“Could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:40-41 ESV
Watching and praying or what the Bible refers to as being a spiritual “watchman” may be the most critically important aspect of prayer that there is. The very nature of being a watchman requires staying awake, alert and vigilant to perceive what is happening. It also demands taking the appropriate steps of obedience of faith to either stop it, avoid it, or prepare to endure it. Jesus’ challenge to His disciples in the garden of Gethsemane to “watch and pray” illustrates this truth like none other. His agony expressed in prayer was directly linked to His watching to see what His Father was showing Him and His obedient response. Tragically, His disciples were sleeping instead of watching and praying. As a result they found themselves unprepared for what was about to unfold. Unfortunately, it is an all too familiar portrait of the condition of most churches today with regard to watchful prayer.
The call to the watchman prayer ministry has its roots in the Old Testament. In ancient times the function of the watchmen was to position themselves by continuous shifts, in strategic perches upon a wall or tower in order to guard a city by scanning the distance for anything or anyone approaching. In addition to looking and listening, their responsibility was to give a warning of any approaching danger while urging the appropriate action be taken to protect and defend the city.
Through the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel God Himself made urgent appeals, just as Jesus did in the garden, for His people to post spiritual watchmen. “Go, set a watchman; let him announce what he sees. . . let him listen diligently, very diligently.” (Isaiah 21:6 ESV) “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people . . . I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.” (Ezekiel 33:6 NIV) That is a sobering thought and readily applicable to the watchman prayer ministry, as life or death may literally be held in the balance.
Is it any wonder that in the New Testament, beginning with the teachings of Jesus and carrying through in the writings of the apostles we see repeated calls to be watchful, sober and vigilant unto prayer? In many cases the appeals are concerning the evil days in which we live, God’s judgments and the imminence of the end times. Peter sums it up well when he writes “The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.” (1 Peter 4:7 NIV)
The key role of a prayer watchman is best described by the words “intercede” or “intercession.” To intercede means to position oneself between two entities and to interpose on behalf of one, which is just like the role of a watchman on the wall.
The best biblical definition of this type of prayer is found in Ezekiel 22:30 which describes God’s desperate search for a watchman intercessor. “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not destroy it, but I found no one.” (NIV)
Here we have a graphic picture of a watchman’s call both to “build up the wall” of defense against an enemy and to “stand before [God] in the gap” on behalf of someone or something. That is prayer at its quintessential best – a picture of the watchman intercessor’s highest call to put him or herself on the line both in defense against an enemy and in an appeal before God on behalf of the one being defended. That is what Jesus willingly chose to do on the cross, as a result of His watching and praying in the garden. In defense of a sinful world deserving judgment and under the power of the evil one, He took his place upon the cross as that intercessor for whom God was looking in Ezekiel 22:30. His substitutionary death defended us once for all, from both the wrath of a just God against sin and the control of the devil who held the power of death.
The call to watchman intercession is a call to watch and pray in the same spirit as our Savior. It is a call to put our lives on the line in prayer for someone or something that both appeals earnestly to God on their behalf, while also fiercely defending them from the spiritual attacks of the enemy of their souls. There are many illustrations of this critical ministry throughout the Bible. Abraham interceded before God, in an actual bargaining exchange on behalf of his nephew Lot who lived in wicked Sodom which was slated for judgment. (Genesis 18) Both Moses and the Apostle Paul were so earnest in their prayer for Israel’s salvation that they offered their very lives in exchange. (Exodus 32:31 and Romans 9:1-5 & 10:1)
Do the words of Jesus “could you not watch with me” stir something deep within your heart? Have you had glimpses of deeper intercession in prayer and wished you could experience more? Do you feel called to be a watchman on God’s intercession wall? If so, stay tuned for my next blog post in which I will share essential keys for developing and functioning in this critical ministry of a watchman intercessor.
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