Watching Unto Prayer

I believe one of the things that keeps us confined to this earth is our lack of understanding as to who our Bible heroes really were and why they did what they did. In Hebrews 11, we can read by faith Abel . . . , by faith Enoch . . . , by faith Noah . . . , by faith Abraham . . . , also Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and so on. Despite their great feats of faith, their stories reveal they were all mere mortals, as are we. Only one “had this testimony, that he pleased God.” Hebrews 11:5.

We have read the stories of Daniel, Gideon, and David. How exciting they are. What encouragement! Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (by W. B. Forbush (Editor), Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1978) is full of accounts of God’s people living their faith to the death. Have you ever asked yourself how they did it?

Faith, you say. And you would be right. Verse six of Hebrews 11 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

Clearly, without faith we cannot please God. But in the accounts of the lives of most of these great men, the Bible records not only their great acts of faith, but also a few of their failures.

Remember David? What courage he displayed when he picked up those small stones in the face of the giant. Because he early learned to trust in the Lord, this fearless young boy grew to be a mighty warrior for the cause of right, displaying wisdom and humility. Despite his valiant demonstration of faith, David had his apparent weaknesses. But through it all, David was honest with God about his sins. His eloquent, heartfelt pleadings for mercy and forgiveness are among the most favored passages in the Bible. Perhaps that is because humanity so readily identifies with his struggle.

But did God not call David a man after His own heart? Indeed, He did. From the Pen of Inspiration we read, “I was shown that it was when David was pure, and walking in the counsel of God, that God called him a man after His own heart. When David departed from God, and stained his virtuous character by his crimes, he was no longer a man after God’s own heart. . . . When the righteous turn from their righteousness and do evil, their past righteousness will not save them from the wrath of a just and holy God.” Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4a, 87.

Remember Moses? Being provoked by the continual murmuring of the people, Moses spoke hastily in anger. Despite the marvelous account of his fearless leadership and his interactions with God on behalf of the rebellious people, that unfortunate act of humanity prevented him from the fulfillment of the long awaited entry into the Promised Land. (See Review and Herald, December 9, 1909.)

Remember Elijah? After such a magnificent display of faith on Mount Carmel, do you remember what he did shortly thereafter? “It would seem that after showing courage so undaunted, after triumphing so completely over king and priests and people, Elijah could never afterward have given way to despondency nor been awed into timidity. But he who had been blessed with so many evidences of God’s loving care was not above the frailties of mankind, and in this dark hour his faith and courage forsook him. . . . Forgetting that three years before, God had directed his course to a place of refuge from the hatred of Jezebel and the search of Ahab, the prophet now fled for his life. . . .” Prophets and Kings, 159, 160.

Humanity could probably sympathize with David’s weaknesses and might try to justify Moses’ hasty reaction. After all, those people had nagged him for 40 years. And as for Elijah, I am sure there are many men today who would not think twice about fleeing from a woman’s wrath. But taking a step back from the situation, it is easy for us to see that it was at the time when these men were dedicated to a purpose, diligent in prayer and unyielding in their faith, that they accomplished their great acts of faith. It was the time when they were plugged into the True Source of Power. And their actions proved that they wholeheartedly believed that faith in their God would prevail over human weakness and circumstance.

But at some point, humanity let go of the hand of Omnipotence and their faith failed.

Watch and Pray

“Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41.

In the upper room during the Last Supper, it was a presumptuous, impetuous Peter who declared that he would never deny his Lord. (Matthew 26:33, 35.) He was offended that Jesus told him that before the cock would crow twice the next morning, Peter would deny Him three times. (Mark 14:30.)

From the upper room, the still-confident Peter went with Jesus and the two sons of Zebedee to the garden. Jesus knew that His time was at hand and keenly felt the need to commune with His Father.

Three times (see Matthew 26:38, 41, 44) Jesus admonished His disciples to watch as He left them in the garden to pray. Three times He returned and found them asleep (verses 40, 43, 45).

We know the story. The disciples were noted for the purity of their language, but in the judgment hall Peter flew into a rage with cursing and swearing. While the degrading oaths were fresh on his lips, and the shrill crowing of the cock was still ringing in his ears, Jesus turned and looked full upon Peter. He realized with bitter grief how well his Lord knew him, and how accurately He had read his heart, the falseness of which was unknown even to himself.

