Pray and Stay Awake!
By Janet Lisonbee

Sometimes in the scriptures, there are stories that parallel each other that command our attention and teach principles.  Such is the case of the two accounts in scripture where Jesus was with his apostles and commanded them to watch and pray always lest they entered into temptation.

One was at the Garden of Gethsemane and the other at the Bountiful Temple in the Book of Mormon.  The similarities of Jesus telling both sets of apostles to pray and then retreating three times in prayer Himself, invites one to compare the events, yet it is the contrasts between them that are the most instructive.
 
At the Garden

The first event took place after the Last Supper, or the first time Jesus introduced the Sacrament to His Apostles.  Afterwards in the dark of night, Jesus took his apostles to the Garden of Gethsemane and “went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives.” [Luke 22:39]  Luke records that Jesus said unto them, “Pray that ye enter not into temptation.” [vs. 40] 

Then he withdrew “about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed.” [vs. 41]  Returning, he found them asleep and asked, “Could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” [Matthew 26:40-41] 

Then Jesus retreated and prayed again.  Returning to the Apostles, he found them asleep, even though he had asked them to stay awake and “neither wist they what to answer him” [Mark 14:40]. Jesus retreated and “being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” [Luke 22:44] as he bore the sins of mankind.  When he returned the third time, he told them to “sleep on now, and take your rest.” [Matt. 26:45]

At the Temple

The parallel event occurred during Jesus Christ’s visit to the Nephites.  During the day, after He had administered for them, the “first supper” of the sacrament, He admonished the Disciples to “watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him.” [3 Nephi 18:15]

The next day, the twelve Disciples and a multitude had gathered together.  After teaching the multitude the words Christ had taught the day before, the Disciples had baptized each other and received the Holy Ghost, and were encircled as if by fire and angels administered to them.  Jesus appeared to them and commanded the twelve Disciples to pray.   

Jesus then departed out of the midst of them and went a little way off and prayed, thanking the Father for giving them the Holy Ghost.  He returned and found them still praying.   He blessed them and His “countenance did smile upon them, and the light of his countenance did shine upon them and they became white as the countenance and garments of Jesus.” [3 Nephi 19:25] 

Jesus told them “to pray on; nevertheless they did not cease to pray.” [vs.26]  Jesus retreated again and prayed unto the Father, thanking Him for purifying them because of their faith.  He returned and found them praying steadfastly and He did smile upon them again, and behold they were white, even as Jesus.  Jesus retreated for the third time and “tongue cannot speak the words which he prayed, neither can be written by man the words which he prayed.” [3 Nephi 19:32]
 
A brief comparison of the contrasts are:

GETHESEMANE

TEMPLE AT BOUNTIFUL

Jesus was mortal Jesus was resurrected and immortal
It was night It was during the day
The Apostles fell asleep  The 12 Disciples prayed and stayed awake
The Apostles had not received the Holy Ghost    The Disciples had received the Holy Ghost
There were just the Apostles  There were the 12 Disciples and the multitude
Christ prays in anguish 3 times Christ prays in gratitude 3 times
The Apostles scatter by daybreak  The 12 Disciples were sanctified

I believe that the pivotal principle between the contrasts is prayer and staying awake. What a difference the twelve disciples experienced when praying and staying awake, verses the apostles who fell asleep.  A simple application of these two events is that when we “fall asleep” and cease to pray, Jesus suffers and, as the Apostles who “forsook him, and fled,” [ Matthew 26:56] we leave Him.  When we pray and stay awake, Jesus rejoices and we become sanctified.  

