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Monday, June 6, 2016

The Person Who Prays - Alert and Watchful (part 4)

Introduction

In the earlier lessons on prayer and the person who prays, we learned several key things from the Bible. We learned prayer is communing with God – speaking and listening. We learned how to approach God with our heart, mind, and soul by recognizing:

·         God is to be revered
·         God’s mercy
·         God exists
·         God’s power
·         God’s faithfulness
·         God’s righteousness
·         God is eternal and omnipotent so keep focused on Him.
·         Our prayers should give testimony to God.

The Bible teaches us how to pray – petitioning for self, others, and enemies, adoring and thanking God, and confession/repentance. Besides this, we learned about some of the attributes, attitudes, and actions of an effective person of prayer. The first three are:

·         Righteousness, which comes from God,
·         Belief God has the power to do what is necessary to change things and answer prayers,
·         Meeting God in solitude so the person who prays is not distracted and so that person does not seek the acclaim for being pious by other people who see him or her praying. God hears in secret and rewards in secret. The person who seeks to be seen in prayer, Jesus said, has already received his or her reward and God will not hear or answer him or her.
Through this week’s lesson, we learn the person of prayer must be watchful and alert. The disciples recorded Jesus teaching this to His followers in three of the four Gospels. Paul, Peter, and John teach it in their writings, too. Alertness comes from a close relationship with God that develops Christlikeness and a faith in God that leads to obedience and strength to stand in the face of trials and tribulations. Besides the five verses that relate prayer to alertness or watchfulness, there are other verses that help us understand what alertness and watchfulness is and why we should be alert and watchful. Let us look now at what the Bible says regarding watchfulness and alertness and as it regards the person of prayer.

Watchfulness and Alertness

In the five verses that teach a person of prayer (a pray-er) should be alert or watchful, the writers of those verses used two Greek words watchfulness and alertness – gregoreuo and agrupneo. Both these words mean to stay awake to avoid the snares and deceptions of Satan. Besides these five verses, the New Testament writers used these two Greek words ten other times to teach Christians.

Agrupneo

Agrupneo is an alertness in a believer’s character that keeps laziness and forgetfulness from becoming part of at person, which would allow temptations to overtake him or her. It derives from the word used to speak of a shepherd abstaining from sleep to watch for the safety of the sheep. Agrupneo speaks of an active watchfulness and alertness. It describes being spiritually awake and alert as opposed to being spiritually indifferent. The writer uses “alert” as a command/imperative. Agrupneo is an action a believer does or should do based on his or her character. A Christian shows this characteristic because of growing more like Christ. If a person is truly a believer, then he or she will be alert for the tricks and snares of the devil. By being faithful to God, reading His Word, and obeying Him, a person becomes a growing Christian whose character is changed and who knows automatically when something is not of God. The character is of being a Christian, which should impel an active watchfulness. He or she will be aware Satan tries to trick and deceive people. This awareness should make him or her alert. Luke and Paul used agrupneo for the English word “alert” in Luke 21:36 and Ephesians 6:18. They link it to prayer in these verses.

