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Where 2 or 3…Sleep

Matthew 18:20

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Not long ago, our pastor preached on Matthew 18:20, a passage he argued is often taken out of its intended context of reconciliation and misplaced into the context of prayer. It’s encouraging to be reminded of the truth that our prayers are not dependent on the faithfulness of flawed fellow humans. Because how often have we brought our burdens to our community of believers, requesting their prayers, only to have those requests fall on deaf ears, or get lost in the shuffle of daily life or the litany of other requests that occupy their time and attention? But God hears and responds to our prayer, no matter who joins us in them. This is evident throughout scripture, actually. For instance:

  • Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
  • Romans 8:26-27: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

Still, if you’re anything like me, you may be tempted to respond with an air of resentment…misplaced, though, because let’s be honest—unless you’re that lady from War Room, you’ve probably dropped the ball on a prayer request or two yourself. I know I have.

So how should we respond when we are disappointed and when our prayer warriors let us down? Fortunately, Jesus Himself offers us some guidance on that. In the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46), Jesus shared His burden with Peter, James, and John, saying, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Then He asked them to keep watch and pray. And did they? No. Instead, they fell asleep. Even John—the beloved disciple and the one who may arguably have loved Jesus the most. And not just once or twice did this happen, but three times! But Jesus recognized that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Scripture also tells us that the disciples’ “eyes were heavy” and that Jesus left them sleeping and continued to pray. Finally, after they’d slept through the entire ordeal, Judas showed up to turn Jesus over to the authorities. And Jesus woke them up and said, “Rise! Let us go!”

I see Jesus doing four things in this passage:

  1. He asks his friends to pray—and more than once. He doesn’t give up on them, just because they’ve let him down.
  2. He understands their weakness and weariness. He recognizes that their failure is not a result of them not wanting to pray or not caring. He sees that their eyes are heavy.
  3. He continues to pray, even in isolation. He knows that the Father hears and answers prayers—whether we are joined in those prayers by our fellow believers or not.
  4. He doesn’t give up on the disciples. Even though He does eventually allow them to slumber, he wakes them up when it’s time to go, and summons them to join Him.

My hope is that you and I will take our cues from Jesus when faced with our own disappointments, and that we will remember, as God does, that we are all but dust (Psalm 103:14).

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Who I Am–Part V

Deuteronomy 6:5-9
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

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Sitting here reminiscing and trying to chronologize some of the exciting adventures I’ve had, I realize I’m at a loss. Case in point: I remember scuba diving in the Bahamas, but when exactly was that? Was it during my “two years of travel” (AKA my last two years in the Air Force)? Or was it after I got out? And if it was after, was it before or after my missions trip to New Zealand? It matters only in that the two trips are now indelibly intertwined on the outside of my left food. The tribal design featured in the above tattoo is a Maori symbol for “hammerhead shark.” If you look closely, you can kind of see the unique head shape of the shark. I was intrigued by both the design and its muse.

Now, I’ve been on a number of dives, in a number of places, and two or three of those dives were shark dives. But on none of them did I see a hammerhead. It’s on my bucket list, for sure. And just so I don’t forget, it’s right there on my foot.

I’ve always figured that God created hammerheads with such an odd head shape for some ingenious reason. Well apparently, the shape serves numerous purposes. According to Wikipedia, those include “sensory reception, maneuvering, and prey manipulation.” I wonder why this particular shark needed this particular shape? For its unique diet? Or its unique environment? I don’t know, but I know the one who does. But do you know what I just learned about hammerhead sharks? I learned (again, from Wikipedia) that hammerheads travel in schools—at least during the day. This also is unique among sharks. At night, they hunt alone.

As I reflect on that existence, I see distinct parallels between a school of hammerheads and the Body of Christ. I can see the need for community and corporate worship, along with the need for individual spiritual nourishment and rejuvenation. In our church bodies, we see a variety of passions, gifts, and abilities that allow us to function as a family of believers, and as a team of effective witnesses of and for the Gospel.

They allow us to serve one another when we’re in need, to comfort one another in times of pain and loss, and so much more. But we can’t serve these purposes and respond to our God-given callings if we don’t also seek Him in the quiet of our own hearts. These aren’t new truths to me, but the added significance and reminder provided by my tattoo is new. I don’t believe I will ever look at it in the same way again.