watch therefore and pray always
Reading: Luke 21: 33 – 36
Once more we find our selves gathered together around these emblems of our Heavenly Father’s love. Once more we are reminded of the Love of our God, shown too us through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Shortly we are to remember him together in the partaking of bread and wine. In memory of his sacrifice, but also importantly for us, in the promise of his imminent return, for therein brethren and sisters lies our hope.
Luke chapter 21 and verses 33 – 36
“Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man”.
That day to which our Master referred – is for us brethren and sisters fast approaching, everything in our world is screaming for the intervention of our Heavenly Father, as our society disintegrates under the weight of the sinful folly of men and women.
We can see this most clearly with regards to the run away juggernaut of individual rights triumph over everything else. No where is this so powerfully identified, as in the speed of change with regards to erotic liberties granted to individuals and minority groups within society. So pervading is this overarching triumph of personal autonomy that not only are religious liberties being casually swept aside, but also family rights and marriage the very building block that makes up our society and shapes our culture.
Sadly many people think that such extension of individual liberty, especially with regards to sexual self-determination will bring freedom and total equality. But alas all it will bring upon our world is anarchy and even greater bondage to sin. We are living brethren and sisters in a time of total moral insanity. Yet this same moral insanity is also sadly affecting us as a body more and more. Hence the Masters warning too us at the end of chapter twenty-one.
As verse thirty-six begins, “watch ye therefore, and pray always”. The word for “watch” here is not speaking of us understanding the signs of the times, as you might think from the earlier bulk of the chapter. Rather this word is associated with “a cautious habit of looking out for possible dangers and difficulties of a moral nature”.
So it is speaking to us of being mentally alert and prepared to meet the moral dangers and difficulties in this life. This ongoing command (in the Greek) to actively watch is encouraging us to develop a moral self-control that is absolutely necessary for us to be faithful servants of our God.
Mark chapter 13 and verses 33 – 37
“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch”.
That first occurrence of the three uses of “watch” here in Mark, is the only other occurrence of this moral watching. Whereas the other two occurrences of the English word watch here are more general. Mark here presents us with the situation we all find ourselves in brethren and sisters. Awaiting our Master’s return and yet being commanded to watch amongst other things. Lest we be found “sleeping”, in the sense that 1st Thessalonians describes it.
1st Thessalonians 5 and verses 6 – 7
“Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night”.
Here in Thessalonians the word “sleep” in chapter five indicates those that have become indifferent to their salvation. Those brethren and sisters have given up watching and have yielded them selves to slothfulness and onwards onto sin.
Undoubtedly they did this gradually over a period of time, so the changes were tiny and unnoticeable to begin with. Indeed the Greek confirms this for the first use of sleep in verse seven is an active participle, which basically means that it has become a principle these individuals live their lives by. This brethren and sisters is a very real danger for us all, hence the related exhortation to “pray always”.
So coming back to Luke chapter twenty-one, we read, “watch ye therefore, and pray always”. Here the related exhortation that accompanies this ongoing commandment to watch is for us to “pray always”. Now this instruction and exhortation is not a commandment, but it is to be for us a daily principle of life. As the Greek here indicates that this phrase “pray always” is an ongoing participle or principle we should apply in our lives.
As we saw moments ago those that don’t morally watch end up sleeping and slothfully ignoring their position and high calling in Christ Jesus. Now we have the positive contrast with those that “pray always”. Here is the means by which we keep continually morally alert to the dangers and difficulties of life through prayer.
When we think about it brethren and sisters prayer is a means of focusing on the important spiritual and physical realities of life. If we are regularly praying for more than just our meals then we are likely to be more spiritually alert and fully engaged.
But when our prayer life is casual, sporadic or virtually non-existent then we are in real danger of falling asleep morally and sleep walking into sin.
Returning once more to this word “pray”, it is speaking of making humble, but emotionally intense requests out of personal need and it’s in what is known as the middle voice. All the term the “middle voice” means is that it is something we must personally choose to do!
