Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
(Matthew 26:41 NIV)
On the night of the first day of Passover, Christ went with His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. The events that were to take place on this particular night were only known to Him. Overwhelmed with sorrow, the King of kings moved a little farther, fell with His face on the ground and prayed. Greatly moved by the cup He was about to drink from, Christ prayed more earnestly to the Father. Amidst the exceeding sorrow, He thought it important to exhort His disciples to Watch & Pray. This exhortation was birthed in great anguish; thus, it deserves our attention just like any other word spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ.
This article digs deeper on what Christ really meant by urging His disciples to keep watch and pray. It responds to the following questions;
- Why should we be watchful?
- Why should we pray?
- How should we pray?
- What are the hindrances to effective prayer?
The word ‘watch’ means to be cautious of danger; to be vigilant; to be on one’s guard. It refers to the state of alertness and sobriety. It implies an unwavering focus on Christ. In Matthew 25, Christ labors to tell His disciples about His return. He emphasizes that they should keep watch since they neither know the day nor the hour. Certainly, Christ’s return is drawing nearer with each and every passing second. Are you prepared? The hour has already come for us to wake up from slumber (Romans 13:11). It’s time to be on our guard. Alertness is a quality that all believers ought to live by.
The Scriptures have continually reminded us on the necessity of watchfulness. Firstly, we ought to be on our guard since our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking for an opportunity to devour (1st Peter 5:8). He is the fierce merciless dragon who declared war against the children of God (Revelation 12:13-18). He is the great thief who only comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). He has nothing else to offer other than destruction. All he wants is to devour us. Therefore, we cannot afford to be in slumber while the devil is aggressively pursuing us. ‘It cannot be stated too frequently that the life of a Christian is a warfare, an intense conflict, a lifelong contest,’ says E.M. Bounds, ‘It is a battle, moreover, waged against invisible foes, who are ever alert, and ever seeking to entrap, deceive, and ruin the souls of men…We ought to realize that the world, the flesh and the devil will oppose us onward march, and will defeat us utterly, unless we give ourselves to constant vigilance and unceasing prayer.’
Secondly, we should be sober and alert so that we can pray (1st Peter 4:7). Prayer is a product of vigilance. Being sober and alert helps us to remain focused on the things of God such that our communication with Him becomes clear, reasonable, specific and pleasing to Him. Brothers and sisters, the end of all things is near, let’s be on our guard. There is no other perfect time to seek the face of God other than now.
Watchfulness comes as a result of unceasing reflection on the Word of God (2nd Timothy 2:7, Joshua 1:8). The more we engage the Word of God in our lives, the more the Holy Spirit ministers to us and sensitizes us.
Conclusively, prayer is birthed from vigilance which comes as a result of continuous meditation on the Holy Scriptures.
Word of God >Alertness >Prayer
Prayer is simply a conversation between man and God. Prayer is a means of grace through which imperfect creatures communicate with the perfect Creator. Indeed, it is a great privilege to pray.
Prayer is not a gift, but a discipline. It requires the help of the Holy Spirit as well as personal commitment. The discipline of prayer seems not to be admirable or pleasant at the time; nevertheless, its reward is immense (Hebrews 12:11). It requires to be nurtured patiently till it becomes a lifestyle. The way to be established in this discipline is by desiring to grow in it and being intentional about it.
There is no better way to describe prayerlessness other than calling it sin. James 4:17 clearly states: ‘If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.’ Countless verses in the Bible emphasize on the necessity of prayer, and therefore, those who heed not are simply walking in disobedience. A prayerless believer not only sins against God by failing to pray, but also endangers himself to the attack of the enemy.
ESSENTIALITY OF PRAYER
The benefits of prayer are infinite. First and foremost, prayer creates an atmosphere for God to work out His will in our lives. Moreover, through prayer we express our inadequacy and vulnerability to an all-able and all-faithful God, who in turn meets us at the very point of our needs in accordance to His will. Furthermore, our Lord Jesus Christ said that when we keep in prayer we will get the strength to overcome temptations regardless the weakness of the flesh. Besides, when we pray, God strengthens us with power through His Spirit in our inner being (Ephesians 3:16). Additionally, through prayer we cast our cares to an all-caring God who in response grants us His divine peace (Philippians 4:6-7). These are just but a few benefits of prayer.
ELEMENTS OF AN EFFECTIVE PRAYER
- Praying in accordance to the will of God
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him.
(1st John 5:14-15 NIV)
The backbone of our prayer should be the perfect will of God. God’s will need to be at the center of every request we make unto Him. God has assured us that He will hear every prayer made in line with His will. In fact, Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane was crowned by, ‘Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Whenever our own will substitutes that of God, then that prayer might end up unanswered (James 4:1-3).
Every time we pray we need to ask ourselves: ‘What is the will of God concerning this matter?’ But how do we know the will of God? Simple! Just have an intimate relationship with God. Intimacy with God helps us to know Him more and to understand His will in most circumstances if not all. Besides, God has revealed His will through His Word. It is, therefore, important to study the Word of God so that our prayer may be informed by it. An effective prayer is that which is made in line with the Word of God; praying the Scriptures. Actually, we do not know what prayer to offer or how to offer it as we should, but the Spirit of God intercedes for us in accordance with God’s will (Romans 8:26-27).
- Praying in reverent submission
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.
