People are fascinated with all kinds of things and this often leads to being a “watcher” of whatever captivates our attention. There are all kinds of watchers: Storm watchers, bird watchers, weight watchers, bargain watchers (hunters), pet watchers, end time watchers, television watchers, movie watchers, sport watchers, fashion watchers, celebrity watchers, and my personal favorite, people watchers! Watching how people act and react, how they respond or refuse to respond, how they advance or retreat, how they confront or avoid, and how they express themselves in clothing or body art is simply fascinating!
“Watching” gives greater insight and understanding into whatever intrigues us. For example, watching storms gives us clues to better prepare for severe weather not to mention stand in awe of God’s power. Watching our weight reminds us to exercise and control our food intake to maintain a healthy body. End time watching keeps us alert to the signs of the times and keeps our eyes fixed on heaven. Bargain watchers make for good stewardship. People watchers hopefully gain more compassion and sensitivity to others not to mention it is just plain fun to watch how uniquely God made people.
But watching serves a more useful purpose for Christians by preventing us from entering into temptation. I experienced the gravity of this revelation while writing a blog which included some challenging thoughts about the ungodly things Christians participate in which tempt and lead us into compromising our faith in Jesus Christ! At the completion of my writing, I was thanking the Lord for His wisdom and insight, praying that everything I wrote was pleasing in His eyes, that it was complete and total truth, and that I did not misrepresent Him or His Word, when suddenly a stabbing pain hit me without warning as though someone shot a needle dart directly into the side of my neck.
The pain was intense and it took me a few moments to gather my thoughts before asking God for revelation, while at the same time rebuking the attack and its effects. In response to my cries, the Lord said simply and straightforwardly “You need to keep watching.” I immediately felt the weight of His Word from Mark 14:38 “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Of course I would rather have had the pain leave immediately and God just wrap me in His arms and make it all better. But the moment He said it I understood He had a bigger purpose in mind and I was instantly aware of the ramifications if I did not continue to watch and pray as a result of this pain!
I still wanted to know what happened and it didn’t take but a moment longer to hear the Lord say I was hit by a fiery dart which brought understanding about why He first said to keep watching. If I wouldn’t have heeded those first words I would have been tempted to doubt His Word, question His protection, or wonder about the strength of my own faith. This would then escort me right into distrust and unbelief in my Lord and Savior. I would have been tempted to get angry, frustrated, or discouraged and say something like, “Lord, I was speaking your truths and even praying and YOU LET a fiery dart hit me in the middle of it all?” Instead, He showed me what needed to be done. Ephesians 6:16 “…above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.”
Though it is true the pain was not caused by a “literal” dart it was nonetheless a physical attack. We don’t need to get all worked up and theologically messed up about whether something in the Bible is meant to be taken literally but rather discern and talk with our heavenly Father about what “is” happening to us. When Holy Spirit brought this Scripture to mind I had only to remember His first words, “You need to keep watching” so that I would not enter into temptation to second guess God. I simply took Him at His Word and recognized the pain as a dart meant to discourage me from exposing truth and went about quenching the fire of the dart. God never leaves us defenseless when darts hit so we don’t need to sit back and let the effects take hold or enter into further temptation. He has given us a shield of faith to extinguish the fire before it spreads and takes root in us.
Theologians most often explain the fiery darts of the wicked one as temptations meant to first hit and pierce us, and then to inflame and set our hearts and minds on fire for things other than God as we enter into temptation. The poison injected into our bodies, souls, and spirits is more damaging than the dart itself. That poison includes things like unbelief, doubt, confusion, weakness, hopelessness, fear, and depression to name a few. These darts can also be painful attacks the devil uses to distract us and distort truth. When pain attacks, there is temptation to give up, get angry at God, blame Him for not protecting or healing us, or just settle for the way things are. These temptations hit even the strongest of believers which is why watching is mandatory!
We see the importance of watching and praying most vividly as Jesus agonized in prayer and asked His disciples to watch for a short amount of time, one hour. Mark 14:34-42 “Then Jesus said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.’ He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.’ Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words. And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. Then He came the third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.’”
