A closer look at Matthew 26:44

Last night we began our Lenten message series, and as promised, I’ll be supplementing this series with some additional content here on my blog. We began our lenten journey by looking at two sections of the Gospel of Matthew; Jesus being tempted by the devil in the desert in Matthew 4 (4:1-11) which immediately follows his baptism, and his prayerful preparation for his betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane (26:36-46).

There is an interesting phrase in the text from the 26th chapter that I didn’t have the time to unpack during the message. But I believe that it holds a significant truth about the life of discipline. In this section, Jesus leaves Peter, James & John to pray three times. Each time he returns he finds them sleeping rather than praying as he instructed him. The third time he departs from them, the text says, “So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words.”

So three times Jesus goes to pray, and on the third time he doesn’t even have the creativity to say something new? Instead, the text tells us, that Jesus again pulls himself away from his disciples in preparation for the betrayal that is about to happen and decides to repeat himself.

“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”

Why is it that Jesus chooses to repeat himself? Certainly, God heard him the first time, right? What is the purpose of the repetition?

With virtually everything that I have had any success with in my life, repetition has been involved. Any athletic activity [in which I’ve had limited success] requires a lifestyle of repetition for success.

It’s the reason Tiger always hits that putt.

It’s the reason Dirk rarely misses that 18 footer.

Repetition.

Many of the ancient spiritual disciplines that we are going to be talking about over the next six weeks are primarily about repetition, but sadly, you’ve probably never heard of many of them before. Over the next 40 days of blogging, I hope to spend some time talking about the history of spiritual practice and address particularly why Protestants [those denominations that have split from the Catholic church since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century] have not taught many of these ancient disciplines.

Fortunately, many modern Christians are currently trying to rediscover some of these ancient practices which is what we will be doing over the next six weeks, but while we’re on the subject of repetition, I thought I would share with you one of the practices that I have used which is focused on this idea of repetition.

The Apostle Paul encourages us to, “pray without ceasing,” and the Jesus Prayer is an attempt to put that direction into a practice. The Jesus Prayer is a short phrase, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” that has been one of the foundational prayers of Eastern Christian spirituality since around the 5th century. The practice of praying the Jesus prayer involves the repetition of this short phrase over and over again. It is often practiced with a prayer rope that has knots for counting the number of times the prayer is prayed or by using praying beads which provides the same function. Further, in order to bring yourself to a place of stillness, you are encouraged to allow these words to coincide with your breathing pattern. In other words, inhale “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,” and exhale, “have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Prayer Beads

These are my prayer beads which I purchased from an Anglican Monastery in Granbury and I have used them to practice the Jesus Prayer. Originally, I tried to practice it with the breathing but found that I was too preoccupied with breathing right and not able to focus like I wanted. I have found it to be a wonderful addition to my own prayer life which seems to grow stale when I don’t practice a variety of different prayer practices.

If you want to know more about the Jesus prayer or any of the prayers you can pray with some prayer beads, just let me know. If you are interested in purchasing some beads or making your own, I’d be glad to help you out with that as well. Praying in repetition might not be for everyone, but before you dismiss this too quickly, consider this question: How are you using repetition, which is the key to growth in almost all the areas of our lives, in your spiritual life?

Tomorrow, I will share another discipline that you might find helpful for you called The Daily Office.

If you want to know more about prayer beads, click here for a handout with further explanation on their use and some of the other prayers you can use with the beads.

One Response to “A closer look at Matthew 26:44”

  1. Erin says:

    David–I am excited that you are using your blog along with the lenten series. I am interested in knowing how you structure your prayer time each day if you don’t mind sharing and other ways on how to focus my time better. :o) Erin

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