“Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)
We are all familiar with the sentiment, ‘the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’. We are all familiar with it because it’s more than just a sentiment, we know it to be true.
The phrase itself, some might be surprised to learn, comes directly from the lips of our Lord Jesus during some of His darkest hours on earth. Jesus went off to pray and left His disciples to keep watch and they promptly fell asleep. Granted, it had been a long day. They had had a lot of information to process during the Passover meal and were emotionally spent. We have limited capacity while in our flesh and even the strongest of us will succumb to its weaknesses eventually (one way or another). How hard that night must have been for those disciples.
“Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?” (Mark 14:37)
During the Covid19 lockdown period many of us had a lot of time on our hands. I don’t know about you but I made many plans to catch up on all the things I complain I don’t usually have the time for (it turned out, not having the time wasn’t the issue). It’s surprising how difficult it can sometimes be to motivate yourself to get on with things. In the end, because we have time, we slow down and often just do what we feel like doing. Perhaps it’s just me, but this probably results in indulging in watching too much TV, eating too much or too often and a tendency to procrastinate – we always feel like we have plenty of time, right. Some people are incredibly driven, well motivated, well organised and have a lot of self discipline. But, notwithstanding this, overcoming our natural inclinations – even given all the opportunity to do so – takes much effort.
This is also true of trying to make a better job of being ourselves; we want to be better, do better, run faster, be more; always feeling like there’s more to do in becoming the perfect ‘me’. Why does it take effort to do the things you know you ought to be doing and in fact really want to do? Because Jesus was right: ‘The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’.
Why is our flesh so weak? Well, like it or not, we humans are not all we were designed to be; we are ‘fallen’ creatures – therefore, we fall short. We fall short because we are not, as previously said, all we were designed to be, or should be; or as yet: complete, and all that we may become – and as such, we do not have the capacity (in our current state in the flesh) for perfection. At the fall, by our own choice (and let’s not pretend we would have done otherwise) we lost something. We did not lose our innate right to the freedom of choice, but in choosing error we are now continually prone to it. Tell me, does a child have to be taught how to be naughty or how to be good? If left to their own devices chaos and anarchy ensues: we would get a, ‘The Lord of the Flies‘ scenario. Likewise, without God, we all are all weak and unruly.
But let’s not beat ourselves up, there is hope. We have not been left to muddle through all this by ourselves; we have not been left to our own devices. God sent His Holy Spirit to be with us and to live within us. We have available to us the very resources of heaven to help us in our weakness. So let’s not give in to it too readily as though failure were inevitable. Yes, we will fail; we will often let ourselves down, but we have One who is ever faithful and very able to help us.
“For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)
The good news is that one day, those in-Christ, will reach perfection; we will become all that we hoped we would: our true selves and the sum of all our hopes as per the original designers blueprint. This ought to be a genuine source of real hope. But, in the meantime we are to look to Jesus who will finish the work He has begun in us while we are still in our current condition awaiting His return.
“…let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)