“Be Vigilant with a View to Prayers”
“But the complete end of all things has drawn close. Be sound in mind, therefore, and be vigilant with a view to prayers.”—1 Pet. 4:7.
1-3. (a) What terrible tragedy forcefully illustrates the folly of overconfidence? (b) What analogy can be drawn from this for Christians?
It was 11:40 of the night of April 14, 1912. The world’s largest ocean liner with 2,207 souls aboard was sailing full speed ahead on the North Atlantic. She was hailed as “man’s proudest engineering achievement.” Indicative of the confidence her owners had in her was her name, the “Titanic,” meaning “of enormous magnitude, force and power.” This liner reputed to be unsinkable, was on the fifth day of her maiden voyage. Then out of the darkness there loomed an iceberg and before her course could be sufficiently changed she received a large gash in her side. In less than three hours the “unsinkable” Titanic sank, taking down with her 1,502 men, women and children to a watery grave.
2 What caused that terrible tragedy? Lack of vigilance due to overconfidence! Six warnings had been received by her wireless operator, one of these even giving the exact location of the very iceberg the Titanic struck! Why did her captain keep sailing full speed ahead in spite of such warnings? Because of his great trust in his ship’s unsinkability. Truly a forceful illustration of the folly of overconfidence!
THE NEED OF CONFIDENCE
3 As dedicated Christians we are in the world but are no part of it. We are, as it were, ship captains, sailing from this old world or system of things to the post-Armageddon new world. Right now many of us seem to have smooth sailing and so there may be a tendency to relax our vigilance. But we dare not do so, for our sea also is strewn with icebergs, obstacles put there by the Devil and his demons, the world and the flesh, which can easily cause us shipwreck, loss of integrity toward God.
4. What does it mean to be vigilant?
4 What does it mean to be vigilant? The term “vigilant” comes from a root meaning “a watching.” To be vigilant, we are told, means to be alertly watchful, to be circumspect, cautious, “attentive to discover and avoid danger, or to provide for safety.” “Vigilance implies keen, courageous, often wary, watchfulness, especially in the cause of right.” (Webster) To be vigilant, therefore, is just the opposite of being careless, thoughtless, heedless, indifferent or sleepy. Impressing upon our hearts and minds the importance of vigilance are the warning examples and explicit commands of God’s Word.
5, 6. (a) What Scriptural examples do we have of lack of vigilance due to overconfidence? (b) And what Scriptural warnings?
5 Due to overconfidence and lack of vigilance, even such faithful servants of Jehovah as Noah, Moses and David at times ‘took a false step before they were aware of it.’ And especially in the apostle Peter do we have a warning example. Surely Peter was wholly devoted to Jehovah God and to his Master. Had he not left his fishing business and all else to follow Jesus as a fisher of men? Yet how he stumbled, denying his Master three times, all because of his lack of vigilance due to overconfidence!—Matt. 26:31-35, 75.
6 And then we have the explicit commands: “Be vigilant with a view to prayers.” “Keep your senses, be watchful.” “Keep on the watch and praying.” “Let us stay awake and keep our senses.” “Let him that thinks he has a firm position beware that he does not fall.”—1 Pet. 4:7; 5:8; Matt. 26:41; 1 Thess. 5:6; 1 Cor. 10:12.
WHY GREATER NEED FOR VIGILANCE NOW
7-10. (a) Why is increased vigilance now needed regarding opposition from Satan? (b) From the world? (c) From our own flesh?
7 While Christians have ever had to take these warnings to heart, today we have an even greater need for doing so. Thus it has always been true that ‘the Devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.’ But in view of our living in the time when “the nations became wrathful,” in two world wars, we know that Satan has greater anger now, “knowing he has a short period of time,” and that therefore he is waging war with increased fury against all those “who observe the commandments of God and have the work of bearing witness to Jesus.” This stepped-up attack on the part of Satan requires increased vigilance on our part.—1 Pet. 5:8; Rev. 11:18; 12:12, 17.
8 The same is true of our enemy the world. With the “increasing of lawlessness” comes the greater danger that our love will cool off. And do not the facts show that we are living in the “critical times hard to deal with,” when selfishness has gone to seed? So while the world has ever tempted the Christian because of its selfishness, its increased materialism and wickedness demand greater vigilance on our part.—Matt. 24:12; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; 1 John 2:16.
9 Today there is even greater need for vigilance as regards our own flesh. How could that be? Again note that, while it has ever been true, as Paul confessed, “the good that I wish I do not do, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice,” today the flesh has increased inducements to assert itself. Just as “fulness of bread, and prosperous ease,” contributed to the delinquency of ancient Sodom, so today the material prosperity and increased leisure time that many of us enjoy furnish added opportunities for the fallen tendencies of our flesh to assert themselves, making self-control more difficult. How serious a threat this can be is seen from the fact that certain Christian witnesses of Jehovah who had faithfully endured brutality in Nazi concentration camps or, more recently, Communist prisons for years, afterward had to be excommunicated or disfellowshiped because of immoral conduct!—Rom. 7:19; Ezek. 16:49, AS.
