“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
I heard this phrase often growing up. It normally was someone’s way of justifying or excusing their failure. They politely blamed everything on a lack of ability but assured you that you shouldn’t be too upset – because after all, their intentions were good.
And that’s all that really matters, right?
Yet when Christ said these words, his entire point was the exact opposite. Good intentions aren’t enough.
As Christ is passionately praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he finds the disciples weren’t so engaged:
And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Christ warns the disciples to pray for themselves for he knows what they’re getting ready to face. And he adds in that even if they think their spirits are strong – even if they assure Christ that they’ll die with him or that they’ll never deny him three times – they still should pray because their flesh is weak.
A Warning and a Remedy
I like the way Calvin comments on this:
And though the disciples alone have their weakness here pointed out to them, yet, since what Christ says of them applies equally to all, we ought to draw from it a general rule, that it is our duty to keep diligent watch by praying; for we do not yet possess the power of the Spirit in such a measure as not to fall frequently through the weakness of the flesh, unless the Lord grant his assistance to raise up and uphold us. But there is no reason why we should tremble with excessive anxiety; for an undoubted remedy is held out to us, which we will neither have nor to seek nor to seek in vain; for Christ promises that all who, being earnest in prayer, shall perseveringly oppose the slothfulness of the flesh, will be victorious.
Christ didn’t point out the weakness of our flesh in order to depress us. He did it in order to warn us about a very real problem – but more importantly, to point out the solution.
I think this is further driven home when we consider exactly what is meant by the world flesh.
I like this helpful distinction I read: “In short, flesh generally relates to unaided human effort, i.e. decisions (actions) that originate from self or are empowered by self.”
The flesh is your own ability to deal with the trials of life. It’s the part of you that wants to fall asleep while your master is crying tears of blood in prayer.
Flesh in the Day to Day Grind
So even if the spirit is willing, we still must be in prayer to overcome our weak flesh.
We should let scripture define our values and our purpose in life. We should define our goals and action plans with wisdom. It’s a good thing, after all, for the spirit to be willing – so don’t shy away from motivating yourself and creating a driving spirit.
But remember your weak flesh. In the trenches, in the day to day hustle of getting things done, we should be in prayer.
Prayer to concentrate. Prayer to stay motivated by the right things. Prayer to work hard. Prayer to be diligent. Prayer to make wise decisions about priorities.
Part of our unceasing prayer today should be requesting that God work within us so that we steward our time well and accomplish good.
Pray – because good intentions aren’t enough.
Photo Credit: istolethetv (Creative Commons)
Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. However, this doesn’t affect what I write about, what I choose to say, or what I recommend. Learn more here.