Neilah Yom Kippur 2023 – Staying Spiritually Awake

On the night He was betrayed, Yeshua went to Gethsemane to pray. This was after His disciples insisted that they would never abandon Him. Messiah Yesua told Peter, James, and John to stand watch while He prayed. After an hour He returned and found them all asleep, both physically and spiritually.

Our Lord’s response is recorded in Mark 14:38, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Two more times Yeshua left to pray and twice more he found the disciples asleep and ashamed of themselves. Yeshua was arrested afterward, and his disciples fled.

In a few minutes, Yom Kippur will be over, and this season of reconciliation and atonement will come to an end. Hopefully, the Lord finds us awake this evening, physically and spiritually. But it is too easy to fall asleep at the most critical of times. The Shofar is a call to spiritual alertness, but we need more than the High Holidays or even all the holidays to be spiritually awake.

In the verse quoted earlier Messiah Yeshua gives us two tools to remain spiritually awake. The first is to be watchful. Being on guard means being aware of our lives and surroundings. We must be aware of what we are doing every day and what those around us are doing as well. Spiritual alertness requires deep self-awareness.

This is more than just reading and confessing a list of sins. We must be honest about the areas in our lives where we need to continue to grow. For instance, there may be people we need to forgive and reconcile with that we have put out of our minds. Another example would be behaviors in our lives that we do not want to deal with. Issues like control, anger, or expressing our hearts towards those we need to. Or maybe we allow ourselves to be overly influenced by society through social media, fake spiritual leaders, or people in real life. Whatever our issues it is easy to give excuses like being too old, too stubborn, or too broken, to justify being asleep. But the Lord calls us to spiritual alertness in the strongest terms and we are given a second tool to help us.

The second tool we are given is prayer. Throughout the high holidays, we have prayed many prayers. But being constant in prayer is more than just being at a religious service. It is getting close to God every day and being consistent and continuous in our communication with Him. Real prayer is crying out to the Lord from the depths our of souls when we are in anguish. True prayer is praising the Lord at the height of our joy. It is all the small ways we talk to God throughout our day to keep Him at the forefront of our minds. When we stop praying, we lose sight of the Lord and start chasing after people, power, influence, and everything else in this broken world. Once we lose our focus on the Lord, spiritual sleep is soon to follow.

As our Messiah taught, we have the desire to be spiritually awake, but our fallen nature makes us weak. Through awareness, prayer, and the rest of the spiritual disciples in God’s Word, we have been given every tool we need to succeed and experience all the blessings of the Lord. The real question is are we willing to do what we know we should be doing in our lives, or will we choose to spend this next year spiritually asleep?

May the Lord enable each of us this year to be spiritually awake in constant prayer with Him. May we all look rightly at our lives through the perspective of God’s Word. May each of us cherish the days we have been given, not leaving for tomorrow what we need to do today.