Watch and Pray

“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;” Ephesians 6:18 (KJV)

Thursday, May 7th, will mark the annual National Day of Prayer. Christians across this nation will gather together in churches, auditoriums, and community centers to pray for the nation. It’s not unusual for the people of God to unite in prayer. In Kansas City, there are numerous ecumenical groups that lay aside their denominational differences to pray for the city (down to specific zip codes), the nation and the world. These groups understand the power and purpose of prayer. They take seriously Jesus’ admonition to “watch and pray” (Mark 13:33). They “come boldly to the throne of God” consistently and expectantly (Heb. 11:6).

“Watch and pray” has been a rally call for the saints since the recording of biblical history. Whether the call came from Nehemiah and the builders of the Jerusalem wall (Neh. 4:9) or those who would stand for the LORD (Jer. 51:12; Hab. 2:1), dedication to these two activities has been a recipe for victory. In our text today, watching and praying become a critical strategy to employ as believers engage in spiritual battle against Satan and his evil minions. While this letter was written by the Apostle Paul to the church of Ephesus over a thousand years ago, it still offers wise counsel to believers today.

Paul writes this letter from prison concerning conflicts which have risen between the Jewish and Gentile believers. Rather than maintaining every effort to maintain “unity in the faith” (Eph. 4:3-4), these new Christians had forgotten that the real enemy was Satan–“not flesh and blood, but the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12, NLT). They are exhorted to “stay alert and be persistent in their prayers for all Christians everywhere.”

This rendering of “watching” (agrypneo) is used in the New Testament only four (4) times with three distinct definitions. The first two citations are found in the Gospels (Mark 13:33; Luke 2:36). In these accounts Jesus is speaking to his disciples concerning the signs of the end of time. Here, watching is defined as “being circumspect attentive, and ready.” Jesus further illustrates “watching” through the parable of the fig tree to ready them for His imminent return (Mark 13:28-33). In Hebrews 13:17, “watching” means “to exercise constant vigilance over something”; the image is one drawn from shepherds and their watch over their sheep.” The Hebrew author uses this rendering of “watching” to convey the seriousness with which spiritual leaders (“those who have rule over you”) are to exercising constant vigilance over their human flock.

In our study text of Ephesians 6:18, “watching” means “to be intent upon a thing”–in this case it is prayer. And for who? The saints of God. Satan hates the church, collectively, and believers, individually. Satan especially targets the Church and believers for his attacks in order to discredit our witness, to discourage our service for the Lord, and to destroy us–spiritually, physically, and emotionally (1 Pet. 5:8).

Jesus prayer for his disciples (Matt. 26:4; Luke 22:31). His intentionality extended His prayers to His future Church who “believe in Him through their word” (John 17:20-26). Are we then exempt from responsibility to pray for one another? Are spiritual and moral failures within the church a result of human frailty or are they the casualty of “our failure to pray” and cover our brothers in Christ? Let us in our daily prayers include those who battle alongside us for the Kingdom of God. Let no believer fall from Satan’s attack as a result of our failure to “watch and pray.”

Good to the Last Byte…
How does the conflict in Ephesus play out in the modern church? I will address the impact as it relates to both the universal and local church-the effect is pretty much the same. Forgetting who the real enemy is and failure to “watch and pray” result in denominational squabbles and competition for memberships versus battling for human souls. The 20th century comic strip character Pogo, was once quoted, “We have met the enemy and it is us!” It’s time to wake up and return to the unity of the faith Christ envisioned for His Church!