Skip to main content

There was nothing they could do. The disciples could not strategize away Jesus’ journey to the cross. They weren’t asked to stage a defense with weapons. They weren’t even asked to necessarily pray with Him.

“Stay here and keep watch with me,” Jesus asked of them the night before His crucifixion. He went a stone’s throw away, not far.

Keep watch, be attentive, observe this critical moment; I need you here and alert. But they could not give Him that. It was late, dark, after a large meal. Things had been a little crazy that week. But Jesus was telling them plainly that it was not the time for rest.

There is a great push and pull on us from our lives when it comes to doing and resting. Most people lean toward the extreme. We either overdo it, burn the candle at both ends and produce at a rapid rate. Or…we lag behind, we lay down again for a nap or procrastinate. The idea of an alert stillness is foreign to us. To have an active, attentive mind and a very still body is not something we practice. In fact, in U.S. culture, for sure, this would seem like a contradiction.

This is interesting considering the Christian faith tradition has practiced this alert stillness for centuries. In fact, there are designated hours all day long in some traditions to stay practiced in it.

You can find different times, names, and practices, but here is a general guide:

  • Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = approximately 6 am)
  • Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = approximately 9 am)
  • Sext or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = approximately 12 noon)
  • None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = approximately 3 pm)
  • Vespers (Eleventh Hour = approximately 6 pm)
  • Compline (Twelfth Hour = approximately 9 pm)
  • Midnight Office (Approximately 12 am)

Sometimes called the Divine Office, the seven times of prayer are most likely based on Psalm 119:164: “I will praise you seven times a day because all your regulations are just.”

I know what you’re thinking: “There is no way I can maintain that prayer schedule with my life and to-do list.”

Jesus certainly modeled a devout and regular prayer life, and it’s probably a good thing we don’t know His exact schedule. We might be tempted to get all legalistic if we did—”Good people pray like this,” “To be good, I have to pray like that,” I can hear it now!

But what we know the New Testament writers said often was, “Stay alert,” “Keep alert at all times,” “Stay alert,” “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind,” “Stay alert and be clearheaded,” and Peter’s reiteration, “Stay alert!”

If we don’t take this repeated charge seriously, what happens? Getting to the end of our day and not speaking once to your Heavenly Father. And then one day becomes two, and we fall into bed exhausted or bored or disheartened. This world will take us in the direction it wants to take us if we aren’t paying attention and staying alert.

“Stay here and keep watch with me,” Jesus told them in that dark garden.

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

36 Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

40 Then, he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”

Matthew 26:36-41

The disciples could not, and we often cannot either. “For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” Jesus said to them. Which is why we have to often make it do what we need it to with the help of the Holy Spirit.

This is a posture of readiness, the alert stillness. And since Jesus didn’t prescribe when or how, or how long, we can ask Him what it looks like in our lives. Maybe it starts with morning, noon, and night, as I wrote about in my 2022 habits.

Maybe it’s a timer on your phone or a reminder to pray. It could be we have to move in our spiritually alert moments, or we’ll fall asleep or go back to our inboxes. There is no one way.

Yet, there is a way for us in ordinary life to stop, turn our gaze to Him, and listen.

We can keep watch with our Savior at any time of the day. He welcomes us every time. Ask Him how to stay alert in your particular schedule, in this particular season, so you can receive His extraordinary in all the moments He longs to transform.

Naomi’s Recipe of the Week:

Praying the Day Through and Protein Balls!

As we come to the end of our January focus on Ordinary People, Extraordinary Habits, let’s focus on a recipe for praying the day through. Many people have phones or fitness watches that allow them to set an hourly reminder to get up and move a little. Here’s what the Harvard Health Letter says about why that matters!

But, as we’re moving our bodies, how can we also move our hearts toward God? This week, how about setting the alarm and trying to get up, stretch high, and lift a prayer to God. Even if it’s, “Wow, I really don’t know how to handle what’s before me right now,” or “I don’t have much to say, God, but I’m here. Listening.” That’s okay!

To resource you in this week’s Habit Focus, we’ve created a download of a stretching prayer that gets your body moving, your mind and heart fixed on God, and your hands and feet ready to serve those around you. Download it, try it out, send it to a friend, and let us know how this serves you as you love God and others.

And as for a fun cooking recipe? Well, of course, it’s something we can eat that—like prayer—goes everywhere and is healthy for us! Try one of these 12 recipes for protein balls. I like to cook ahead on Sundays and then have treats like this available all week. Enjoy!