Watch and Pray Lest you fall into Temptation
Clifford Denton

“Watch and Pray”, was among the Lord’s last instructions to His disciples. We are to be watchmen, anticipating and preparing for His return (Matthew 25:13). We were warned that times of deception will arise to take us off track, and so we must be careful not to fall into temptation or to be diverted from the expectation of His return. We do not know the day or hour of His return, so it is essential to be ever expectant and alert.

The Greek word for watch is gregoreuo, meaning to be awake, vigilant and watchful. The difficulty of remaining watchful was demonstrated in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was late at night after a long and full day which had included the Passover Meal. It is understandable that the disciples would be tired, but it was still important to be watchful and alert. At this pivotal moment of history when Yeshua prepared for His arrest, trial and crucifixion, His closest friends could not stay awake. The Lord returned from His agonizing time of prayer to find the disciples asleep. There was both warning and rebuke in His exhortation:

What, could ye not watch with me one hour?......Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:40, 41)

The disciples found it difficult to watch and pray at a climax of history when the Lord was still on this earth, just a stone’s throw from them. How much more will we find this same difficulty prior to His return, when we do not yet see Him with our physical eyes? We need to understand what it means to watch and pray. They are two overlapping spiritual ministries.

Perhaps more has been said of prayer than the role of the watchman in recent years. Many new prayer movements have emerged, as expectancy has grown for answers to prayer at a crucial time in history. Nevertheless, the prayer, Lord teach us to pray, is still relevant. Some of the claims being made about prayer do not fit with biblical truth: it is time for us to pray in accord with what God is doing, and not go beyond this or to invent new ideas. We must be discerning concerning the times in which we live and to the prophecies that are being fulfilled.

The return of Israel to their Land has caused many Christians to reassess their understanding of the Bible. This must have an influence on our prayer as well as our theology. For example, 2 Chronicles 7:14 has been used as a rallying cry for prayer for revival in gentile nations. God said to Solomon, If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. This was in answer to a specific prayer when the Temple was dedicated and was a direct promise to Israel. We are in days of prophetic fulfillment in all nations and must be careful to discern what God is saying in specific ways to each nation, refining our understanding of the Christian Church in relation to Israel. There are subtle, as well as the more obvious, examples of Replacement Theology. There is a hope for revival in the Christian Church and in many nations, but this is also the time of falling away to the antichrist system. We must be mature and not fanciful. The days are too serious for us to be fanciful. What is God doing? How does this fit with biblical prophecy? We need to anchor our prayers in Him. There are other examples of prayer, which is either rather strange or fanciful. Some mystical elements have crept in, that are rooted in practices that go back to the Middle Ages rather than to our roots in Ancient Israel. Exaggerated claims in co-called “spiritual warfare” are also widespread even to the extent of clearing cities of powers and principalities through practices that are not found in the Bible.

The chief principle for answered prayer is found in John 15:7: If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done for you. Answered prayer comes from having such a close relationship with God that we know His mind and pray according to His will.

Another biblical concept similar to abiding is that of waiting on God. This is found in Isaiah 40:31: they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. The picture of an eagle soaring high in the sky, uplifted by rising currents of air is used to build an expectation of what God will do for us. There is also the idea of an aging bird renewing its feathers to regain its ability to ascend to great heights. The word wait is the Hebrew qavah. As well as the idea of waiting, hoping, expecting, the word conveys the idea of being bound to the Lord. By binding ourselves to the Lord in faith, He renews our strength, lifting us up above the affairs of the world and keeping us safe. It is again important to note that we are called to be united with, not independent of, Him.

The word watch is associated with the watchman. In Ezekiel 33 a watchman is like one who keeps watch over a city. He is stationed on the walls, looking out for the approaching enemy so that the people may be warned of approaching danger. Watching is a ministry we have for one another. It requires alertness and obedience. It is linked to the prophetic ministry. We should study Ezekiel 33 carefully before we jump to conclusions, rushing hither and thither, in our own strength, to warn everybody about everything. The watchmen of the Lord are only responsible to carry warnings from Him. We keep watch and listen to the Lord at the same time, only acting on His initiative rather than human logic. Watching is a ministry of the Holy Spirit. Psalm 127 illustrates the principle of partnership with the Lord: Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it: unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

The concept of watching is also in Jeremiah 1:11-12. Jeremiah was called as a prophet and God showed him a picture of an almond tree to illustrate what He was telling him:

Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Jeremiah, what do you see? And I said, I see a branch of an almond tree. Then the Lord said to me, You have seen well: for I am watching over my word to perform it.

The Hebrew word for Almond Tree is shaqed. The Hebrew for watching over is shaqad. Jeremiah was aware of the play on words. God caught his attention through the vision in order to emphasise what He said to him. God was brooding over his prophetic words to bring them about. This helps us to understand the meaning of watching with the Lord. It is a spiritual ministry whereby we are close to God who is watching over His words to perform them. Neither watching nor praying is to be independent of God. Both are the result of a close fellowship with Him. The power of God brooding over His Word to perform it is illustrated by the Creation of the universe, when the Holy Spirit was brooding over the waters. This illustrates the dynamism of God’s Word in action and the importance of learning how to be partners with God in what He is doing rather than minister in our own strength according to our own logic.

What then is the picture we should have of our ministry of watching and praying in these important days? When Yeshua was with His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane they were intended to share in what He was doing in fulfillment of prophecy. That is the same as our ministry for these days.

Watching and praying involves a close relationship with the Lord and a clear understanding of biblical truth, especially in relation to prophecy. It involves times of meditating upon biblical truth in the context of current affairs in this world, abiding in the Lord, praying in the Spirit of God, anticipating the return of the Lord and being totally prepared for His return at any time. We must learn to do only what He is doing in both prayer and prophecy, united with Him. It has been said that we are living in days where we can have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The Bible speaks of what we are seeing all around. This is a good picture, but we are called to even greater depths than this. We are not only called to draw logical conclusions, but to look out on the world seeing what God sees and understanding it through His inspiration. This comes from a place of rest in Him and not anxiety. In both watching and praying we must sense the moving of God’s Spirit within us.