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Watch and Pray

Over our years together, Rachel and I have taken many 10+ hour drives over the course of a single day. On one such occasion in August of 2018, we were facing the long drive back to Jackson, MS after a hot outdoor wedding as the sun began to set against a brilliant evening sky. While driving on previous road trips, I had felt my eyes droop and my head begin to nod (telltale signs of being on the edge of sleep), so I knew my physical limits of exhaustion while driving. During that particular drive home, I used every means possible to keep awake at the wheel. I cranked the AC uncomfortably high, I blasted music that would get my blood moving, I drank an amount of caffeine that was on the edge of unwise, I engaged Rachel in conversation for hours on end, and I even came to the point of slapping myself in 
the face!
Why would I resort to such ridiculousness? I knew the danger. Falling asleep at the wheel is deadly serious business, as I’m sure you know well. Knowing the danger, therefore, I will take every precaution to avoid the catastrophic effects of such an action. As I’ve recently pondered and preached over the last few verses of 1 Peter, these experiences came to mind as I considered the implications of what Peter calls Christians to in verse 8 of chapter 5: “Be sober-minded; be watchful.” The Holy Spirit through Peter’s pen exhorts each of us to have our eyes open, firmly awake and aware of our surroundings, ready for whatever might come.
While it may not be evident immediately, I believe Peter’s command to exiled Christians provides a reflection of his on an experience with Jesus a few decades prior. It was Thursday night, the night when Jesus was to be betrayed, and as the disciples joined Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told them simply to “watch and pray” (Matthew 26: 41). Failing to do just that, the disciples fell asleep as Jesus prayed to the Father, the first step which led to their flight and abandonment of the Lord at his arrest. 
As with much in his life during Christ’s earthly ministry, Peter learned best from his failure. Therefore, he reminds us as Christians the importance of watching and waiting, to be sober-minded and watchful, to watch and pray. To take these imperatives to heart, we need to be aware of our tendency to spiritual drowsiness. As I am aware of my tendency to doze at the wheel while the day is dark, we ought to know what seasons of life might yield unique temptations to let down our guard. It may be in times of prosperity, times of spiritual victory, times of isolation, or times of uncertainty. Whatever the season, be aware of the temptation to let down your guard. 
Then, aware of our surroundings and the present danger, we ought to seek the Lord, running to him, fixing our eyes upon him, clinging to his promises, finding our strength in his. This is what is meant by Christ’s command to “watch and pray.” It calls us not only to holy diligence in watching but also holy dependence in prayer. As the watchman defends a city against attack by sounding the alarm to wake the sleeping guard, so too ought we sound the alarm of prayer before and during times of temptation. When we do so—grabbing hold by prayer and living into God’s promise to hear our cry, to never leave us nor to forsake us, to provide a way of escape when temptation does come—we are invited to find a firm place to stand, a refuge and strong tower to keep us safe. 
As this season of Lent progresses and we find ourselves in a heightened place of spiritual practice, don’t neglect the need for holy watchfulness. Rather, use these weeks leading up to the Lord’s passion to stand beside him, joining with him in the Garden on Thursday night, ready to watch and pray.