Sleep is referred in the scriptures as an unconsciousness of one’s sins. Jacob implored, ”Behold, my brethren, is it expedient that I should awake you to an awful reality of these things?” [2 Nephi 9:47]  Lehi entreated his wicked sons, “O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound.” [2 Nephi 1:13]   
 
In the parable of the ten virgins, all the virgins fell asleep [for we all have sinned] but I believe that the five wise virgins awoke long before the others and had their lamps trimmed and were prepared for the coming of the Lord.  The warning has been going forth for many years among all people: “Awake and arise and go forth to meet the Bridegroom; behold and lo, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.  Prepare yourselves for the great day of the Lord.” [Doctrine and Covenants 133:10]  

There was not a last-minute panic among the wise ones.  Wise “virgins” are “faithful, praying always, having their lamps trimmed and burning, and oil with them, that they are ready for the coming of the Bridegroom.” [Doc. & Cov. 33:17]

What is the key to staying awake?  Praying always. “Pray always that you enter not into temptation, that you may abide the day of his coming, whether in life or in death.” [Doc. and Cov. 61:38 – 39]  “And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing.  For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.  But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint [sleep].” [2 Nephi 32:8-9]

The question might be asked, “Can good people be asleep?” 

I remember one Sunday when I was driving towards the church and went into “automatic mode” and it wasn’t until I pulled into the grocery store parking lot, did I “awake” to how far off track I had driven.  I believe that incident parallels many of our lives.  We get so involved in our daily routine or get distracted [even in good things!] that we do not realize that we are not heading in the direction we intended. 

Paul counseled, “Pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication.” [Ephesians 6:18] The Lord also warned, “Therefore let the church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation; Yea, and even let those who are sanctified take heed also.” [Doc. & Cov. 20:32-34] 

Nephi understood the danger of being unconscious to ones sins as he cried, “Awake, my soul!  No longer droop in sin.  Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.”  [2 Nephi 4:28]

We love to sing the hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” yet how often have any of us spent an hour in meaningful prayer?  The disciples at the temple continued, without ceasing, to pray — “and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire … and the light of his countenance did shine upon them, and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus…And Jesus said unto them:  Pray on; nevertheless they did not cease to pray.” 

The disciples had become sanctified.  Yet, even after this they did not cease to pray.  It was because of their continual, spirit filled prayers, that Jesus said unto them, “So great faith have I never seen among all the Jews…and there are none of them that have seen so great things as ye have seen; neither have they heard so great things as ye have heard.” [vs. 35-36]

The Brother of Jared, as recorded in the Book of Mormon, seemed to have difficulty with prayer.  Jared had come to him twice to inquire of the Lord regarding the protection and direction of the family during the crisis of Babel.  Mahonri-moriancumer did go to the Lord and the Lord did bless them and led them towards the Promised Land by a pillar of fire, like Moses and the children of Israel, through the wilderness until they reached the great ocean. 

I am sure they needed a rest and the Lord allowed that.  However, after four years of resting, Mahonri-moriancumer was chastised for “not remembering to call upon the name of the Lord”. [Ether 2:14]  It is difficult to believe that he forgot to pray.  However, it is very possible that he did not go to the Lord in mighty prayer, seeking direction.  He probably was comfortable in his situation and possibly really didn’t want to know if the Lord wanted them to cross the great waters. 

We are often like that in our lives.  We are happy with our situation, we really do not want to experience more growth inducing situations in our lives, or desire to know what we need to improve in our character.  We need to apply the example of young Joseph Smith in seeking to “know of my state and standing before Him” [JSH 1:29] often in our lives. 

C. S. Lewis understood this principle when he wrote that God “is building quite a different house from the one you thought of — throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” [Mere Christianity]

When the Lord commanded Nephi to build a ship, He did not simply hand Nephi the directions.  He had to go often in prayer to the Lord for step by step, or “line upon line” directions.  Sometimes, we may think that since we have the commandments, they are all we need to perfect ourselves.

We need to remember that God is not a “checklist” God and that we cannot simply check our righteousness from a “good Mormon” list!  If we do not go to the Lord often for direction in our lives, how will we feel at judgment day when we find, like the rich young man [Matthew 19:16-21], that there are things yet lacking that are not on the list?

