What does it mean to watch and pray?

The first time Jesus told His disciples to "watch and pray" was in Luke 21 when He cautioned His disciples to live as though the end of days was just around the corner. He says many hearts will be weighted down with the things of this world and many people will be surprised that the end has come. He then tells His disciples to be on the lookout for these times and to pray for strength.

The second time Jesus said to "watch and pray" was during the night before His crucifixion. He was in the garden praying and wanted His disciples to join Him. As He prayed, He notices that the disciples had fallen asleep. He told them to watch and pray to avoid temptation (Matthew 26:41).

Today many talk about our need to "watch and pray." "Watch" is a word meaning to have vigilant awareness, like a sentry at night. A sentry is to be on guard for anything out of order, for the enemy's advance, for anything that might threaten his watch. At night, this vigilance is even more pronounced.

Watching, in this spiritual sense of watching and praying, is being aware of the snares of the world. Jesus said that His disciples were to watch and pray so as not to enter into temptation. He also said, "… The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). By extension, Jesus is warning us to be on the lookout for anything in our experience on earth that would take away from our relationship with God. We are to abide in Christ (John 15:5) and be wary of the enemy of our soul (2 Corinthians 2:11).

First Peter 5:8 warns, "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." Ephesians 6:10–18 talks about spiritual warfare and indicates that prayer is a vital part of the armor of God. We are to watch by being aware of the snares of sin and of the Devil's schemes; we are to pray because it is God who has the power and He has made prayer the means by which we communicate with Him and receive His strength.

We are warned that the moment may come at any time to stand before God (Romans 14:12; 1 Peter 4:5; Matthew 12:36). We watch and pray both because we eagerly await His return and to be prepared when He comes (or when we meet Him through our own death).

We are told to be always praying, and always giving thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). We are to pray for endurance and to be free from distractions (Hebrews 12:1–2; Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18). We watch out for sin and for the snares of the enemy. We also watch for the work of God, looking to see what He is doing, attentive to His call in our own lives, and giving Him praise. We pray because to do so is a gift from God and how we remain connected to Him.

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