Peter recalled Jesus’ words of caution “Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” Luke 22:31, 32. Heartbroken, in horror he rushed from the scene. At last he found himself in Gethsemane. The scene of a few hours earlier came vividly to his mind. He remembered with bitter remorse that Jesus had wept and agonized in prayer alone, while those who should have united with Him in that trying hour were sleeping.

He remembered Jesus’ solemn charge, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.”

“It was in sleeping when Jesus bade him watch and pray that Peter had prepared the way for his great sin. All the disciples, by sleeping in that critical hour, sustained a great loss. Christ knew the fiery ordeal through which they were to pass. He knew how Satan would work to paralyze their senses that they might be unready for the trial. Therefore it was that He gave them warning. Had those hours in the garden been spent in watching and prayer, Peter would not have been left to depend upon his own feeble strength. He would not have denied his Lord.” The Desire of Ages, 713, 714.

Peter was not the only disciple to deny his Lord. Every single one of them did. We all remember that upon leaving the garden, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. But it was at this same point that Peter, in his anger, rashly drew his sword and cut off the servant’s ear. (Matthew 26:51, 52.) The disciples were offended by Jesus’ conduct, and at Peter’s proposal that they save themselves (see The Desire of Ages, 697), “they all forsook him and fled.” Mark 14:50.

Despite his earlier emphatic claims, “I will never be offended, I would die with thee, yet will I not deny thee,” to which all the disciples agreed (Matthew 26:33, 35), despite his best intentions, Peter was not ready for the test for which Jesus was trying to prepare him.

Indeed, the flesh is weak.

Just One Hour

I believe this story has even more to offer than the powerful lesson of watching and praying. Three times Jesus admonished His disciples to watch. Three times He found them asleep. “What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?” (Verse 40.)

Just one hour.

Ever notice how difficult it is to spend a thoughtful hour in prayer or study?

Ever notice how easy it is to become distracted or interrupted by tangent thoughts?

Ever notice that no matter how alert you are when you pick up your Bible, how quickly your eyelids begin to get heavy—especially during evening worship.

Ever notice on the nights when sleep evades you, how quickly you become sleepy when you try to pray or read your Bible?

Ever wonder why?

How many times have you really persevered, broken out of the fog and gained a rich blessing?

Ever wonder why you do not do it more often?

A Sleeping Church

God through His last-day prophet tells us, “In this fearful hour of trial Christ’s human nature longed even for the sympathy of His disciples. A second time He rose from the earth and went to them and found them sleeping. This was not a deep sleep. They were in a drowse. They had a limited sense of their Lord’s suffering and anguish.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, 1104.

This condition is also described as a “strange stupor” that over-powered them. The Desire of Ages, 694.

Ellen White further explains: “They did not intend to forsake their Lord, but they seemed paralyzed by a stupor which they might have shaken off if they had continued pleading with God.” Ibid., 688.

Clearly, if Peter and the disciples had heeded the warning and been diligently watching unto prayer, they need not have been lulled to sleep by the enemy. The condition is the same with His disciples today.

“In tenderness Jesus stood for a moment bending over them, and regarding them with mingled feelings of love and pity. In these sleeping disciples He sees a representation of a sleeping church. When they should be watching, they are asleep.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, 1104.

“Because of their drowsiness and stupor they failed of receiving the evidence that would have strengthened their souls for the terrible scenes before them. Thus today the very ones who most need divine instruction often fail of receiving it, because they do not place themselves in communion with heaven.” The Ministry of Healing, 509.

Sleepy Virgins

In the first part of Matthew 25, the parable is told of ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Although we know that all ten virgins had oil in their lamps at first, only five kept their lamps trimmed, while the five foolish virgins allowed their lamps to go out. But they all fell asleep.

“While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.” (Verse 5.) At the cry, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him,” all ten of the virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. (Verse 6.) It was at this point that the foolish virgins discovered they had no oil, and quickly urged those with oil to share theirs with them.

“The state of the Church represented by the foolish virgins, is also spoken of as the Laodicean state.” Review and Herald, August 19, 1890. That is us, today.

“All who wait for the heavenly Bridegroom are represented in the parable as slumbering because their Lord delayed His coming; but the wise roused themselves at the message of His approach, and responded to the message, and their spiritual discernment was not all gone, and they sprang into line. As they took hold of the grace of Christ, their religious experience became vigorous and abundant, and their affections were set upon things above.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, 1099.

