This week’s guest blogger is David Smithers.
“But you are NOT in darkness, brothers, for that Day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day… So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and stay awake” (1 Thess. 5:4–6).
There are few things more tragic than a sleeping church in a time of great need. In Luke 9:32, as Jesus prayed on the mountain, His appearance was radically transfigured. Yet, Peter, James and John almost missed it, simply because they were “overcome with sleep”. In Mark 14:32–42 Jesus is travailing in the garden, and once again Peter, James and John are caught unaware and sleeping—even though Jesus had repeatedly called them to pray. Though these events were unique to the ministry of Jesus, the problem of an unaware, sleeping and prayerless Church is still very common today. We are quickly moving into a critical season of both awakening and shaking, and many are still sleeping and unprepared for it!
The Roots of a Sleeping Church
A closer look at Mark 14 reveals some of the hidden roots of a sleeping church. In Mark 14:12–31 Jesus told His disciples to prepare the Passover meal in an upper room. After arriving Jesus began to explain that one of the them would soon betray Him: “They began to be grieved and to say to Him one by one, “Surely not I?” Then Jesus went on to say that ALL of them would desert and deny Him. “But Peter said to Him, ‘Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.’ But Peter kept saying insistently, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’ And they all were saying the same thing also.” When we stop listening to the voice of God and godly trusted friends, we’re already half asleep.
Overestimating Our Own Strength
Peter and the disciples were blind and insensitive to their own needs. Proverbs 28:26 says, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered.” Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” Without the HELP of the Great Physician it’s impossible to diagnose the true condition of our own hearts. Without the light of the Scriptures and fire of the Spirit, we are ALL prone to blindly wander into self-confidence and self-deception! The first misstep of a stumbling and sleeping church begins with an overestimation of one’s own abilities. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).
Underestimating Coming Challenges
Because the disciples had overestimated their own strength, they had also underestimated the coming challenges. With the strong presence of Jesus by their side, they had learned how to walk by faith and overcome incredible obstacles. But now they were about to enter uncharted and stormy waters without the presence of Jesus, which up to this point had been their daily experience. They had assumed that things wouldn’t change, so they couldn’t HEAR or SEE what was coming. It’s funny how our hearing often affects our vision. When we stop listening to God’s voice, our perception of ourselves and our vision for the future often become distorted. Without ears to hear and an accurate self-perception, the disciples were left vulnerable and unprepared for the greatest challenge of their lives.
The Betrayal of a Prayerless Life
Later that evening Jesus and the disciples moved from the Passover meal to the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus called Peter, James and John to join Him in prayer as He wrestled with the prospect of the cross. After agonizing in prayer, “He *came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?’ Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:37–38). The very same Peter who had just boasted that he would die for Jesus couldn’t muster his strength to pray for one hour.
Three times Jesus came to them and three times He found them sleeping rather than praying. Jesus urged them to wake up and pray, so they could be better prepared for what was coming! “Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). Jesus had already warned Peter that he would deny Him three times before the cock crowed twice, but it was Peter’s REPEATED denials in prayer that prepared the way for his public denial of the Savior. His failure began when he overestimated his own strength and ignored Christ’s repeated calls to prayer. The root of most public failures always begins with a failure to pray. What are the seeds and signs of a sleepy and unprepared church — Her unwillingness to see her own need and her unwillingness to pray!
A Warning for an Unprepared Church
Mark 14 is a warning for the Western church today. Like Peter and the disciples, we are often guilty of overestimating our own strength so we underestimate what’s coming next. We’re overconfident because of our past victories and the abundance of our material possessions. But how would we fare without our ministry structures and fundraising techniques, surrounded by fear and a collapsing economy? Would we know how to function if we were forced underground into simple house meetings like the early Church?
I believe we’re standing at the threshold of another great awakening in America. But I also believe this revival will empower us to finish the Great Commission in a day of an unprecedented difficulty and persecution. The one does not exclude the other. This next wave of the Holy Spirit will CHANGE us and remake us, so we can live, love and give like a true family again. We must open our eyes and SEE our own needs and the coming challenges, or we will continue to sleep. Now is the time to awake and pray for revival so we can be prepared to resist temptation and stand strong for Jesus during the many challenges that certainly lie ahead.