Prayer and Our Experiences
Watch and Pray
"Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation" (Mark 14:38).
The Christian’s walk in the narrow way during this Gospel age is fraught with temptations and dangers. Consequently, our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ have equipped us with a number of tools to help us day by day. The privilege of prayer is among the most important. Constant communication with God is essential to making our calling and election sure. Attention to the details of our relationship with God and of the experiences He permits is another necessity. In other words, we must be on constant watch for the direction of God as well as the dangerous pitfalls that we encounter.
We have a poignant example of this in the behavior of Jesus’ disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane and Peter’s failures later. In Matthew 26:41 Jesus said, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
Jesus said this as he returned to the disciples after fervent, personal prayer, only to find them asleep on the most important night of their lives up to that point! Jesus was sympathetic with them, for he knew their flesh was weak and their understanding of things was still shallow. But we have this recorded for our spiritual welfare. Just as the Apostles should have been on guard, watching and praying, so should we, not only in the difficult times of trial but at all other times in our consecrated life, because we do not know when a special trial could come upon us unexpectedly. Jesus refers to this very situation in Mark 13:33, "Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is."
In the context of this verse Jesus is discussing the signs of his presence and the troubles that would both lead up to and be concurrent with it. But it is clear that Jesus is encouraging his future disciplesall through the Gospel Age to watch and pray in preparation for such personal tests and trials of their faith. For us who live at the end of the age, it is especially important to heed the warnings and lessons that come through the specific instructions of scripture, as well as the typical experiences of many Bible characters. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:11,12, "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world [age] are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
The purpose of watching is to be alert to both the leadings of God’s spirit in our lives and to guard against sudden temptations to swerve off the narrow way. To be inattentive to this is a symptom that we do not value our call. This sleepy frame of mind will expose us to more temptations.
The Apostle Paul advised Timothy well when he wrote, "Givediligence to present thyself approved unto God" (2 Timothy 2:15 ASV). The Apostle Peter said, "Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless" (2 Peter 3:14).
The degree of diligence and watching we do indicates how much we value obtaining God’s approval. Considering the weaknesses of our human flesh, we should examine ourselves daily. "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Wise and Foolish Virgins
The sleepiness of the Apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane is a metaphor for that condition of mind where our watching fades. We are reminded of the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins where both groups fell asleep while waiting for the Bridegroom. While this parable has a primary application to historical events with respect to the church, we want to draw a couple of character lessons from it.
First, we are imperfect and it is almost inevitable that we will let our guard down from time to time. But if we have been diligent in the building of our Christian characters with "gold, silver, precious stones" (1 Corinthians 3:12), then when we suddenly become alert to our momentary lapse, we are prepared to recover from it.
Second, we should not let failure discourage us. Remember that Peter on the last night of our Lord’s earthly ministry experienced a mighty crash of faith. Falling asleep in the Garden was only the first symptom. His denial of Jesus three times later in the evening was a severe blow to his confidence and faith. Mark tells us that "when he thought thereon, he wept" (Mark 14:72).
But our Lord Jesus is understanding and sympathetic. He is ever able and desirous to restore us. In Peter’s case Jesus assured Peter of his confidence in him. In John 21:15-17 Jesus made a point to Peter about love. Jesus asked him three times if Peter loved him. Each time Peter distressingly declared his love for the Lord. Note that each time Jesus told Peter to "feed" Jesus’ followers, Jesus showed the confidence he still had in Peter to handle so great a responsibility! Peter was not rejected for his failure, but embraced with love and confidence by the Master. The same will be true of us if our hearts are perfect, complete, toward God.
Watch and Pray
While we have emphasized the watching aspect to this point, our lesson is to "Watch and Pray." Really, a diligent watcher must continue diligent in prayer as well as remain watchfully on guard. Jesus followed his own advice that night in Gethsemane with continued fervent prayer. If the perfect man Jesus needed to do this, how much more do we! We probably do not have to be told to pray when we find ourselves in a Gethsemane experience. In such a storm we naturally come before God on bended knee for succor and help.
