What motivates us to pray? Why do we do it? Answering for myself, I’d say my reasons range from urgent need for help, to a sense of obligation, loneliness, sometimes a hunger for closeness with God: pretty much all about me and my needs, with other people’s needs occasionally thrown in.
But Matthew’s account of the hours leading up to Jesus’s arrest gives me another motivation for prayer: God’s desire for my company.
I’ve often felt sorry for the disciples in this story. They have had a long day, culminating in the Passover feast. Over their meal Jesus has told them one of their number is about to betray him, that he will die, and that although he will resurrect, he’s still leaving. Full of emotion and food, they troop over to the garden of Gethsemane. It’s late. They are tired. Is it any wonder they nodded off? ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ Jesus asks. Apparently not. The next time he checks, they’ve fallen asleep again. This time he leaves them to it.
In focussing on the disciples I’ve missed something profound. The point of this story is not that we should prioritise prayer over sleep (although occasionally that might be the case). It is not that we need to be alert 24 hours a day to avoid temptation. It is not about us, or the disciples at all. It is about Jesus.
One of the greatest mysteries of our faith is the divinity and humanity of Jesus. In Gethsemene, Jesus wrestled with his human nature, in an epic struggle the outcome of which was not a foregone conclusion. He could have chosen not to drink of the cup of suffering held out to him that night. He could have walked away and left humanity to hopeless failure.
Jesus had a terrible decision to make, one he had to make alone. But he needed his friends to be there with him while he made it. His ‘soul was overwhelmed to the point of death.’ He needed the comfort of their presence.
Do you remember discovering that your parents didn’t exist purely and simply for your benefit? Do you remember when you found out your teachers were people and had personal lives going on outside school hours? Mature relationships are not about one-sided reliance.
There is no doubt we get more than we give in prayer. But we do have something to give to God. Our conversation, our attention, our praise, our company is a delight to him. That thought motivates me to pray. How about you?
Jo Swinney is an Author and Editor