10 Since our three enemies, the Devil, the world and the flesh, are placing more and more obstacles in our way, truly today, as never before, we have need to be alert, watchful, vigilant. We dare not become overconfident because of the lack of persecution in most parts of the world and because of the great expansion in pure worship. On the contrary, since “the complete end of all things has drawn close,” we have increased need to take to heart all the warning examples and explicit commands regarding vigilance.
CONSCIOUS OF OUR SPIRITUAL NEED
11-14. (a) Being conscious of our spiritual need will have what effect on our study of God’s Word? Why? (b) On our attending meetings? (c) On our preaching activity? (d) On our praying?
11 How can we keep vigilant? How can we avoid the snare of overconfidence? How” By being ever conscious of our spiritual need. As Jesus said: “Happy are those who are conscious of their spiritual need.” And why does being conscious of our spiritual need keep us vigilant and protect us from the snare of overconfidence? Because, first of all, it will make us diligent to study God’s Word together with the aids he has provided for understanding it, knowing that “man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.” That Word, as we have seen, contains much warning admonition that will help us to keep vigilant.—Matt. 5:3; 4:4.
12 Secondly, if we are conscious of our spiritual need we will be eager to associate with like-minded Christians at every opportunity, appreciating that none can say to another, “I have no need of you.” We may not think of saying that in so many words, but if we willingly neglect to assemble with our brothers we are saying just that by our actions and in our hearts. If all dedicated Christians were fully aware of their spiritual need to associate with each other, it would not be necessary to remind them continually not to forsake “the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.” Associating with one another is stimulating and helps us keep vigilant.—1 Cor. 12:21; Heb. 10:25.
13 Further, if we are conscious of our spiritual need we will realize that it is true of each one of us as it was of Jesus: “My food is for me to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work.” Having received into good hearts the good news about Jehovah and his kingdom and the warning of the impending destruction at Armageddon, we find that we have a real need to tell these truths out to others. Yes, then like Elihu and Jeremiah we will be unable to keep silent. Keeping busy preaching the truth is one of the best ways to keep vigilant.—John 4:34; Job 32:18-20; Jer. 20:9, AS.
14 And, finally, being conscious of our spiritual need will make us appreciate the value of prayer, of talking with our heavenly Father, Jehovah God. By prayer we show that we are keenly aware of our need of his help, that we appreciate our need to keep in touch with him, the Source of true wisdom and all strength. There seems to be a tendency among some today to overlook the importance of prayer, yes, of frequent and earnest prayer. It is very easy to neglect prayer or to let it deteriorate into a routine, formal thing. Such is a great mistake! Earnest and frequent prayer will help us avoid the snare of overconfidence. No wonder God’s Word repeatedly links prayer with vigilance.
JESUS WAS CONSCIOUS OF HIS SPIRITUAL NEED
15. What shows that Jesus was conscious of his spiritual need?
15 In regard to prayer, as with everything else, Jesus set for us the perfect example. His appreciation of this precious privilege stands out prominently in the record of his earthly ministry. In fact, it might be said that no other earthling ever appreciated prayer as much as he did. Even though perfect in mind and body and having supernatural powers at his disposal, he was not overconfident but always conscious of his spiritual need. He continually looked to his heavenly Father for wisdom and strength, as well as voicing praise and thanksgiving in prayer.
16-18. (a) What was Jesus’ mental attitude at the time of his baptism? (b) What record do we have of Jesus resorting to prayer throughout his ministry?
16 Thus regarding the very beginning of his earthly ministry we read that “Jesus also was baptized and, as he was praying, the heaven was opened up.” Fully conscious of his spiritual need, he communed with his Father, seeking His help. He was in dead earnest; no frivolity and lightheartedness marked his conduct. Nor can we conclude other than that Jesus spent much time in prayer during the forty days he was in the wilderness. So when Satan came with his sly and subtle temptations Jesus was not caught off guard. He was vigilant.—Luke 3:21; Matt. 4:1-10.
17 And likewise throughout his ministry. Repeatedly we read of his retiring to pray in private: “Later, while he was praying alone, the disciples came together to him.” And again: “Having sent the crowds away, he went up into the mountain by himself to pray,” continuing therein until early morning, when he hastened to his disciples who were being threatened by a storm. And at another time, “early in the morning, while it was still dark, he rose up and went outside and left for a lonely place, and there he began praying.”—Luke 9:18; Matt. 14:23; Mark 1:35.