Of this same condition that exists today, we read: “The great controversy is nearing its end. Every report of calamity by sea or land is a testimony to the fact that the end of all things is at hand. Wars and rumors of wars declare it. Is there a Christian whose pulse does not beat with quickened action as he anticipates the great events opening before us? The Lord is coming. We hear the footsteps of an approaching God.

“This knowledge of the nearness of Christ’s coming should not be allowed to lose its force, and we become careless and inattentive, and fall into slumber—into an insensibility and indifference to realities. In slumber we are in an unreal world, and not sensible of the things which are taking place around us. . . .

“There are those who have the blazing light of truth shining all around them, and yet are insensible to it. They are enchanted by the enemy, held under a spell by his bewitching power. They are not preparing for that great day which is soon to come to our world. . . .

“As long as there are many asleep, many sporting away the precious hours in careless indifference, as it were, upon the very brink of the eternal world, those who do believe must be sober, must be awake, must be earnest and diligent, and watch unto prayer. . . .

“Have you . . . your lamps trimmed and burning?” Our High Calling, 346.

Half a Chance

“In the parable of the virgins, five were found wise, and five foolish. Can it be possible that half of us will be found without the oil of grace in our lamps? Shall we come to the marriage feast too late. We have slept too long; shall we sleep on, and be lost at last? Are there those here who have been sinning and repenting, sinning and repenting, and will they continue to do so till Christ shall come? May God help us that we may be truly united to Christ, the living vine, and bear fruit to the glory of God!” Review and Herald, April 21, 1891.

Like the disciples in the garden, God has given His church today ample admonition and warning.

“The people of God are not half awake. A stupor seems to be paralyzing their sensibilities.” Review and Herald, October 13, 1885.

“I have seen that a fearful stupor is upon nearly all. It is almost impossible to arouse the very ones who should be awakened, so as to have any just sense of the power which Satan holds over minds. They are not aware of the corruption teeming all around them. Satan has blinded their minds and lulled them to carnal security.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 478.

“We should be vigilant, lest He come and find us sleeping; and hence the admonition, ‘Watch.’ ‘Watch; . . . lest coming suddenly He find you sleeping.’ [Mark 13:34–36.] There is no safety in a state of stupor or calm indifference.” Review and Herald, August 18, 1885.

“Some in [the church] are in constant danger because the cares of this life and worldly thoughts so occupy the mind that they do not think upon God or heaven and the needs of their own souls. They rouse from their stupor now and then, but fall back again in deeper slumber. Unless they shall fully rouse from their slumbers, God will remove the light and blessings He has given them. He will in His anger remove the candlestick out of its place.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 286.

God meant for His people to be far in advance of the position they now occupy. Now, when the time has come for God’s people to spring into action because the national reformers are urging measures to resist religious liberty issues, Mrs. White says that instead of being ready, we now have the getting ready to do (see Testimonies, vol. 5, 715). “Now is the time for the careless to arouse from their slumber.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 233.

Vital Connection

Just as was the case with the Bible heroes mentioned at the beginning of this article, the danger comes when humanity turns away from Omnipotence. When that vital connection with Christ is gone, humanity is fueled by human strength, and failure will be the sure result.

We too easily excuse our transgressions by reasoning that our actions are not as bad as someone else’s; I am not an evil person, we think. But as David, Moses, and a host of others along the way, discovered, that does not meet the heavenly criteria.

“It is not necessary for us deliberately to choose the service of the kingdom of darkness in order to come under its dominion. We have only to neglect to ally ourselves with the kingdom of light. If we do not co-operate with the heavenly agencies, Satan will take possession of the heart and will make it his abiding place. The only defense against evil is the indwelling of Christ in the heart through faith in His righteousness. Unless we become vitally connected with God, we can never resist the unhallowed effects of self-love, self-indulgence, and temptation to sin. We may leave off many bad habits, for the time we may part company with Satan; but without a vital connection with God, through the surrender of ourselves to Him moment by moment, we shall be overcome. Without a personal acquaintance with Christ, and a continual communion, we are at the mercy of the enemy and shall do his bidding in the end.” The Desire of Ages, 324.

Read that again. And then, read it again.

It does not say we have to hold membership in the church of Satan in order to come under his dominion. All our good intentions will not keep us safe. If we, like Peter, fail to watch and pray, we will lose our connection with Christ and be overcome by evil.