It is interesting to note that in this incident, the Apostles were amazed and asked, “Who then can be saved?” [vs. 25]  Jesus then explained that “With men this is impossible [in other words, we cannot save ourselves!] but with God all things are possible” [vs. 26] through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Nephi explained that it is “by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” [2 Nephi 25:23]

One of the key differences with the apostles who fell asleep and the disciples who stayed awake, was that the disciples had received the Holy Ghost.  Nephi testified that the Holy Ghost “will show unto you all things what ye should do.” [2 Nephi 32:5] 

A vital key to sanctification is through seeking and following the promptings of the Spirit.  We need to take the counsel the Lord gave Luke Johnson and William McLellin to call “on the name of the Lord for the Comforter, which shall teach them all things that are expedient for them — Praying always that they faint [sleep] not; and inasmuch as they do this, I will be with them even unto the end. Behold, this is the will of the Lord your God concerning you. [Doc. & Cov. 75:10-12]

Sometimes we are led by the Spirit to do certain things “for the Lord” such as church callings, missions, civic duties, or maybe some sort of project.  It is imperative that we seek the Lord often in doing these things. 

I remember when I was asked to transcribe an old, handwritten, Kirtland, Ohio cemetery record.  I was doing my best, fixing misspelled words, punctuation, and so on.  I had typed about 70 pages worth, when I consulted with the person who asked me to do this.  To my great chagrin, I was told that I would have to do it over because he wanted it transcribed exactly how it was written. 

I was pretty upset, but learned a powerful lesson.  If I had consulted much earlier on exactly what was wanted, it would have been done right the first time.  I just simply thought I knew how to do it and plunged ahead. 

Can you imagine if Nephi, when commanded to build the ship, just took his knowledge and common sense and forged ahead, without going “to the mount oft and praying oft unto the Lord” for directions? [1 Nephi 18:3]  Nephi warned, “But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint [sleep]; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul. [2 Nephi 32:9]

One of the differences between the two stories was that the twelve disciples were sanctified in the midst of the multitude. The apostles were alone and were not sanctified. I believe that the principle suggested is that sanctification comes through our dealings with our fellowmen.  Just previous to their sanctification, they had been teaching the multitude the words of Christ.  They were probably among those who had spent the previous night gathering people to the Temple to be there when Christ would come as He promised.[3 Nephi 19:2-3]  The real test and growth of our righteousness is through our daily, selfless, interactions with others.  

Prayer without action is like faith without works.  In Elder David Bednar’s recent conference talk he stressed, “As we speak of prayer, I emphasize the word meaningful ... Simply saying prayers is quite a different thing from engaging in meaningful prayer.  I long have been impressed with the truth that meaningful prayer requires both holy communication and consecrated work.  True faith is focused in and on the Lord Jesus Christ and always leads to righteous action.  I testify that prayer becomes meaningful as we ask in faith and act.” [Ask in Faith, April 2008 General Conference]  Those righteous actions include real repentance, restitution, service, sacrifice, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, peace … the delicious fruits of the Spirit. [Galatians 5:22] 

The disciples’ prayers, at the Bountiful temple, were meaningful and sincere.  Even though the sanctification process for them occurred within a very short time, it was their sincere, spirit filled prayers that made all the difference. 

Sincere prayer can take us, in effect, from the “dark night of Gethsemane to the bright daylight of the Bountiful Temple.”   Paul said, “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. [Romans 13:11-12]  

Alma related the captivity and deliverance of their fathers, “Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God.  Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word. [Alma 5:7]

May we all take the admonition of the Lord, “Pray always, that ye may not faint [sleep], until I come.  Behold, and lo, I will come quickly, and receive you unto myself.  Amen.” [Doc. & Cov. Section 88:126]


Copyright 1999-2008 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.

About the Author:

Janet Lisonbee, a native Arizonan, has spent most of her life in Virginia and in Kirtland, Ohio. She is married to Dan Lisonbee and together they are the parents of ten wonderful children. Janet has served as early morning seminary teacher for many years and is also a church history researcher. She is the author of Obituaries and Life Sketches of the Early Saints Who Died in the Kirtland, Ohio Area, and developed and presented Kirtland Temple Cemetery tours when she and her family lived in Kirtland. She also developed graveyard tours and Christmas tours for the Lake County Historical Society. She and her family currently reside in Traverse City, Michigan.

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