(18) Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
As Paul continues to describe this kind of battlefield prayer, he uses some very interesting vocabulary to describe the nature of that prayer.
He uses the term “watching”. It is an interesting term. It’s the word αγρυπνουντες (agrupnoutes) It’s a compound word made up of two parts: The prefix “a” or “alpha” and the Greek word hupneo which means “to sleep”. When there is an “a” prefix in front of something it often conveys the negative, like in the words atheist (There is no God) or agnostic (You cannot know if there is a God). So, this word could be viewed as “no sleep”. Talk about a battlefield term!
Paul has said that the occasion of the prayer is “at all times”. Now he clarifies this idea with the idea of a “watch”. There are no office hours to battle time. Battles aren’t scheduled. Even today our military must always have someone standing watch. It doesn’t matter if it’s 2pm or 2am, they must be vigilant to “watch”, even when it means that there is no sleep. You’ve hear the expression of the “2nd watch” or “third watch”. Soldier, you’ve got “2nd watch”. What does that mean? While some of the troops get some sleep, you stand guard. This kind of battlefield prayer takes persistence. He says “watching thereunto with all perseverance”. In battle there is no time where it is ok to let down your guard.
This term “watch” in this way comes up in two other places that I would like to point out. First, in the Garden of Gethsemane. Read from Mark 14:32-41 with me.
(32) And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. (33) And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; (34) And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. (35) And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. (36) And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. (37) And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? (38) Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.(39) And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words.
(40) And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him. (41) And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
Jesus connected “watching” and praying here with his disciples. In a very practical way he was asking them to watch and pray for an hour. Stay up. Don’t sleep. Pray.
The second place the word watch is used is in Hebrews 13:17-18. The context is talking to believers about their spiritual leaders- “those that have rule over you”. It is not exclusively speaking of pastors, but it certainly would include them. In verse 7 of that same chapter “those that have rule over you” are described.
(7) Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
These are leaders in the church that proclaim the word of God and are called to lead the assembly to do what God’s Word tells them to do. They are referred to in verse 17-18 with this term “watch”.
(17) Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (18) Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.
When I read this verse I was struck with emotion. It is a weighty thing to handle the Word of God, and to lead the people of God. The writer of Hebrews is telling the people of the church not to make it difficult to be the leader. Why? The leader is called to sleeplessly stand guard for your spiritual lives. The leader is going to give an account of how he does this. Just like the soldier on the wall, on guard duty, is going to give an account if anything happens to the people he guards. Souls are at stake when it comes to both how we lead and how we follow. That is true in our families, in our communities, and certainly is true in this church.
There have been times in my ministry when I’ve had to confront people. When you confront people there is the danger of being taken as arrogant. People can misunderstand your intentions or your motives. It can be seen as arrogant to hold people accountable for their actions. Certainly, people can do that with the wrong heart and the wrong motive, but they can do it with the right motive and be misunderstood. Certainly, the leader can be wrong, but the point is this. We are at battle. Meal-time, token prayers are not going to cut it. We are going to be accountable for how we watch and pray.
So here are the types of questions that I’ve been wrestling with all week long:
- Does my prayer life reflect the idea that I’m at battle?
- Does my prayer life reflect the idea that I’m supposed to be at watch in prayer for all saints?
- Does my prayer life reflect a heart attitude that I don’t really think I need God?