Perhaps the most key mountaintop experience that Jesus had was His experience at the Mount of Olives. It was during this famous episode, found in Luke 22:39–46, that Jesus labored in prayer while His disciples slept nearby. His prayer was so laborious that He actually sweated drops of blood. During this time, Jesus gave an interesting directive for His disciples to follow. He said, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Lk. 22:40). The passage in Matthew 26:41 adds another aspect to this: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” Not only were the disciples to pray, but they were to watch and pray.
Jesus placed this mandate over His disciples, a mandate that simply meant for them to watch and pray. Yet, the disciples were so weary from the cares of life and the toils of the day that they could not stay awake. It was just too much. Jesus’ heart was grieved when He returned to find them sleeping instead of keeping watch in prayer. “Could you not watch with Me one hour?” he cried (Matt. 26:40). He knew their cares were great. He knew their bodies were weak. In fact, He knew they deeply wanted to watch in prayer with Him, for He said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). The fleshly desires of the disciples were a great source of weakness for them. How many of us are like that today? God is calling His people to a great level of intercession, but in order for us to intercede, we must lay down our burdens and cry out to God for strength that only He can give.
But the question remains: “What does it mean to watch and pray?” Well, the way I see it is that prayer is one level of communication between God and man. But watching and praying is a whole other level: It is the level of intercession. Intercession is not just prayer; it is more than that! Pure, real, impacting intercession is the combination of watching and praying. To pray means to converse with God about any given topic or subject. To watch is to take responsibility for a certain people group, in everything they do. The combination, therefore, is the state of intercession. Watching is like performing the job of a Biblical watchman. In the times of ancient Israel, cities were surrounded by walls with entrances through gates. Positioned at every gate was at least one watchman. His job was to keep guard over the city and to regulate who entered and exited the city. If a large army were to lay siege over the city, it was the ultimate responsibility of the watchman to relay that information to the leaders of the city. If he failed to get that information across and the army besieged and obliterated the city, the bloodshed of the innocent was ultimately on the watchman’s head.
The following example from Isaiah 62:6–7 is an excellent description of a watchman’s duties:
I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the LORD, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
Two principles that we can glean from this passage are that watchmen are relentless and restless. A good example of this is the Moravians from the days of old. Led by Count von Zinzendorf, the Moravians spearheaded a 100-year 24/7 prayer movement in which the prayers never ceased and the revival fires never went out. They were watchmen of their day. Today, similar prayer movements have sprung up in houses of prayer all across the nation of the United States and across the world. Oh, that we would live in the day of the watchmen. Oh, that we would stand among a people whose spirits are willing and who are strong to resist the temptation of their flesh so that they may continue in prayer and intercession!
The watchmen incessantly stood in the gap between the people in the city and the outsiders. Additionally, they took full responsibility for any harm that came upon the city if they did not forewarn the people. This is not unlike the instructions the Lord gave to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 3:17–19:
Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.
How does this practically look in society today? It certainly must take the form of listening to the Lord for His words of wisdom, and speaking those words to those around us. Watchmen are responsible to give any warnings that the Lord would utter, as well as any words of wisdom or counsel. Additionally, being a watchman means guarding the backs of the people, including other watchmen. We need to learn how to work with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other, much like the people in Nehemiah’s day. Let’s read this final biblical example from Nehemiah 4:7–9, 16–18 of what it means to be a watchman on a wall:
Now it happened, when [the enemies] heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry, and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion. Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night. . . . So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah. Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon. Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me.
Watching in prayer takes unity and teamwork. The disciples lacked this when they were on the mountain. Instead, I have to believe that they tried to stay awake by their own strength, rather than relying on each other for support. Being a watchman is not a job to be done alone. The Israelites in Nehemiah’s day prevailed because they stood together and worked together to ward off their enemies. However, the disciples did not watch, and while they were sleeping, the “hour, and the power of darkness” crept in (Lk. 22:53).
Watch is a warfare term. We have to know that as we learn how to pray and intercede, we are involved in a great battle. Serious prayer and intercession stirs up the powers of darkness, but even more so, it stirs up the power of God. As we learn to watch and pray, we must learn to focus on God and His glory. When we do that, every weapon of the enemy becomes null and void, and his power is demolished. Remember, it is by watching and praying that we are able to resist temptation.
In what ways are you most easily tempted? In what ways have you been spiritually falling asleep? Examine your heart today and ask God to reveal to you your greatest points of weakness. Then, seek Him for the strength to overcome. If possible, seek the assistance of other believers as well. The willingness of your spirit can overcome the weakness of the flesh. The power of God is so much greater than the powers of darkness. With this in mind, watch and pray today.