When our children were young, we spent many of our summers visiting different national parks here in the USA — Glacier, Yellowstone and Yosemite, to name a few. Most days we went hiking. We would set off early in the morning, just as the sun peeked over the horizon, to avoid the midday heat.
One of the delights of hiking in the national parks, especially at the beginning of the day, is the chance of seeing wildlife — deer, marmots, picas, mountain goats, and moose. But, being in remote areas where wild animals roam comes with dangers too — bears.
I usually brought up the rear as we walked single file on trails; my husband leading and our three children between us. I also kept a constant lookout for movement amongst the bushes, trees, or in open spaces which could indicate bear activity. It was important to stay vigilant.
In the same way, the Bible encourages us to be vigilant and on our guard when it comes to our prayer life. Quite often we see words like watch and alert in the same sentences that tell us to pray. For example:
Watch and pray, Jesus told his disciples, when he found them sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests, Paul writes to the people of Ephesus. Then he continues: With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Ephesians 6:18
And then in Colossians: Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Colossians 4:2 (emphasis added).
Just like I had to be watchful and alert for attacks from wildlife (moose can be dangerous, too) on our hikes, we are to be watchful and alert for threats to our prayer lives.
Here are two things we should watch out for:
Watch for the enemy
We have a spiritual enemy. The Bible uses the metaphor of a wild animal when describing this enemy. Although we are not in physical danger, as from a bear, we are in spiritual danger. Be alert (there’s the word again) and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour 1 Peter 5:8.
I like the way The Message puts it: Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up.
When Jesus told his disciples to watch and pray, they were to keep their guard up against the imminent physical danger of those coming to arrest Jesus and also to watch out for spiritual threats, too. These threats would come in the form of temptations to deny knowing Jesus and abandon him when he was arrested. “Watch and pray,” Jesus told them, “so that you will not fall into temptation.” Mark 14:38
Satan will try to distract us from praying. Why? Because prayer is powerful and effective. Prayer is also foundational in helping us stand firm when we feel like running away.
Praying long and hard is a good weapon to deter the enemy. Then we’ll discover he’s the one who runs away from us.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.James 4:7
Watch for inactivity
On our hikes, we came prepared should we have encountered a bear. One of our children would carry a “bear bell” — a fancy name for just a small regular jingle or sleigh bell. The jingling of the bell is meant to alert a bear of your presence. More effective, however, is to make lots of noise.
This is the one time our children were encouraged to make as much noise as they liked! Yelling, clapping, and talking loudly are better ways of alerting a bear that you’re around. The bear, who is probably more interested in looking for berries anyway, will just move away.
The natural tendency, however, was to be as quiet as possible so as not to draw attention to ourselves. We actually had to work at being noisy.
It’s the same with prayer, we need to have a plan and we have to work at prayer.
All of us have good intentions when it comes to prayer. Yet, we still find ourselves getting distracted. Perhaps you’re reading this and realizing you haven’t found the time to pray today. Maybe you manage a regular prayer time for a few days, but then your routine gets disrupted by work, children, appointments, or an unwanted crisis. It can seem like everything is stopping us from making prayer a habit.
We have to be watchful for complacency or, like the disciples who fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, spiritual napping. Just as the apostle Paul urged the early Christians to stay alert and watchful through his letters, we can encourage each other too.
Share below what helps you, or would help you, stay committed to prayer.
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