I find myself continually amazed by the fact that even the most familiar of passages can so often find new illumination when we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s voice. Two passages about prayer caught me this way last week. I have read both of them many times, but I have never connected the two.
The first is found in Luke 22. I will share the whole context and highlight two verses in particular.
When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:40-46 (emphasis mine)
The second is from 1 Thessalonians 5. Again, I’ll share a bit of context.
The connection might be obvious to the rest of you, but the light just dawned for me!
Jesus and His disciples had shared their Passover meal. Earlier in the evening, He had spoken of His impending arrest and suffering as well as of the denial that Peter swore would never happen. Still, the disciples really had no idea what was coming. They knew nothing of the turbulence they would face from this night forward, even to the very end of their lives. Jesus knew, though. So He told them to pray.
I honestly believe that it did not matter so much what they prayed. I think it mattered more that they prayed. They desperately needed hearts and minds focused on the Father. When focused on Him, resisting temptation is much easier. The path shines more clearly, and our understanding is solid. When we wait until that moment of temptation to begin praying, temptation is not our only battle. We also battle the focus of our minds. If the focus was not on Christ to begin with, we consume energy both in the redirection of our hearts and minds and in the fight against temptation.
The disciples had Jesus physically with them saying, "Pray now! Temptation is coming!" We also have Christ’s guiding voice, but not in physical form. He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit, but we struggle to hear His voice if we have not adopted an attitude of continual prayer. This is where the verse from 1 Thessalonians 5 comes in. Just as He commanded the disciples to pray now, He offers us a similar command: "Pray continually that you might not enter into temptation."
God has provided a way out of every temptation. That way is prayer; not just a prayer tossed up when we awaken to a moment of desperation, but a continual focus on the will of the Father and the sacrifice of Christ through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Prayer without ceasing.