“Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation:
the spirit indeed is willing,
but the flesh is weak. Matthew 26:41
So that He may not terrify and discourage His disciples, Christ gently reproves their slothfulness, then adds consolation and good grounds for hope.
First, He reminds then that though they earnestly desire to do what is right, they must contend with the weakness of the flesh. Therefore, prayer is always necessary. We see that Christ praises their willingness so their weakness may not throw them into despair. Yet He urges them to pray because they are not sufficiently endued with the power of the Spirit.
This admonition properly relates to believers who, being regenerated by the Spirit of God, desire to do what is right but still labor under the weakness of the flesh. Though the grace of the Spirit is vigorous in them, they are “weak” according to the “flesh”. And through the disciples alone have their weakness pointed out to them, yet what Christ says of them applies to all. So we ought to draw from this a general rule that it is our duty to keep diligent watch by praying. We do not yet possess the power of the Spirit in such a measure mas not to frequently fall through the weakness of the flesh unless the Lord grants His assistance to raise us up and uphold us.
We have no reason to tremble with excessive anxiety, for an undoubted remedy is held out to us. We neither have to seek nor seek in vain for this remedy, for Christ promises that all who are in earnest in prayer shall perseveringly oppose the slothfulness of the flesh and will be victorious.”
“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
2 Corinthians 12:8
It may seem from the text that Paul has not prayed in faith, for we read everywhere in Scripture that we shall obtain whatever we ask in faith. Paul prays, and does not obtain what he asks for.
I address this problem by saying that as there are different ways of asking, so there are different ways of obtaining. We ask in simple terms for those things for which we have an express promise. For example, we ask for the perfecting work of God’s kingdom, the hallowing of His name (Matt. 6:9), the remission of our sins, and everything that is advantageous to us. But when we think that the kingdom of God can indeed, must be advanced in this particular manner or in that, and what is necessary for the following of His name, we are often mistaken in our opinion.
In like manner, we often commit a serious mistake about asking for what tends to promote our welfare. We ask for things confidently and without reservation, while we do not have the right to prescribe the means for receiving them. If, however, we specify the means, we always have an implied condition, even though we don’t express it.
Paul was not ignorant about this. Hence, as to the object of his prayer, there can be no doubt that he was heard, though he met with a refusal as to the express form of that answer. By this we are admonished not to give way to despondency in thinking our prayers are lost labor when God does not gratify or comply with our wishes. Rather, we must be satisfied with His grace in not forsaking us. For the reason what God sometimes mercifully refuses to give His own people what in His wrath He grants to the wicked is that He better foresees what is expedient for us rather than our understanding is able to apprehend.”
-From John Calvin (1509-1564)