Jesus Christ told us to “watch … and pray always.” What does the Bible mean when it tells us to watch and pray? Here are four aspects of being watchful.
One of the most strongly emphasized warnings in the Gospels is the command to watch. But what does it mean to watch? The Greek words translated “watch” basically mean to watch, keep awake, be circumspect, be attentive, be ready and be cautious.
This article explains four ways the command to watch and pray can be applied to our Christian lives.
Watching or being circumspect to repent and obey
Jesus told the church in Sardis: “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you” (Revelation 3:2-3).
It is a clear teaching throughout the Bible that we should be vigilant and circumspect to repent of sin and obey God. This is a key to growing toward perfection.
In Exodus 23:13 God said, “And in all that I have said to you, be circumspect.”
Being circumspect means being watchful or careful. When God speaks, He expects us to respond by carefully and watchfully obeying and praying for His help. This includes remembering God’s law, interpreting it correctly and being thorough and accurate in obeying it.
God expects diligent obedience to His instructions. We should hang onto and painstakingly act on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
God expects a diligent and careful approach to repenting of sin—to changing from trampling on His laws. “For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you” (2 Corinthians 7:11).
Being watchful is a fruit of true repentance. Disobedience will bring a penalty.Being watchful is a fruit of true repentance. Disobedience will bring a penalty. The wages of sin is death. Because God judges impartially, we should fear failing to carry out His instructions and the penalty that will follow. This healthy fear of God should produce a watchful approach to obeying Him.
As Paul wrote in Titus 3:8, “This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works.”
Watching or being on guard for enemy attacks
The concept of watching is borrowed by analogy from the soldier guarding against an enemy attack. His duty is to sound an alarm if he sees the enemy coming. This applies to the approach we should take to guarding against our adversary Satan the devil and his spiritual attacks. Jesus commanded His disciples in Matthew 26:41, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
The reason Satan is so effective at influencing humans to sin is that humans are generally unsuspecting of Satan’s attacks.
- Those attacks come from an invisible enemy who seems to be nonexistent.
- Those attacks are subtle and come in the form of ideas, impulses, suggestions and moods that are not easily distinguishable from human or environmental sources.
- Those attacks come in the form of baited hooks that focus our attention on the lure and blind us to the concealed hook.
It is a war game of distraction—trying to take our focus away from doing what God commands. The antidote to all of this effort by Satan is to watch and pray, to be aware of his attacks so that we can be ready to resist with the Word of God and the power of God. We must monitor and anticipate these influences to sin and be ready to say no to them and yes to God’s instruction.
Watching for prophetic fulfillment
What should we do with a knowledge of the future obtained from prophecy? Jesus Christ said that we should be vigilant to watch and pray and prepare for His coming.
When we monitor world events, we try to discern any trends that may relate to prophetic events so that we are not taken by surprise when they are fulfilled. (Learn more in our article “Discerning the Signs of the Times.”)
Reading the history of world events and prophecies that have been fulfilled can be a good primer for this activity of watching world events. But it is important that we avoid the pitfall of attempting to guess when events will occur. “For you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matthew 25:13).
Forming theories of possible outcomes of trends is a natural part of watching for prophetic fulfillments. But those theories should be treated as speculation. If we form a theory, we should await additional facts for verification of the theory.
Impartiality, objectivity and God’s perspective are other important parts of monitoring events.
Watching our spiritual condition or state of readiness
Jesus Christ seemed to have used “watching” and being “ready” interchangeably, because both apply.The fourth dimension of watching accompanies each of the other three: monitoring our state of readiness or spiritual condition. Jesus Christ seemed to have used “watching” and being “ready” interchangeably, because both apply. When a guard is on the lookout for a possible enemy attack, he usually does more than merely monitor; he also maintains a state of readiness for any possible attack so that he can respond appropriately.
Similarly, watching and praying for the return of Jesus Christ will do us as Christians no good if we are not also preparing and readying ourselves for His return.
What does it mean to be ready? To live by every word of God as a habitual way of life, to be imbued with the fruit of God’s Spirit required to fulfill the spirit of the Word, and to demonstrate that we will continue to do so for eternity, no matter what.
How can we measure our state of readiness? By examining whether we are unconditionally living by the Word of God as our habitual way of life (Matthew 4:4).
How can we maintain forward movement toward readiness? By aiming daily to increase the number of instructions and truths by which we live while decreasing the number of failures to fully obey (1 Thessalonians 4:10; 3:12).
What will it take to be ready? A “blood, sweat and tears” self-sacrificing effort that is captured by Jeremiah 29:12-13.
How can we ensure we are ready on time? By maintaining a sense of urgency, trying to make up for lost time (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5) and being efficient and resourceful in the use of our time.
We don’t know what our deadline is. But we do know that it is possible to take longer than necessary and fail to be ready on time (Matthew 25:1-13; Luke 13:6-9; Hebrews 5:11-12). We need to keep growing to be ready on time.
Let us therefore watch and pray in all four of these dimensions, because our readiness to meet and serve our Savior and King depends on it.