In Luke 21:36 (and in Mark 13:33), Luke spoke of Jesus’ teaching of the end times and what will occur. Jesus told of when He will return to earth. He said the seas will roar and men will faint from fear and expectation of the things coming. Jesus continued by saying the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then everyone will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and glory. When the believers see these things happening, they are to stand tall and strong because their redemption is drawing near. Before this happens though, life will occur – people will live and die, and drink and eat. Jesus commanded His hearers in verse thirty-six, “But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.” This “alert” is the Greek word agrupneo explained above. Keep awake and watchful. Be attentive and ready. Be prepared within yourself, Jesus said. Hard times - calamities - are coming. Be so grounded in Christ that you are not caught off-guard, but are a growing Christian who is strong in the Lord and who remains unshaken by the troublesome and difficult things that occur. Be considered worthy to escape these things that shall happen at Christ’s return. Watch and pray, Jesus said. Prayer must go with watchfulness in character. Without prayer - communion with God and growth into Christlikeness - a believer will not be strong enough to withstand hard times and keep his or her faith. Without prayer and growing more Christlike, a believer will not know how to handle the trials and calamities of life and may be shaken by them. Some of these calamities will come before Christi’s return and the non-growing Christian will not know they are tied to His return. He or she will be fearful like non-believers. Watchfulness and prayer go hand in hand. Prayer and being a Christian go hand in hand.
Paul wrote of a believer’s alertness (agrupneo) in Ephesians 6:18. He used this word in context of putting on the whole armor of God. In verse 18, he said, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” Just as Jesus did in Luke 21:36, Paul taught alertness and prayer go together. He told Christians to pray at all times in the Spirit and be alert continually even though you may experience persecution. Persist despite difficulties and always be alert. Remember, agrupneo is alertness in a believer’s character that keeps laziness and forgetfulness from becoming part of the person, which would allow temptations to overtake him or her. As a soldier of the Lord, alertness and prayer will prepare the Christian to stand strong during trials. The soldier’s faith is strong due to an intimate relationship with God and a growing Christlikeness. Prayers and alertness develop the character of the believer so he or she is dressed with the armor of God at all times and prepared/alert for the trials and troubles coming. The believer knows in he or she will face difficulties from the world and Satan, and knows to be ever alert. This Christlikeness and alertness, because of the depth of the person’s faith, is a part of the believer’s character. His or her standing strong and alert comes from preparation through intimacy with God via prayer and Bible study.
The writer of Hebrews spoke of this alertness, too, in Hebrews 13:15-19. He said the leaders of God’s people are to keep watch over the souls of their people. God will require an accounting for the care of His people. Even the leaders of God’s people have to be alert, not just for themselves, but for their sheep. Agrupneo is alertness and watchfulness that comes from training and the building of the character of a believer due to his or her relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This alertness is not caught off-guard, but is prepared.  Agrupneo is a spiritual awareness and alertness. It requires spiritual preparation, which requires a deep relationship with God.

Gregoreuo

The second word used for alert and watchful, gregoreuo, has its emphasis on the action of being watchful, not the character of the person. Gregoreuo means actively watching, giving strict attention to, and being cautious so laziness to ensure calamity does not overtake a person or people. In its original usage it referred to being careful as one stepped on moss-covered stones and this carried over to being careful as a follower of God. Gregoreuo as an action and agrupneo – spiritual preparation - should be part of the character of a believer. Over time, the usage of both came to mean the same thing – being watchful and alert. Gregoreuo is used in Matthew 24:42, 43; 25:13; 26:38, 40, 41; Mark 13:34, 35, 37; 14:34, 37, 38; Luke 12:37; Acts 20:31; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Colossians 4:2; 1Thessalonians 5:6, 10; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 3:2, 3; 16:15. 
Jesus taught in Matthew 24:42-43 and Mark 13:34-37 about being alert because a person does not know when Christ will return, but always expect Him.  Stay alert and watchful for His return. Matthew 25:13 speaks of being watchful for Christ’s return with the parable of the ten virgins and their oil lamps waiting for the bridegroom at the wedding. Matthew 26:38-41 and Mark 14:34-38 tell the story of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane praying while His three disciples slept instead of watched and prayed. When the disciples fell asleep, Jesus told them they must keep awake and watch and pray so they would not come into temptation. Watching and praying are again tied together as that which grows a person’s alertness and character towards Christlikeness. Luke 12:37 is a similar retelling of being watchful because you do not know when the master will return. 
This attitude and action of watchfulness continues through the other passages. Paul told pastors and elders to be watchful over their congregations so wolves would not snatch some of the sheep away (Acts 20:31). He told the Corinthians to be alert and stand firm in their faith (1 Corinthians 16:13). Paul told the Colossian believers to devote themselves to prayer and keep alert with an attitude of thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2). Once again, alertness is tied with prayer, which leads to growth in Christlikeness and in one’s relationship with God. In 1 Thessalonians 5:6, Paul told the Thessalonians since they were the sons of Light, not to sleep, but to stay alert and sober, and put on the armor of God because they received the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ to live eternally with God. Because they were Christians, they must be alert and aware, not lazy. Paul tied alertness to preparation and wearing God’s armor, which represented closeness and faith in God. Peter told believers to stay alert because Satan prowls around to see whom he can destroy. Those who are not alert and prepared with the strength of God and in a close relationship with Him are most easily tempted to fall into one of Satan’s snares. Finally, in John’s book of Revelation, in chapter 3, the angel of God told the church of Sardis to keep awake and strengthen themselves – grow their faith – because he had found nothing they had done that met the requirements of God. The angel urged them to remember the lessons they heard, take them to heart, and obey them. Keep awake and alert/watch lest Jesus come like a thief and find they are found not to be Christians. 
As noted, most passages using gregoreuo speak of being faithful and ready for Christ’s return by putting into action what the believers learned against the snares and temptations of Satan and the world. They speak of growing in faith - having a continual close relationship with God - and becoming more Christlike each day. 