(Hebrews 5:7 NIV)
It is evident in the verse above that Jesus’ prayers were heard because of His reverent submission to the Father. Our walk with God influences His response to our prayers. He has called us unto holiness for He is Holy. He has promised if we abide in Him and live according to His statutes, He will faithfully grant whatever we ask (John 15:7). By no means can we continue in sin, yet expect our relationship with God to go unaffected. The numerous instances of rebellion of the Israelites are a clear example that sin stands in greater opposition to our fellowship with God. God deserves reverence and total submission from us.
- Praying with thanksgiving
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
(1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 RSV)
God delights in the praises of His people. He is pleased when we approach Him with gratitude in our hearts (Psalms 100). Our prayers should ever be full of thanksgiving regardless the circumstances.
- Sincerity in prayer
My (only) sacrifice (acceptable) to God is a broken spirit; A broken and contrite heart (broken with sorrow for sin, thoroughly penitent), such, O God, You will not despise. (Psalms 51:17 AMP)
God desires truth in our inward being. He wants us to be true to ourselves and to Him. He delights not in unrepented sins. As matter of fact, there is nothing done either in darkness or in light that can ever be hidden from God. He cannot be deceived. Let us be humbled and broken before Him, and for sure He will not despise such a sacrifice (2nd Chronicles 7:14).
- Praying with confidence
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet He did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
(Hebrews 4:15-16 NIV)
Faith in God is a key element in prayer. We should approach God in total confidence in Him; Believe that He is;
Believe in the finished work on the cross;
Believe that He is Love;
Believe that He is all-able and ever faithful;
Doubt Him not!
Believe that God is not a human; He is not limited as we are. It’s a call for us to believe that God is well-able to do what He has said; He is faithful to fulfil what He has promised (Numbers 23:19). Let’s be fully assured that whenever we approach the throne of our gracious God we will always receive mercy and find grace.
- Fervency in prayer
Confess your faults one to another, and pray for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
(James 5:16 KJV)
Fervency in prayer refers to a passionate, heartfelt and persistent prayer. This was the kind of prayer Elijah offered for it not to rain for three and a half years. With the same fervency of spirit, he prayed again that it would rain, and surely it rained. Hannah, greatly distressed, prayed unto the Lord as she wept in anguish. In addition, our Lord Jesus Christ, overwhelmed with sorrow unto death, prayed more earnestly to an extent that His sweat appeared like drops of blood falling to the ground. Such is the kind of earnestness with which God wants us to seek Him. However, it is worthwhile to note that fervency is not necessarily a matter of physical vehemence. It’s all about pouring your soul genuinely unto the Lord regardless the physical expression.
Not forgetting to mention the persistence portrayed by the widow who pleaded the wicked judge over and over again, without despair, until her request was granted (Luke 18:1-8). Unlike the wicked judge, God does not withhold anything good from those who call upon Him. But you might ask, ‘Why then do I have to ask Him the same thing over and over before He grants it to me?’ The truth is that God desires the best for us. He is not a sadist. Neither is He a ‘Boss’ who wants us to beg Him continuously for Him to hear our plea. What God is interested in is having a relationship with His people. He does not delight in the hit-and-run kind of a relationship. He wants us to remain at His feet seeking His face without ceasing. He rejoices when He hears the voices of the saints calling upon Him time and again. It is in seeking Him persistently that our relationship with Him is strengthened. It’s important to know that persistence in prayer breeds intimacy with God. Never lose heart in calling upon Him.
Fervency of spirit is a God-given grace. E.M. Bounds states: ‘It is not in our power, perhaps, to create the fervency of spirit at will, but we can pray God to implant it. It is ours, then to nourish and cherish it, to guard it against extinction, to prevent its abatement or decline.’
- Praying in humility
I tell you, this man (tax collector) went down to his house justified rather than the other (Pharisee): for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
(Luke 18:14 KJV)
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is a clear illustration of the significance of humility. It is evident in the Scriptures that God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble (1st Peter 5:5). God has commanded us not to approach Him with a prideful self-righteous attitude; rather with the humility of a sinner pleading for His mercy. No one, not even one, deserves anything good from God. God is not in any way obliged to grant us our requests; He just does so out of His own mercy and grace.
Who are we to imagine we can speak things into being? Who do we think we are to command things to submission? Do we think we are ‘gods’? It’s only God who has the power and authority to speak things into existence and to command things to submission. No one has ever had such power, and never will there be any. Neither positive confessions nor ‘faith declarations’ has power in itself. Power belongs to God alone. Unless we approach Him in meekness, we are just but proud blasphemers
HINDRANCES TO PRAYER
Hindrances to effective prayer are inexhaustible. They might either be intrinsic or extrinsic. Some appear to be genuine while others are out rightly intentional. They may include sin, reluctance, laziness, busy schedules, peer influence etc. However, we should be aware that our enemy, the devil, is behind most of these hindrances if not all. He will always deceive and distract us with an aim of kicking us away from our closets. He will never allow us to pray because he knows the power unleashed through prayer. Nonetheless, if we understand and appreciate the significance of prayer, we will not allow anything stand our way. Resist the devil; stand firm in prayer.
So much has been written and said about prayer, but unless we practicalize it, it is all in vain. Prayer ought not to be a mere theory, but a lifestyle. Notably, both private and corporate prayers have been well depicted in the Bible. They both have a place in our prayer life. We should aspire to abound in both.
I request you to check out ‘The Necessity of Prayer’ by E.M. Bounds, it is a rich book on prayer.
IS ANY AMONG YOU AFFLICTED? LET HIM PRAY (James 5:13)
E.M. Bounds. The Necessity of Prayer.