Summary: Divine opportunities pass us by when we are not watchful, when we are not alert. Wrong decisions are taken when we are not watchful, when we are not discerning. The church strays from her mission and God ordained purpose when we are not watchful.
During Jesus’ last days on earth something worthy of attention happened at the Garden of Gethsemane. Matthew 26:36 tells us that Jesus went with His disciples to a place called Gethsemane. Then He told them to sit down at a particular spot while He goes to pray. Jesus then selected three out of the disciples that went with Him to Gethsemane, to go with Him to pray. We often overlook this verse that points out that it wasn’t just Peter, John and James that went with Jesus to Gethsemane. He went with His disciples. But significantly, when He wanted to pray, when He wanted to go and watch, He took only Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (Matthew 26:37). In other words, when it came to the issue of watching and praying, Jesus knew not all His disciples could be counted on to do this. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the three He carefully chose to be with Him at His most trying time to watch and pray with Him, failed to do this. Hence in Matthew 26:40 He chided them for not being able to keep watch for one hour. What happened at Gethsemane is playing out in the church today. There are many like the larger body of disciples that went with Jesus to Gethsemane, who aren’t watching and praying. That’s a given. But then there are those like Peter, John and James, who because of their closeness to the Lord and their position in the church, people assume that even if nobody is praying, these ones are watching and praying. But guess what? Not even the Peter, John and James of our time are praying, are watching. Hmmh! Tragic!
To be watchful means to be:
• Alert – 1 Thessalonians 5: 5-6
• Observant – Proverbs 22:3
• Vigilant – 1 Peter 5:8
• Attentive – Isaiah 42:19-20
• Aware – Matthew 24:50
• Eagle –eyed – Job 39:27-29
• Sharp-eyed – Job 28:7-11
This is God’s desire for the church. For the church of God to be filled with ministers, workers, men, women, youths, even children that are watchful. In Mark 13 after Jesus had spent considerable time talking to His disciples about the signs of the end of time and how no one knows the day and hour He will return, He ends in verse 37 of that chapter by making this statement : “What I say to you, I say to EVERYONE: Watch!”. This is God’s blueprint for the church. For EVERYONE in the church, for every member irrespective of age, sex, educational qualification or social status to WATCH!
Unfortunately, very few churches are watchful, are watching. In Revelation 3:1-4, God rebuked the church in Sardis for not being watchful; for not being spiritually awake. Jesus said about this church in verse 1 that “you have a reputation of being alive”. The church in Sardis was a popular church. They had built or developed a reputation for themselves. People knew about this church; a lot of people had heard about the church. On the surface, this was a church anybody would want to belong to. What people saw on the surface was a lively, bubbling church with so many interesting and well thought out and planned activities going on in that church. But the One who doesn’t judge by mere externals, knew the true state of this so called popular church. The church was asleep, the church was not awake, the church was not alert, the church was not watching. Verse 4 makes us understand the real reason why this church was sleeping spiritually. They had soiled their clothes; they were living in sin, they had allowed sin gain a stronghold in their lives and congregation. The major thing that puts a church and Christians in a state of spiritual sleep and slumber, that weakens their resolve to watch, that makes it next to impossible to be sober, alert and vigilant is SIN. But there was a remnant. In the midst of all the compromise here and there, the church in Sardis had a remnant, a few people that hadn’t soiled their clothes and were not rebuked by their Heavenly Father to wake up. I pray that no matter the level of corruption, decadence and compromise with sin in our world today, you and I will be part of that remnant few that will not soil our clothes and will remain not just prayerful but also watchful.
Traits of a Sleeping or Spiritually Unawake Church
One may ask that with all the prayer ministries and groups we have today, with all the night vigils, prayer meetings, conferences, seminars and programs going on a weekly if not daily basis, is it right to say that most churches are not watching and praying. To properly answer this question, what we should be on the lookout for is not activity. The mistake or error the church in Sardis fell into was that of equating popularity and activity with spirituality. The fact that a church is famous and popular does not necessarily mean the church is spiritually awake, the fact that a church’s yearly calendar is loaded with all kinds of prayer programs doesn’t necessarily mean the people in that church are watching and praying. Just like it is only when some people come to church that they remember to read their Bible, it is also only when some people come to church that they pray. In such a case, can you say such a person is a person of prayer or prayerful?