Some of the Best Advice on Prayer I Have Ever Heard
by Mark D. Roberts (reprinted with permission)
“Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.”
When Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, he expected his disciples to pray as well. He walked a short distance from them and fell upon his knees, where he wrestled with his Father in prayer. Finally, he got up and returned to his disciples, only to find that they were sleeping, “exhausted from grief” (22:45). “Why are you sleeping?” he asked. “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation” (22:46).
Jesus intended “Get up and pray” for his disciples, so that they would not give in to temptation and fall asleep when they should have been praying. Yet, I believe this is some of the best advice for us if we seek to be faithful in prayer. The Greek verb translated here as “Get up” means “rise up, stand up.” In context, Jesus is telling his disciples not to sit or lie down as they pray, but to stand up on their feet. In this way, they would be able to stay awake. It’s pretty hard, after all, to fall asleep while standing up.
For most of my life, I have prayed in a sitting position. And, for most of my life, I have struggled to pray for any long period of time. I have tried kneeling, which is an excellent posture for prayer. But my knees aren’t very cooperative, so I can’t kneel for very long.
I remember once, when I was an associate pastor at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, I was seated on the chancel of the sanctuary to help lead a worship service. One of our other associate pastors offered a lengthy pastoral prayer. With the lights dimmed and the organ music playing softly, before long, I was fully asleep, yes, right there in front of a thousand worshipers. But, even in times when I wasn’t literally falling asleep, I have found it hard to pray with length and depth while sitting. I know I’m not alone in this.
About twenty years ago, I stumbled into a practice of standing up to pray. Sometimes I would stand in my office at church. Often, if I could, I would go to a place where I could walk and pray. My physical posture helped me to focus, to keep my mind clear as I entered into deep and even long conversations with the Lord. Praying while standing or walking has made a major difference in my life.
If you struggle to keep alert in prayer, if you find yourself giving in to the temptation to sleep, maybe you should try standing or walking. For me, “Get up and pray” has been some of the best advice for prayer that I’ve ever heard.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What posture or postures do you usually use for prayer? Are these helpful to you? Do you ever kneel when you pray? Do you stand? Do you walk?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, I know you weren’t giving general instructions on how to pray when you told your disciples to stand up and pray. Yet, as I read this text, I find that I am filled with gratitude for having learned that I can pray more effectively when I’m standing or walking. Thank you for teaching me this through your Spirit.
I expect that many who read this reflection today do just fine if they pray while sitting. Others prefer to kneel. But I want to pray for those who may get some help by praying while upright. The point isn’t the posture, of course. The point is being attentive and alert, so that we might share our hearts with you and so that we might be open to what you want to say to us through your Spirit.
So, help us to be alert when we pray, Lord! Amen.
Mark D. Roberts
Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts is Senior Advisor and Theologian-in-Residence of Foundations for Laity Renewal, a multifaceted ministry in the Hill Country of Texas and the parent organization of Laity Lodge. He has written several books, including his most recent: Can We Trust the Gospels? (Crossway, 2007)