“Watchfulness” – a spiritual discipline for us.
“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Matthew 26:41
Watchfulness is necessary for a healthy spiritual life. Jesus tells his disciples to “watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” The letters of Paul, Peter, and John repeats the same note, urging us to exercise moral vigilance and watchful prayer. Read the following verses to get a deeper understanding; 1 Cor. 16:13, Gal. 6:1, Col. 4:2, 1 Tim. 4:16, 1 Peter 4:7 and 2 John 1:8.
I know in my own life and in the church body as a whole, watchfulness needs to be a higher priority for us. An interesting aspect of watchfulness is pointed out in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”. You see the word guard is a verb, requiring action on our part. One commentator wrote this; “Whatever the heart loves, the ear will hear and the eyes will see.” If we pollute that wellspring, the infection will spread; before long, hidden appetites could become open sins for us. Guarding our heart is critically important for us every day.
Now, this required the cultivation of self-examination as pointed out in 2 Cor. 13:5. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Most of us would rather have a root canal than honestly and prayerfully examine ourselves.
Watchfulness and self-examination actually go together. English Puritan Isaac Ambrose wrote in the 1600’s that taking a regular inventory of our personal tendencies toward sin is very critical to our Christian growth. He actually called these sins our “Delilah sins,” like Samson’s Philistine mistress. Pastor Tony recently preached to us about Samson, so we know all about Samson’s many weaknesses to temptation. These Delilah sins like to sit on our laps and whisper sweet nothings in our ears, but they will betray us to our foes in a heartbeat and cut off our moral strength. These are specific sin patterns we’ve cultivated through willful and habitual sin. Like deep ruts that furrow a muddy road, these vices are etched into our lives through daily routines, self-justifying rationalization, and continual repetition. Having identified these sin patterns in our lives, we then need to persistently protect the points of entry into our hearts. This is a battle we should all know well, the good news is that our Lord is transforming and sanctifying us into His image.
We are all like Samson, the flesh shouts loudly when it wants something, and the ruckus it makes can easily drown out the desires of the spirit. We must follow Jesus’s teaching, “watch and pray.” Without prayerful dependence on God and continual spiritual watchfulness, the flesh would win at the first moment of weakness. Spiritual watchfulness sees the temptation coming and prompts prayer. The fact that the flesh is a natural ally to temptation makes spiritual alertness all the more important. And on top of that, our social climate plays to the selfish tendencies already in our hearts, just watch a few TV commercials.
At this point it is critical that we completely focus our eyes on our Lord, Savior and King Jesus. While the practice of watchfulness requires vigilance over ourselves, it must never be focused on self. Paul tells us to set our minds on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, (Col. 3:12) Like marathon runners, we don’t stare at our feet, but outward and onward to the finish line, indeed to Christ himself. We run the race set before us by looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. (Heb. 12:2)
So, let us all remember that the key to watchfulness is keeping our eyes steadily focused not on self, but on the Savior.
Your brother in Christ, Jim Nelson