18 Before choosing the twelve apostles from among his disciples Jesus “went out into the mountain to pray, and he continued the whole night in prayer to God.” What an example for us to supplicate God earnestly when faced with making a weighty decision! Then again, it was when Jesus “took Peter and John and James along and climbed up into a mountain to pray” that the marvelous transfiguration scene took place. In answer to Jesus’ prayer? Undoubtedly! And instrumental in our receiving the model prayer was Jesus’ own example of praying, even as we read: “Now on the occasion of his being in a certain place praying, when he stopped, a certain one of his disciples said to him: ‘Master, teach us how to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.’”—Luke 6:12; 9:28-30; 11:1.
19, 20. (a) What prayers did Jesus utter on the last day of his earthly ministry? (b) Why did he pray the way he did?
19 And especially on the last day of his earthly ministry as a man did Jesus resort to prayer. Knowing he would soon leave his followers, he earnestly prayed for them at length, as recorded at John, chapter 17. And foreknowing the immediate future he especially prayed for Peter that his “faith may not give out.” Then, just before the mob came to take him, Jesus prayed three times regarding his Father’s will for him: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me. Yet, not as I will, but as you will.” No doubt the apostle Paul had this particular occasion in mind when he wrote that “in the days of his flesh Christ offered up supplications and also petitions to the one who was able to save him out of death,” his heavenly Father. (Luke 22:31, 32; Matt. 26:39; Heb. 5:7) Not that we are to think that Jesus shrank back from death, or from the kind of death that awaited him. Had he not told his disciples that he would be put to death as well as the manner of it? (Matt. 16:21; John 12:33) Rather, we must conclude that his great concern was because of the reproach that the death of the Son of God upon a torture stake would bring to his heavenly Father, Jehovah God.
20 Jesus continued in prayer while suffering the agonies of impalement. Its shame and pain did not turn him from his God but all the more to him. In his prayers he quoted from two prophetic psalms that God had recorded for that very purpose long centuries before: “My God, my God, to what end have you forsaken me?” And: “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.” And then we have his final report to his Father: “It has been accomplished!” All of which, it may be noted in passing, proves that while on earth Jesus was not both human and divine, was not an incarnation, was not a member of a trinity, but was wholly an earthling, a human creature perfect, however, because his Father was Jehovah God.—Matt. 27:46; Luke 23:46; John 19:30; Ps. 22:1; 31:5.
21. What lesson can we draw from Jesus’ example?
21 No question about Jesus’ being ever conscious of his spiritual need. And if he, the perfect, sinless, miracle-working Son of God, continually felt the need to pray, how much more so should we, imperfect, sinful and weak sons and daughters of Adam. That his apostles had the same mental attitude is apparent from their letters, which abound both with commands to pray and with references to their praying for their brothers.—Rom. 15:30; 1 Thess. 1:2; 1 Pet. 4:7.
PRAISE, THANKSGIVING AND PETITION
22. What are some Scriptural injunctions that imply prayer?
22 Also urging prayer upon us are the many Scriptural injunctions and expressions that imply prayer. Only by prayer can we keep “calling upon the Father.” Only by prayer can we ‘throw our burden upon Jehovah, letting him sustain us.’ And for us to ‘trust in Jehovah with all our hearts’ and for us to ‘take notice of him in all our ways’ we must come to him in prayer as well as search in his Word. Nor can we ‘walk humbly with our God’ without prayer; for who does not engage in conversation with one with whom he is walking; and what is prayer but talking with God? And when we in the first place come to God in dedication, is it not in prayer that we say to him, ‘I am come to do your will, O God’?—1 Pet. 1:17; Ps. 55:22; Prov. 3:5, 6; Mic. 6:8, AS; Heb. 10:9.
23, 24. (a) What are the three forms or aspects of prayer, and what occasions them? (b) What fine example of these did David give?
23 However, let us not overlook the fact that prayer is not limited to asking God for something. No, it also includes praise and thanksgiving. Thus Jesus not only repeatedly petitioned God but also time and again praised and thanked him in prayer. (Matt. 11:25; Mark 8:6; Luke 22:17, 19; John 6:11, 23; 11:41) So let us always remember that it is always fitting that in our prayers we praise Jehovah for who and what he is, and that we always include expressions of thanksgiving for all he continually keeps doing for us. By cultivating the mental attitude of praise and thanksgiving we shall be rewarded with self-sufficiency or contentment, which, along with godly devotion, is a means of great gain.—1 Tim. 6:6.
24 A fine example of a prayer including praise, thanksgiving and petition is the one that David offered at the time he and his nation made contributions for the building of Jehovah’s temple. With fitting eloquence he praises Jehovah for his qualities and then thanks Him that he and his people were able to contribute so generously, for it all came from God in the first place. And then David petitions Jehovah that he ever keep his people so generously inclined, with their hearts always directed toward Him. Also for the typical kingdom David prayed, saying: “And to Solomon my son give a complete heart to keep your commandments.” Let us imitate David by having our prayers give evidence not only that we are conscious of our spiritual need but also that we appreciate the kind of God Jehovah is and what he is continually doing for us.—1 Chron. 29:10-20.