continues to strike a deep chord with me:
And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”– Matthew 26:40-41
Here are three observations that apply to my morning devotions:
1. Jesus asks us to pray with him, not the other way around.
When I hit the snooze button in bed, where is Jesus? Is he waiting for me to get started?
No, he’s already and constantly interceding for me (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34). When I make morning devotions all about my performance, then all I hear is disappointment when Jesus says, “Could you not watch with me for one hour?” But when I remember that Jesus is the one who creates and maintains perfect fellowship with the Father, then his statement also becomes an invitation to view prayer in a new way.
That is, morning devotions are less about me trying to arouse some sort of spiritual fervor and more about participating in the “devotion” Jesus already has with the Father.
2. Beware the connection between physical sleep and spiritual sleep.
Jesus continues by saying, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” At first glance, it seems like Jesus is saying, “Hey! Don’t fall asleep!” But I think there’s more going on here.
In this moment, Jesus is quoting from his own prayer: “Lead us not into temptation.” The context makes it clear that Jesus is talking about more than just physical sleep. Instead, I believe Jesus is pointing out a condition of the heart.
For us to “enter into temptation” is for us to allow our hearts to fall asleep to the love of God. When our hearts are truly captivated by the love and strength of God, then we will be much less likely to fall physically asleep. But if we’re tired, we should check our hearts to see if a deeper sleep has taken hold of us.
3. Jesus meets us in our weakness.
In all of this, God’s grace is sufficient. Jesus tells us what he knows all too well: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
And here in our weakness, we find the strength of God’s grace. First, we find that God is aware of our weakness, and he doesn’t hold it against us:
As a father shows compassion to his children– Psalm 103:13-14
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
Second, we find that God provides grace and strength even in the midst of our weakness, that we would rejoice in the Father’s love toward us.
My flesh and my heart may fail,– Psalm 73:26
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.– 2 Corinthians 12:9
Motivation, Warning, Grace
As I consider the very real question of what it means to make the most out of time spent with Jesus, these three points help me to shape how I spend my time with him.
1. Jesus gives motivation: He is already awake and praying, and he invites me into fellowship with him and with the Father.
2. Jesus gives warning: Physical tiredness is far more dangerous when it is symptomatic of a spiritual sleep in our hearts.
3. Jesus gives grace: Even when we are tired and worn, God knows our weakness and provides all the grace we need to experience the fullness of Christ’s power.
I don’t expect my morning devotions to instantly become easy. I know it takes real effort to drag myself out of my warm bed every morning. But it’s the promise of something better that grips my heart, the desire that my affection would not grow cold, and the strength of his grace that sustains me.