About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went to a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. Luke 9:28-35
With Jesus in prayer and undergoing an extraordinary physical transformation, Peter, John and James were falling asleep. It can’t be certain what they missed as they slept. However, they fell asleep somewhere between, “Our Father and Moses and Elijah showing up. The translation “very sleepy” meant that they’d been overcome by physical sleep. This is not a metaphor meaning they were spiritually asleep. These men were “eye-shut” asleep. And in their near future in Matthew 26:38-45, these same three men would once again be invited to go with Jesus--but this time it would be to accompany him in prayer before going to Calvary.
Isn’t it perplexing that in both cases when Jesus invited these three men to special prayer meeting times that they became sleepy? Moreover, isn’t it also bizarre that when we receive an invitation to pray from the Spirit, how sleepy we become? Today I want us to know that when the Spirit of God sends us a personal invitation from the Father to meet Him in prayer, that it’s dangerous to literally fall asleep.
In Acts 20:9 a young man named Eutychus was sitting on the second floor in the window listening to Paul preach for hours. He fell asleep on the Word, fell out of the window and died. Paul brings him back to life but Eutychus died because he was overcome by physical sleep. Peter, James and John finally woke up, but when they did, Peter’s response seems to be out of sorts and contextually wrong, so much so that the Father has to correct him through his voice from heaven.
Beloved, beware of being overcome with sleep when it’s time to pray. When you physically sleep when God speaks, you’ll miss out on what He wants you to know and experience. Do whatever it takes to watch and pray. Set your alarms to wake up to pray. Ask your prayer partner to call you in the mornings. Position your bodies upright in a physical posture in order not become so comfortable that sleep is a temptation. Please hear me when I say: sleeping in prayer is a temptation designed by an enemy. Jesus in Matthew 26: 38-45 warns the same three disciples against the temptation to sleep during prayer.
The benefit to staying awake in prayer is: You overcome by being awake to gain the experience of His presence! If you want to beat the “sleep” temptation and the “tempter,” wake up in prayer. When you’re awake to pray it ensures that you won’t spiritually fall asleep.
If praying does not come effortlessly for you, try the following tips for making your prayer life more focused and effective.
For a few hardy prayer warriors, talking with God is as easy as breathing; it happens almost effortlessly. When you ask them how they do it, they simply shrug and reply, "I just pray." Unfortunately, that's about as helpful as John McEnroe saying "I just hit the ball," when asked for some tips on more effective tennis. It may be easy for him to "just hit the ball", but most of us hackers need a little more fundamental instruction to get the job done. With that in mind, we've included here some practical guidelines that might make your time with the Lord more fruitful. Not all of the suggestions will apply to your particular situation, but if you begin by incorporating a few of them, I'm confident your prayer life will improve.
1. Choose a specific place to pray away from distractions so you can concentrate. Ringing phones and crying children will sabotage your "quiet time" before it gets started.
2. Pray at the same time every day, if at all possible. Make it part of your regular routine and it will become habit. Write it into your schedule and then treat it just like a daily appointment.
3. Pray out loud. Many people can pray under their breath or in their minds for long periods and still maintain intensity, but for most of us it's a quick ticket to dreamland. When we pray out loud we have to form intelligent sentences. We have to concentrate more on what we're praying about.
The benefit to staying awake in prayer is: You overcome by being awake to gain the experience of His presence! If you want to beat the “sleep” the temptation and the “tempter,” wake up in prayer. Because when you’re awake when praying, it ensures that you won’t spiritually fall asleep.
4. Keep a note pad handy so you can jot down different things that come to mind while you're before the Lord. Sometimes you'll get great ideas totally unrelated to what you've been praying about. If you jot them down you can quickly get back to the topic at hand without being too distracted.
5. Make a list to keep track of your prayer needs. This can be done several ways. Prayer needs can be listed by category like "Church," "Family," or "Unsaved friends." Or they may be listed by the days of the week. Each day you pray for a different set of needs. You may want to include prayer everyday for a different area of society that has a tremendous influence on the direction of our nation. These seven categories include 1) the church and religion, 2) the family and the home, 3) the media, 4) government, 5) education, 6) business and commerce, and 7) the arts and entertainment.
6. Redeem time for praying out of unused corners of your schedule. Those who have to drive to work can use the time talking with the Lord instead of screaming at traffic (just don't close your eyes!). Busy homemakers can combine prayer with housework, especially if the task doesn't require a lot of concentration. Joggers, swimmers and cyclists can use their workout time for prayer. Sometimes my best times with the Lord have been chats during long, early morning walks or jogs along the beach.
7. Change the pace during your prayer time. Include praise, thanksgiving and singing as well as petition. Spend some of your time reflecting on the Scripture, meditating on it and digesting its meaning.
8. Keep a prayer journal. Here are two variations of this idea. The first is to keep track of what you prayed for and when you prayed for it. Leave a space to jot down the answer when it comes. This will help you to keep alert to God's answer so you can thank Him promptly. Sometimes prayer answers come in the back door and you don't want them to slip by you. The second variation is to write the entire prayer in your journal. Make it a personal letter to the Lord on a daily basis. Just write "Dear Lord" instead of "Dear Diary."
9. Pray with someone else. Though some prayers can only be said in solitude, there will be times when you'll want to join hearts with another person in prayer. If you commit to meet on a regular basis, the accountability can really help build consistency. Such prayer trysts can become powerful, life-changing events.
10. Pray one-sentence prayers. If the thought of laboring over a topic wears you out, pray short, sincere prayers instead. A sentence or two may be all that's needed to exhaust the topic for you for the time being. If so, just move on to the next item without feeling guilty for your brevity.
I was talking to a fellow preacher the other day about the difficulties and challenges of preaching sermons that both touch the people as well as sits under the smile of God. We talked about the inclination today to resort to tactics to manufacture a connection to the congregation that is neither real nor helpful.
Preaching Under the Frown of God
I heard a preacher the other day that obviously did not put in the hard work of thinking theologically about the lives his people were living. In addition, the strong scriptural foundation was missing as well. That preacher shared a sermon that did not touch the people. Then, while noticing his floundering he simply started whooping. The people start shouting, yes, but were they equipped to handle any real engagement with the world or did it help in their struggle within it? This kind of preaching is useless. When people in the congregation have a difficult week, do they have the message that God intended for them to help them through their struggle? They don't when we don't do our diligent work as preachers. When Grandma dies, did we deny them the spiritual nourishment from the pulpit that God could have used to aid them through that struggle because of our sloth in preparation? Even though the people may shout through weak attempts to placate the congregation, God frowns on those efforts.
Are Your Sermons Insulting God?
You may get speaking engagements. You may get the call to pastor the church. But it will eventually catch up with you. Yelling, whooping, and "celebrating" at the end of a weak sermon is like sprinkling sugar over some dung and serving it to your spouse on your 50th wedding anniversary. It is worse than inappropriate; it is insulting to the people and your God. Preaching is hard work, and God is there to help us at every step of the way. Certainly you will not always hit a "home run," but don't serve the people warmed-over slop, tack a whoop at the end, and then relish in the misguided approbations of humanity. The people may shout, but you aren't fooling God, and you aren't helping your people when you serve slop in the pulpit.
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