When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying about his impending suffering and crucifixion, he asked his three most trusted disciples, Peter, James, and John to watch with him while he went a little way away and prayed. They promptly fell asleep. When Jesus came back and found them sleeping, he gave us all a warning, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41).
How many times do we pray and fall asleep? Well, maybe not actually fall asleep but our minds wander and we think about something else. We think about cores we have to do, what work will demand of us, even what we watched on TV last night. All these things are temptations to keep us from communicating with the Lord and drawing close to him. We even need to pray that our prayers stay focused and not drift.
The last part of Jesus’ warning about the spirit and flesh explains why we have so much of a problem in prayer and even falling into other temptations. When we become Christians, we are given new birth. That means we are inwardly changed so that our spirits, which were once dead in transgression, have been made alive (Eph 2:5). This spirit, our inner man, has been born and is eager to do what God wants. But our outer man, our physical body is still operating without any change to the way it did before. It wants to go to sleep when the spirit wants to pray. It wants to yell at people on the road when the spirit wants to pray. It wants to continue in the sinful habits that it had when this spirit inside started to push it to do different things. Paul described the battle between the two in Galatians 5:16-17.
The bad news is that this body will always be weak until we get a new one at the rapture or after we die. The good news is that our spirit can work with the Holy Spirit to increasingly retrain the body to cooperate. Ephesians 4:17-31 tells us how to unlearn all that old stuff starting in the mind and replacing the old sinful habits with new, godly habits. It gives examples such as top lying and start telling the truth.
We may know the flesh is weak, but we also know it doesn’t have to win, not with the Holy Spirit on the side of our spirit.