Prayer and Watchfulness

The important thing to remember regarding these passages is the call to be actively watchful/alert and pray. The quality of watchfulness in a believer comes through prayer. Five Bible passages speak specifically about being watchful and praying. They are Matthew 26:38-41, Mark 14:34-38, Luke 21:36, Ephesians 6:18, and Colossians 4:2. A person is prepared and most watchful and alert for the trials and tribulations of life and for the tricks and temptations of Satan when he or she is a growing Christian. A Christian grows when he or she communes with – speaks and listens to – God. Listening to God comes in several forms such as Bible reading and study, listening to sermons and Bible studies, hearing from God through other people, and  led by the Spirit based on His powerful speaking in your heart and mind.  As the person obeys God, he or she grows in his or her relationship with God. That person gains new understanding and wisdom. Understanding and wisdom makes him or her more alert and watchful for the snares of Satan in this world. The person is empowered and strengthened for living in the world by the power of the Holy Spirit given by Jesus.
Prayer is important in many ways for a believer.

·         An effective person of prayer will be watchful and alert. Satan will not trick him or her to follow his deceptions and skewed truth.
·         If a person is only alert and watchful, but not a growing Christian with an active prayer life, he or she will more easily succumb to the tricks of Satan because he or she has not received God’s wisdom and understanding or His strength to stand strong and not fall to deceit.
·         Being an effective person of prayer means growing in a dynamic relationship with God that causes the person to gain in understanding and wisdom, and in strength and power to face what comes each day, for which the person is always actively alert and watchful.
·         When a person is not a follower of Jesus Christ or walks away from God after seeking Him as Lord and Savior, the person is not righteous. His or her prayers are unanswered by God, and he or she does not have the wisdom, understanding, or strength to know when to be alert to Satan’s deceptions.
·         When a person genuinely seeks God, He promises He will hear and answer them. Sometimes those answers are for help to overcome temptation or for wisdom to know what to do in situations. Prayer and watchfulness/alertness affect each other.
An effective person of prayer is alert. An watchful/alert person of God is usually an effective person of prayer.

Conclusion

We each must take time now to assess our faith. Are you truly a believer in Jesus Christ? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior? Do you walk with Him each day by prayer and obedience to God’s word? Do you walk in His strength – the strength of the Holy Spirit in you – and put on the armor of God to withstand the fiery arrows of Satan? The armor of God allows a believer to stand up for God and go to battle against Satan’s evil forces. Are you watchful and alert waiting eagerly for Jesus’ return and being vigilant against the snares of Satan and the prowling of his wolves?
Now is the time for us to remember Jesus calls us to be alert/watchful and pray. Where are you today regarding this command? Are you a believer? Are you prepared each morning through prayer and with God’s Word to go out into the world to stand strong in your faith and not succumb to trials, temptations, and troubles? Go into all the world, Jesus said. He gave you a helper, His Holy Spirit. You can go into all the world in His strength with alertness/watchfulness and prayer. These show and lead to a growing relationship with God.