Yet, a Gethsemane experience consists of two parts. There is first the calm before the storm and then the furious storm itself. Had the disciples known what was coming, they unquestionably would have roused themselves in strong and energetic support of Jesus. But the problem was they were not listening closely enough to realize what was coming.
Jesus tried to forewarn Peter. "And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat" (Luke 22:31).
"Notwithstanding all that Jesus had said to forewarn him of the sifting experiences that were just before him, St. Peter realized no dread, no fear. Hence he did little watching and praying in comparison with what he should have done, and self-confidence led to his undoing for a time" (Reprint 5563).
God often will kindly permit us the "calm before the storm" to prepare ourselves for the difficult trials He also permits. But we need to listen. If we develop the daily habit of watching and praying, then we will be listening better to the words of God that are sounding around us. The source of God’s voice to us is not merely in the study of the teachings of Jesus and his apostles. Nor is it solely in the daily reading of the Holy Scriptures. It is also found in the voices of our experiences, both the audible voices and the silent ones.
Watching and praying demands we pay attention to our fellowship exchanges. Our God is powerful and can work His personal instruction for us in the haphazard comments of our brethren. A seemingly innocuous word may be the trigger some necessary spiritual thinking on our part. Even a cross word or nasty comment from a brother or a sister, or someone in the world should not be rejected. God spoke to His delinquent prophet Balaam through an ass (Numbers 22:22-31)! A consecrated child of God should be ever alert to hear the voice of God and the voice of the Master throughany agency. Oftentimes, God will use such a messenger when we are blind to a weakness of the flesh that might threaten us.
The disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane were blind to the forces gathering around them. They never suspected that they would scatter when their Master was taken, even though Jesus told them they would. "And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered" (Mark 14:27).
Brethren, what will we do when we find ourselves in such a situation? We reason from the prophecies and types in the scriptures that the last members of the church will be martyred. They will have their Gethsemane experience. Will we run and hide? Or will we watch and pray as we enter into the experience and then stand confidently in the power of the holy Spirit against the enemies of the truth? Much depends upon developing the habits of the spiritual mind now before those experiences fall upon us.
Watching and praying will diminish the power of fear in our hearts. That close relationship and walk with God through our Lord Jesus convicts us of God’s overruling providences in every detail of our lives. This conviction is built up in stages. First, we pray to God for spiritual gifts. Then, as we watch, we see God graciously answer our prayers. We ask for help in developing Christ-like character traits. Again, God graciously gives us more difficult experiences to grow those traits. We see, then, in this process how both watching and prayer go hand in hand.
Consequently, when the time of great trial comes, perhaps the terminating experiences of our lives, we have already built up the confidence in Jehovah’s leadings that gives us the courage that carries us through to the end of the trial or the end of our walk.
Earlier, we looked briefly at the Lord’s sweetness in dealing with Peter’s failure of faith. It is necessary for all of us, from time to time, to be chastised of the Lord. As we come to understand the divine will better and better, we become more accountable to be conformed to that will. Thus, God will deal more sharply with deviations that have a partially willful nature.
But we should not allow such chastisements to discourage us. That is not the point of having them. Rather, it is to correct our wrong course and to demonstrate God’s love for us and His accountability to work out His will in us who are willing.
Paul dealt with this very lesson in Hebrews 12:5-13. "And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
"Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
"Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed."
Watching and praying should be invoked even when God is chastising us. We can do a lot of co-laboring with God in this respect. Be open to the suggestions and constructive criticisms of others. Remember that God works through our brethren to help us grow. "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend" (Proverbs 27:17). "It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools" (Ecclesiastes 7:5).
In summary, a watchful and prayerful consecrated life is daily fortified for the trials that lay ahead. We will not be caught off guard when a Gethsemane experience suddenly appears. We will be alert to the voice of God and Jesus in every sphere of life and from any source. We will be open to the help offered from our brethren, even if it is a bit critical. And we will welcome the chastisements from a loving Heavenly Father who truly desires us to receive the greatest gift He can give, the divine nature.
"Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).
(1) See also the parallel passage in Mark 14:38.
(2) There are more lessons in these verses than is apparent in English. Jesus does not use the same word for love all three times and he changes those being fed from lambs to sheep. This is left as homework for the reader