We have a tendency to make everything a rule, don’t we? When I was a child I would hear this story and feel really bad. I would place myself in the disciples’ shoes (as I imagined the scene) and think, “I could never do what Jesus wanted!” I imagined the disciples trying to stay awake all night with their eyes shut, praying. Impossible.
Looking back at it now, I see something very different. Jesus is praying, but he asks his disciples to keep watch. The only time he commands them to pray in this circumstance, it is for them to pray that they will not fall into temptation (to sleep). He wants them to stay alert.
Not that praying, or praying a lot even, is bad or undesirable. However, I get the idea even now that Jesus doesn’t necessarily want His followers making a habit of spending all their time hidden away praying. Our relationship with God these days happens throughout life. As we go about our day, we go with God. We carry on our conversation with Him (or can) along the way. We do not have to stop every time we think of God, close our eyes, and offer a formulaic prayer.
Unfortunately, many only interact with God in these formulaic, habitual, recitative statements. That is not much of a real conversation!