Fall 2012: Watch and Pray
Author: Dan Gabbert
Publish date:
Summary: Watch and pray lest the devil tempt you unaware.

Charles Spurgeon once said,

“We may be certain that whatever God has made prominent in His Word, He intended to be conspicuous in our lives. If He has said much about prayer, it is because He knows we have much need of it. So deep are our necessities that until we are in heaven we must not cease to pray. . . A prayerless soul is a Christless soul.”1

Is Spurgeon Right?

Right before He was to be betrayed and crucified, Jesus counseled His disciples about prayer, saying, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

Christ was preparing them for the trials they were about to face. Why was it so important for His disciples to watch and pray? That they enter not into temptation. Jesus knew that in their minds, His disciples wanted to serve Him. But their flesh was just too weak.

When the devil tempts someone, he is working to make them disobey God (James 1:14-15). Is temptation sin? No, Christ was tempted just like us, but He never committed sin (Hebrews 4:15).

In Matthew 26:41, we see our Lord Jesus pleading with His beloved disciples to watch and pray so that they might have the strength to resist the devil’s attempts to pull them from their allegiance to Him. Jesus knew how weak the flesh is. But He also knew the strength that earnest prayer provides to keep a person faithful to God. Christ Himself used prayer to wrestle with temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Notice Christ’s counsel to His disciples who would be living in the days just before His return: “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36).

The Greek word “be accounted worthy” may also be rendered “have strength” or “prevail.” We see here that the very counsel Christ gave Peter, James, and John in the garden of Gethsemane—before their great trial of watching Him being taken, falsely accused, and crucified—is the same counsel He gives His followers living just before He returns the second time!

According to Luke 21:36, why is it so important for Christ’s disciples to watch and pray today? So that we might have the strength to escape all the things that will come to pass before Christ returns.

Until Christ returns, the devil will do everything in his power to tempt us away from God in disobedience. Satan wants us to fall just like the disciples fell when Christ was betrayed and crucified. It is therefore crucial that we be watching and praying like Jesus did in the garden before His betrayal and crucifixion.

In Christ, through prayer, we can have strength to face the kind of trials the faithful followers of Christ will meet before He returns:

Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold (Matthew 24:9-13)

In Testimonies we read these validating words:

Those who will be true to God and to duty will be menaced, denounced, and proscribed. They will ‘be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends...Their only hope is in the mercy of God; their only defense will be prayer’ (vol. 5, 472-473).

Tempted to Desert and Deny

What specific temptations were the disciples tempted with before Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion? Notice Christ’s words in Matthew 26:31-35:

Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of Me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. . . . Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny Me thrice. Peter said unto Him, Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee. Likewise also said all the disciples. (emphasis added)

Jesus warned the disciples they would face temptation of desertion and denial. Let’s see what happened: Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled (Matthew 26:56). Desertion!

Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest…(Matthew 26: 69-75). Denial!

Notice Christ's words about denial in Matthew 10:32-33:

Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

And, consider the Word of the Lord abut desertion found in 2 Chronicles 15:2:

The LORD is with you, while ye be with Him; and if ye seek Him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, He will forsake you.

Falling Asleep to God's Truth

2 Chronicles 24:20 tells us that when we forsake God’s law, we forsake Him:

Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? Because ye have forsaken the LORD, He hath also forsaken you.

What is the destiny-deciding issue the entire world will be facing just prior to Christ’s return? It will have everything to do with people’s response to the law of God.

Scripture tells us that when the disciples were told to watch and pray, they fell asleep. Because they were asleep, they were unaware of the situation around them, and they were unable to contribute to a solution.

I believe that before Christ’s return, the devil will be working to keep God’s people asleep and unaware long enough that when they awake, they will be in the midst of a trial much too big for them to handle.

When this happens, many Christians will desert their Saviour and deny His holy name, just like the disciples did before the crucifixion.

How does the enemy keep God’s people sleeping spiritually until the crisis hits? Notice Luke 21:34-35:

And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged (weighed down) with surfeiting (dissipation), and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.

The Bible clearly says that before Christ’s return, there is a time of trouble coming for the people of God like we cannot imagine (Daniel 12:1; Matthew 24:21). Mount of Blessing puts it this way: We are now standing on the threshold of great and solemn events. A crisis is before us, such as the world has never witnessed (121).