“The reason why so many are left to themselves in places of temptation is that they do not set the Lord always before them. When we permit our communion with God to be broken, our defense is departed from us. Not all your good purposes and good intentions will enable you to withstand evil.” The Ministry of Healing, 510, 511.

Blessed Hope

“Jesus came into the world to save sinners, not in their sins but from their sins, and to sanctify them through the truth; and in order that He may become a perfect Saviour to us, we must enter into union with Him by a personal act of faith. Christ has chosen us, we have chosen Him, and by this choice we become united to Him and are to live from henceforth, not unto ourselves, but unto Him who has died for us. But this union can only be preserved by constant watchfulness, lest we fall into temptation and make a different choice, for we are free always to take another master if we so desire. Union with Christ means an unfailing preference for Him in every act and thought. . . .

“We want to become so sensitive to holy influences that the lightest whisper of Jesus will move our souls. . . . If we constantly seek to follow Jesus, the blessed hope is ours of standing before the throne of God without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, complete in Christ, robed in His righteousness and perfection.” That I May Know Him, 361. [Emphasis supplied.]

Can you imagine, becoming so sensitive to the holy influence that the lightest whisper of Jesus will move your soul? Sometimes in our daily comings and goings, we become so caught up in the cares of the world, making a living, and all that, it seems it would take a brick to the side of the head to get our attention.

Secret of Success

As we read earlier, when we permit our communion with God to be broken, our defense is departed. We need to be sensitive to holy influences. That comes only by watching and praying.

“If you will only watch, continually watch unto prayer, if you will do everything as if you were in the immediate presence of God, you will be saved from yielding to temptation, and may hope to be kept pure, spotless, and undefiled till the last.” Gospel Workers, 128.

We must be men and women of prayer, doing everything as if we are in the immediate presence of God. In The Desire of Ages chapter “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled,” we can read of that intimate connection.

“The secret of their success would be in asking for strength and grace. . . . Every sincere prayer is heard in heaven. It may not be fluently expressed; but if the heart is in it, it will ascend to the sanctuary where Jesus ministers, and He will present it to the Father without one awkward, stammering word, beautiful and fragrant with the incense of His own perfection. . . .

“If we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us. . . .

“If we come to Him in faith, He will speak His mysteries to us personally. Our hearts will often burn within us as One draws nigh to commune with us as He did with Enoch. Those who decide to do nothing in any line that will displease God, will know, after presenting their case before Him, just what course to pursue.” Ibid., 667, 668.

This One Thing I Do

Jesus lived a perfect life as an example for us. He has given us ample evidence that it is possible to live such a life. We can start afresh right now. “Whatever the mistakes or failures of the past, we may, with the help of God, rise above them. With the apostle we may say: ‘This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.’ Philippians 3:13, 14.” The Ministry of Healing, 516. Today He is waiting to commission angels from heaven in response to our cry for help.

Let us consider the offer. Shall we, like David, admit our weaknesses and like Peter, fall upon the Rock and be broken? Shall we, like our Saviour, establish and maintain that unbroken communion with our Heavenly Father and accept His strength to overcome on all points? And shall we, like Enoch, have the testimony that we pleased God and live in readiness here that we might live with Him in heaven throughout eternity?

Prize Before Us

“I have seen the tender love that God has for His people, and it is very great. I saw angels over the saints with their wings spread about them. Each saint had an attending angel. If the saints wept through discouragement, or were in danger, the angels that ever attended them would fly quickly upward to carry the tidings, and the angels in the city would cease to sing. Then Jesus would commission another angel to descend to encourage, watch over, and try to keep them from going out of the narrow path; but if they did not take heed to the watchful care of these angels, and would not be comforted by them, but continued to go astray, the angels would look sad and weep. They would bear the tidings upward, and all the angels in the city would weep, and then with a loud voice say, ‘Amen.’ But if the saints fixed their eyes upon the prize before them and glorified God by praising Him, then the angels would bear the glad tidings to the city, and the angels in the city would touch their golden harps and sing with a loud voice, ‘Alleluia!’ and the heavenly arches would ring with their lovely songs.” Early Writings, 39.

Cathy Summers-Timmons, a Steps to Life staff member and a member of LandMarks’ editorial staff, writes from her home in Wichita, Kansas. She may be contacted by e-mail at: