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Watch and Pray

1 January 2011

Watch and pray

In gold letters on the clock face of the parish church at Madron, near Penzance, are the words: ‘Watch and pray – time hastes away’. Previous generations who looked to the church tower for the time of day were thus continually reminded of Jesus’ exhortation to Peter in Gethsemane: ‘Watch and pray.’ Why was – and is – the exhortation so necessary?

The need of the hour

Jesus is entering into His sin-bearing ordeal. That which He had undertaken to do in eternity is no longer a distant prospect but an imminent reality. His enemies are closing in. In their weary state Peter, James and John seem oblivious of all this. We too can be unaware of great issues being fought and decided all around us.

‘Everything’s OK though, isn’t it?’ There is a measure of stability and quietness – we see no great upheavals, no unrest in the streets. The shops are full, the TV schedules are crammed with entertainment. Don’t be lulled by the appearance of things.

Ask yourself what kind of world is pictured [in secular culture]? Is it the world known vividly to the Christian mind? A world in which angel and demon are locked in conflict? A world packed full of sinners desperately dependent on the mercy of God? A world amok with fundamentally powerless creatures, running hither and thither, foolishly imagining they can do without God… a world voyaging like a little vessel across the sea of time, taking its passengers to their final home?… we are choosing every moment of our lives in obedience or disobedience to the God who created and sustains all that is; that we are always responsible, always at war, always involved in what is spiritual and deathless; that we are committing ourselves with every breath to salvation or damnation.
Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind, 1963

Watch and pray. Keep watch for yourselves and others. As a roaring lion the devil is seeking to devour churches, Christians, marriages.

The weakness of the disciples

There was no question Peter, James and John were physically tired (Matt. 26:40,43,45). And yet they could engage in fishing all night! How lethargic we are for spiritual things when we seem to have all the energy we need for other things!
They overestimated their own strength ‘Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same’ (Matt. 26:35). We do not know ourselves. Our confidence in our own ability to handle temptation is often misplaced. Statistics show the most likely place for a road accident is near the driver’s home. We’re comfortable, almost on autopilot. We relax and lose concentration. As believers we don’t fail Christ because we mean to but because we’re complacent, and assume way too much of ourselves.

The claims of Christ’s cause

It was a solitary task for Jesus, yet in this most critical hour of His earthly life He looked for the companionship and support of His close friends. They could not share in the ordeal of His sin-bearing sufferings, but He needed them within reach. When a friend or relative goes into hospital for an operation, there is only so far you can go with them, but they need to know you are there for them.

Jesus’ disappointment when He finds them sleeping is sharpened in Matthew’s account by His adding the telling words ‘with me’ in vv38,40: ‘Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?’

We need to be vigilant today in the cause of Christ. He does not need our sympathy now. But our brothers and sisters in Christ need our presence and support in times of crisis. And those who labour in the cause of Christ’s gospel require our watchfulness and prayers.

Christian seek not yet repose,
Cast thy dreams of ease away
Thou art in the midst of foes;
Watch and pray.

Tim Curnow is a member of the editorial board of The Evangelical Magazine.