So then brethren and sisters, our Master commands us to be continually morally watchful and to maintain and support this watchfulness with and through daily prayer. Now the focus of our prayer brethren and sisters is upon:
Being accounted worthy to escape the corruption that is in the world through lust
Being accounted worthy to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ
Now we note that our personal praying is qualified here with the addition of the word “always”. This compound word “always” means in every season or opportunity of time that we have to us. The Greek here for this word “always”, has as one of its components the word “kairos”, which is one of the two words for time in the New Testament. This word does not speak of chronological time. So it’s not telling us to be always in prayer in that sense, as other passages do.
Rather it speaks of a critical situation in life, which demands action. The sense here is that we cannot say that any one particular sign and therefore season of time is the big event the one heralding the Master’s physical return. No for as the signs and circumstances are always upon us in their unique and specific ways, we are therefore to always watch and pray our way through these unfolding events.
So the Master’s warning here and exhortation requires that we each recognize, we all perceive the season we are in and respond to it appropriately. It speaks to us brethren and sisters of seizing the opportunity, and it carries with it a sense of destiny. We will either watch and pray or we will sleep and suffer the consequences, but the choice is entirely ours?
As we are exhorted elsewhere:
“To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin”.
Our Master is exhorting us to not only be prepared, but also to be expectant for his return. To live our lives in the light of this expectation and need to be prepared, fully appreciating that we are living in the period immediately preceding our Lord’s coming.
That day for which we all long and that day, which we are all here manifesting to one another and to those without, who know where we go and why? In that we “do shew the Lord’s death till he come”.
Returning to Luke twenty-one and verse 36
“Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man”.
Now the rest of this thirty-sixth verse provides us with the reasoning behind the command and exhortation to watch and pray always. Firstly that we each may be “accounted worthy”. Interestingly most other translations do not have “accounted worthy” here, but rather “fully strengthen” or similar words. Implying that our praying builds spiritual strength to endure all the situations and circumstances of life, including the moral dangers and difficulties we will each face.
Jude and verses 20 – 21
“But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life”.
So then having prayed, we will have the strength to endure unto the end and so be accounted worthy. We won’t brethren and sisters have fallen by the wayside. In the final section of this verse brings before us two reasons, one negative and then finally one positive.
Now the negative one is framed for us first brethren and sisters for two reasons. Firstly because of the dangers that our Master has highlighted within this chapter and within this final section of verses to us.
For those moral dangers and difficulties are able to overcome our faith and derail our walk to the kingdom if we are not careful and do not heed the warnings given. Then secondly, because as research has shown, men and women are more powerfully initially motivated by possible pain and fear of loss than by possible gain and positive outcome.
By following our Lord’s example brethren and sisters of being men and women given to prayer and watchfulness we will find ourselves being able to flee or escape from situations and circumstances, which would firstly cause us to fail and to sin. Equally and secondly we will likewise be able to overcome and not be overburdened by worry and anxiety concerning life, which would paralyse our faith.
In the feeding of the 5,000 John’s record informs us:
John chapter 6 and verses 14 – 15
“Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone”.
Here was a critical temptation for the Master. Matthew’s record informs us that at the end of the meal, Jesus constrained his disciples to leave immediately, but it’s only John that gives the reason. Matthew adds, Jesus went off to pray.
This intense temptation was particularly severe for the Master and he was force by the circumstance to get his disciples out of the way in order to stop them joining the clamour to make him king. Then he went to reorient himself by prayer.
This was how our Master dealt with temptation, he reacted quickly to contain the danger both to himself and to those that were with him. The gospel records often describe Jesus at the beginning and end of a day, taking time apart to pray to strengthen himself.
So how well do we do brethren and sisters? Do we pray at the beginning and end of each day? Would we be as able to act quickly to kick temptation into touch both for our selves and those that may be with us?
As verse thirty-six of Luke twenty-one makes clear, in that it records for us that “all these things that shall come to pass”. We have therefore been informed at least in general terms of the prophetic timetable. So we are not in the dark about either the sequence of events in broad terms or even their intensity. How then should this knowledge inform our prayer life brethren and sisters?
1st Thessalonians chapter 5 and verses 1, 2 & 4
“But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief”.
Indeed verse thirty-five of Luke twenty-one concurs, when it states, “for as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth”. To this we can add the words of verse three of 1st Thessalonians five, “then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape”.