Friends, the Lord has communicated these alarming facts to us through His Word, not to scare us, but to give us the chance to prepare. He says to us in Proverbs 1:33 NKJV, “whoever listens to Me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil.” But we must constantly watch for God’s leading through personal study and application of His Word. This discipline involves a moment-by-moment decision to keep our minds focused on Him through prayer.

Watch and pray! Watch and pray! These things will keep us from desertion and denial in the most critical of times in earth’s history.

I love this statement found in the Seventh Day Adventist Bible Commentary:

The soul that loves God, loves to draw strength from Him by constant communion with Him. When it becomes the habit of the soul to converse with God, the power of the evil one is broken; for Satan cannot abide near the soul that draws nigh unto God. (emphasis added, vol. 7, p. 937)

The Story of Thor

My dog Thor is a Rottweiler. He loves me and is very good at “watching and listening” to do what pleases me.

However, Thor begins to deny and desert me when his senses draw his attention away to a piece of dead deer flesh rotting away in the woods. He becomes so engrossed with getting a hunk of that dead flesh into his tummy, that he doesn’t even hear me calling him back.

I think the same thing can happen very easily to any one of us. We may love to watch for the Master’s guidance and talk to Him, but if we get sleepy spiritually, we start to neglect earnest study of God’s Word and time conversing with Him. From there, it’s very easy for our senses to be captivated by useless, careless, profitless activity, or the anxieties of life, or even the abuse of our health.

And, if we stay in that condition, we will become just like the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane! We become so spiritually distracted and blind to what’s really happening around us that the day of trial that Revelation 3:10 speaks of will come upon us unexpectedly.

The Power of Prayer

Now please understand this: Watching and prayer doesn’t change God. It changes us. And marvelous things happen as God’s people enter into the practice of persistent communion with the Most High.

Elijah prayed and called fire down from heaven. For us, prayer may not bring literal fire down from heaven, but it can bring us into a position to receive the spiritual fire of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3-4).

Daniel prayed and was saved from the lions. We may never be cast into a literal lion’s den, but prayer can keep us out of the angry jaws of Satan's temptations (Luke 22:31-32; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9).

Paul and Silas prayed and prison walls were shaken (Acts 16:25-26). We may not ever be cast into a literal prison, but earnest prayer can break down the prison walls of sin that have ensnared so many hurting people today (Proverbs 5:22; Isaiah 61:1; Luke 21:36).

John Wesley prayed and a great revival saved most of England. Wesley stated, "I have so much to do that I must spend several hours in prayer before I am able to do it."2

As we consider these examples, it may be easy for us to think of some type of physical deliverance as God’s way of answering prayer. However, think with me. Jesus, our perfect Example, before His betrayal and crucifixion was found offering up “prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears” to His heavenly Father “who was able to save Him from death.” And Christ was heard! (Hebrews 5:7). To top it off, what was the climax of His prayers in the Garden? “Not My will, but Thine be done.” Luke 22:42

Jesus was watching and praying when the mob came and took Him to be crucified. Prayer didn’t keep Him from being taken and killed – BUT -- it strengthened Him to endure the most crucial and powerful temptation of all time – the temptation to save Himself, to desert and deny us, and to leave us to die in our sins!

Praise God He was strengthened by communion with His Father to endure the shameful trial and make a way of escape for us from the deadly grasp of sin!

This brings us to a very important lesson -- please remember this – watching and prayer does not always move God’s arm to physically deliver us from the trials we face – but He always strengthens us to face the trial bravely and remain faithful when tempted to give up the faith and disobey Him! 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Peter 2:9.

Something else I've been thinking about - to all outward human understanding, if one of us had witnessed Christ’s struggle in the garden that night, we might have said, “If He is so broken up when all He is doing is praying, what will He do when He faces a real crisis? Why can't He approach this ordeal with the calm confidence of His three sleeping friends?” Yet when the test came, Jesus walked to the cross with calmness and courage! His three friends fell apart to deny and desert their Master and Friend!

Please consider this again, the very same counsel Jesus gave His disciples on that eventful betrayal night, He gives to us who live in the dark hours of earth’s history prior to His Second Coming. Watch and pray! I want to be habitually watching and praying. I long to hear Jesus say to me, “Well done thou good and faithful servant...enter thou into the joy of the Lord.” How about you?

Jesus paid an infinite price to purchase our ticket to heaven—what a waste it would be to fall asleep and miss the flight.

1. Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Zondervan Publishing House, 1955, page 4.

2. E.M. Bounds, The Necessity of Prayer. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993, page 47.

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