Their spirits were indeed willing. Prior to sleeping, Peter vows he will not stumble in faith and that even if death was imminent, he would never deny Jesus. All the rest of the disciples said the same thing. (Mark 14:29, 31) But Jesus knew their flesh would hamper them from fulfilling their heart desires thus told them they must avoid entering into temptation by watching and praying. Even as Jesus spoke loving truth to them about their flesh He did not let them off the hook so to speak. In other words, even though He acknowledged the weakness of their flesh, it was no excuse for going to sleep instead of praying.
These words of Jesus are not limited to that one situation but are revealed truth for us at all times and in all situations in life. Even though our spirits may be willing our flesh is still weak. We can say the same as Peter and the rest of the disciples, “Lord we will never deny you even if it means we must die.” But if we do not watch and pray, our weak flesh will lead us into temptation to be discouraged, then to doubt, to disbelief, and to denying Jesus altogether. When we find ourselves entering the temptation to deny the goodness of God in the midst of adversity, we must not give in and close the door behind us. Instead we should watch and pray, enter into the Lord’s presence and shut the door to drowsiness, discouragement, and denial.
I love the “image” of the disciples since it so aptly portrays us! They wanted to be there for Jesus but their bodies wanted sleep. Can we relate? Prayerfully, we can agree that our spirits are willing to do the things of God, but our flesh fights against us valiantly. I have heard many reasons for our inability to stay awake during church, worship, bible study, or prayer meetings: “Church is so peaceful it just puts me to sleep; I work hard so when I finally sit down all I can do is sleep; I didn’t get a good night’s sleep; the heat and humidity zap my energy; the speaker is boring so I can’t help but fall asleep; I have medical issues that prevent me from staying awake.” Rather than giving all these excuses we should just model the disciples. “…and they did not know what to answer Him.”
Even though we may have plausible excuses for our inability or unwillingness to stay awake, Jesus still deserves more than we are willing to give. You will notice Jesus was not in the business of entertainment! He did not do miracles so they would stay awake. He did not put on a good worship service, nor was He sensitive to their likes and dislikes to keep them engaged. He did not preach a powerful, charismatic sermon to keep their attention. He simply told them to stay and watch while He went a little further and prayed. There is a very simple truth to be noted here. Prayer, watching, and worship are not about us and others. They are about Jesus. If He tells us to do something, we should willingly do it, which means we are going to have to put some effort into it!
Jesus told them they would enter into temptation (and sleep) if they did not watch and pray. The same is true today. Are we listening? Are we watching? Are we praying? Or do we go to the house of the Lord to be entertained, to have our children raised and taught by the church, to feel like we’ve done a good deed when we leave? As convinced as I am that Jesus showers us with compassion, I know He doesn’t lower the standard because of our excuses. He understands our weak flesh and then gives us the remedy! Watch and pray so that our willing spirits lead not our weak flesh! If we let our flesh lead us in worship, prayer, service, or study, we will surely enter into temptation – and sleep! We must take heed to watch and pray, not watch or pray!
Watching takes effort on our part, giving strict attention to God, where He leads, what He says, and what He does. As we watch and pray, we are also cautious and aware of the evil one who is busy trying to steal, kill, and destroy. We don’t want to get careless and lazy by not watching or we get caught off-guard so to speak, and open the door to temptation and sin. Watching motivates us to stir ourselves in faith and not depending on everyone else to do it for us! We must do more than proclaim our desire for more of God, we must follow it with action. Don’t sit down and get comfortable, get up and get inspired and ignited by God!
I pray this leaves us more fascinated by God and more willing to watch and pray! Watching without praying only gives information while doing nothing to help us overcome. Praying without watching will likely lead us to sleep! Watching and praying leads us not into temptation but into the His will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven. Let’s face it! The fiery darts will continue coming until Jesus comes! The temptation to give up and give in will hound us every day we live! Our flesh will fight us continuously and try to convince us Jesus is not worth staying awake for, or that He understands our weak flesh and is okay with it! Our spirits are willing so let’s just stay in tune with them! Let us be “watchers” of God and of His presence and power! Let “watching” direct our prayers toward a holy, fresh, and lively fascination with God Himself.