Note carefully the end of that verse, “and they shall not escape”. They will be unable to flee or be able to remain standing. These are chilling words, brethren and sisters and this will be exactly what happens to those brethren who sleep that sleep of indifference to those things that shall shortly come to pass.
In contrast our Heavenly Father “hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ”. This very act of remembrance on our part brethren and sisters ought to cement in our minds this wonderful truth.
Our Heavenly Father’s good pleasure is to give each and every one of us the kingdom, but only if we truly want it? And we show to him, and to one another and importantly to our selves whether we truly want these great and precious promises, by living lives of watchfulness and prayer.
So how much more are we each going to be intentional brethren and sisters with regards to watchfulness and prayer, throughout the coming week? How much more are we going to exhort one another in these things and so much the more, as we see the day approaching?
Luke chapter 21 and verse 34
“And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares”.
As we track back in Luke to the beginning of the Master’s exhortation at the end of Luke twenty-one. In verse thirty-four we have the clear warning that there are three things here to avoid if we do not want to be caught out, like those without in the world. We are to “take heed” to this three-fold danger.
Now “take heed” is an ongoing command in the Greek and it indicates that we are to beware of this three-fold danger. We must brethren and sisters take hold of this warning and a number of others and be truly conscious and cautious of the danger we face.
We must use our foreknowledge in being forewarned of these dangers to our advantage and so be given to watchfulness and prayer, as we are exhorted here. In order that we each might be fully strengthened to both endure and be accounted worthy in that day, when we stand before the one we are to shortly remember.
For as verse thirty-four makes abundantly clear that at any time brethren and sisters. Our hearts can be overwhelmed and burdened down with the weight of life, especially as things deteriorate towards the time of the end. As verse twenty-six powerfully displays, “men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth”.
“Surfeiting, and drunkenness”, this strange first word relates to persistent hangover effect you can have after being drunk, whereas the second word speaks for it’s self. In both of these cases it speaking of someone who is inhibited from being watchful and given to prayer. The last thing someone with a hangover wants is input, rather they just want to be left alone, and they are unable to function properly.
Whereas in the case of “drunkenness”, which is actually a work of the flesh. The concept is of the person trying to escape life with its difficulties and anxieties. They do so by blotting out the danger and pain through the anaesthetising effects of alcohol, so dulling the mind.
The final evil mention in the trio by our Master is that of “worry or anxiety”. This causes a gridlock in both heart and mind in the person overwhelmed by “the cares of this life”. The effect of such “cares” is powerfully portrayed for us in the parable of the sower.
Matthew chapter 13 and verse 22
“He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful”.
The Eternal Spirit through the Apostle Peter exhorts us brethren and sisters:
1st Peter chapter four and verses 1 – 2
“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God”.
Here is our participatory part in the atonement in the outworking of the sacrifice of the Master. Not in that we can add anything to that great sacrifice. No rather in that we can witness to one and all of its effectiveness by living our lives, as Peter states to the will of God. Which specifically here in the Gospel record through Luke is by, taking heed, by being watchful and by being men and women of prayer.
“Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man”.
Returning then to our key verse we see in its conclusion. Our Master’s and our Heavenly Father’s earnest desire for each one of us brethren and sisters. That we may each stand before the Son of Man.
Now the sense here is not in terms of the judgement seat, no rather this is post judgement. It’s speaking to us of those that have gained the victory, of those, accounted worthy indeed to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ to serve him. “Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee”, we are instructed elsewhere.
The picture here is that recorded for us in the book of Daniel and the seventh chapter, where our Master ascends to heaven to stand before his Father and to receive the kingdom. So we will repeat the pattern, when we shall stand before him in that day to receive by the grace and mercy of our Heavenly Father a part and a role in that same kingdom.
The exhortation comes to us then, brethren and sisters that we who wish to stand in that day, should do everything in our power to fulfill the will of God in our daily lives by being obedient servants. “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand”.
As we remember now the Master, the pre-eminent example of watchfulness and prayer. Let us see in this bread the symbol of the word of life, which instructs us how to live like and to stand like the one we remember now. Let us see also in the wine, the shedding of his blood poured forth in obedient sacrifice, that we might come to know the love of God and to reciprocate that love obediently towards our God and to one another.
Jude and verses 24 – 25
“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen”.