“And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow…”—Luke 22:45 (ESV)
An average sermon on this passage goes like this: “You need to listen closely to what Jesus is saying, delight in prayer.” Here is another one: “Let us not give Satan what he wants … let us stay awake in prayer so that we accomplish the mission of reaching this world for Christ.”
These statements above are worthy goals, that’s granted. They focus on making us better by helping us pray better. That is dangerous. Why? Any theology that ‘turns in’ on the efforts and glory of the created instead of the Creator is flawed. It is what Martin Luther called the “Theology of Glory”.
In the end these exaltations to “be better” and “try harder” end up breaking the Christians. Because after trying countless times, they realize that they can’t do it. You can’t stay awake in prayer and the exaltations to do it “for Christ” cannot help either.
A little theology here: Christology and Anthropology. Christology is knowing the Person and work of Jesus Christ while Anthropology is knowing humans, how and why they behave the way they do.
Here is a principle: “A high Christology leads to a low Anthropology, and vice versa.” What this simply means is that when you have a high view of Christ, you will automatically have a low view of people—that is—see them as they are, sinners. And the reverse is true. Believers in Christ ought to be known for their high Christology, but the exaltations to be prayer warriors and the sermon excerpts I sampled above say the opposite.
Exaltations to be good can never make you good. Law does not produce love. It’s a fool’s game to think that what will transform us into the likeness of Christ is beating ourselves up with the Law. It doesn’t work, it never did.
That is why am convinced that there is a problem in Church today. God’s gospel has been lost in what has now come to be called ‘To-do list Christianity” or “do more”, “try harder”, “get better or else” kind of Christianity. That is why a unique Ministry like ours exists.
The focus has now shifted from Christ’s work—Τετέλεσται (It is finished), to our work. Christianity is no longer about what Christ has done but about what we can do now to attain a victorious life. How tragic!
So how should do we treat this passage? What you need to know is that this passage is not an exaltation to pray better, smarter, and harder. It is a flat-out announcement that there are no prayer warriors; that we are all prayer slackers.
In fact two gospel accounts (Matthew 26:39-45; Mark 14:37:41) tell us that Jesus found Peter and the other two disciples asleep three times in a space of one hour. And it wasn’t overnight prayers.
We can’t pray. The bible says so, not just that but we also don’t know how to pray. We all have a natural inclination towards evil and ungodliness, what do you think a prayer coming from us will sound like? It will be ‘turned in’ on itself, outright sinful.
Your hope and mine should never be in how proficient we pray but in the mind blowing Good News that Jesus prayed for us. That His record of perfect prayerfulness is imputed to us without us ever lifting a finger to merit it.
God the Holy Spirit also prays for us every day. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”—Romans 8:26 (ESV).
My hope and prayer is that you will be defined by what God has done for you and not what you can do for yourself.
That is your Lifeline, AMEN.