Help from On High
“Keep on the watch and pray continually, that you may not enter into temptation.”—Matt. 26:41.
1, 2. (a) When the apostle Peter wrote the words, “Be vigilant with a view to prayers,” what event may he have had in mind? (b) What counsel did Jesus give the three apostles who had failed to “keep on the watch”?
“BUT the end of all things has drawn close. Be sound in mind, therefore, and be vigilant with a view to prayers.” When the apostle Peter wrote those words of counsel to Christians, he may well have had in mind the night that he, James and John had been advised by Jesus to pray. They were in the Garden of Gethsemane. The time for Jesus’ betrayal was at hand. Jesus said to the three: “My soul is deeply grieved, even to death. Stay here and keep on the watch with me.”—1 Pet. 4:7; Matt. 26:38.
2 Jesus then went a little way forward, fell upon his face and prayed to his heavenly Father: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me. Yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Returning to the three disciples, Jesus found them sleeping. He said to Peter: “Could you men not so much as watch one hour with me? Keep on the watch and pray continually, that you may not enter into temptation.”—Matt. 26:39-41.
3. Despite Jesus’ counsel, how did the apostles respond, prompting what comment from Jesus?
3 Again, for the second time, Jesus went off and prayed, asking God that His will take place. Then he went back and again found the three disciples sleeping, “for their eyes were heavy.” For the third time Jesus left them and prayed. Upon returning to the apostles, he said: “At such a time as this you are sleeping and taking your rest! Look! The hour has drawn near for the Son of man to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us go. Look! My betrayer has drawn near.” While he was speaking those very words, Judas Iscariot drew near with an armed crowd that Jesus might be taken into custody.—Matt. 26:42-47.
PRAYER NEEDED TO AVOID TEMPTATION
4. (a) What clear warning had the apostles received before they got into circumstances of temptation? (b) How did Peter react in the face of this warning?
4 Jesus’ disciples entered into temptation—in the face of warnings from their Master! The three apostles were at their post and were supposed to stay awake, but they reclined and fell asleep, while Jesus engrossed himself three times in prayer. True, it was probably past midnight and the disciples were naturally sleepy, but Jesus, knowing full well that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, had told them to watch and pray! (Matt. 26:41) They had been warned before they got into circumstances of temptation, Jesus saying: “All of you will be stumbled in connection with me on this night, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered about.”’ (Matt. 26:31) In this way they had been warned that the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7 was about to undergo fulfillment. However, Peter answered Jesus’ warning, saying: “Although all the others are stumbled in connection with you, never will I be stumbled!” But Peter was told that he would do even worse—he would deny the Lord Jesus three times!—Matt. 26:31-35.
5. As the apostles faced temptation, what did they do, but what should they have done?
5 Jesus had set a fine example for his disciples in the matter of wakefulness and in being vigilant with a view to prayers. But the apostles failed to understand how Jesus’ words were going to take place. So what did they do? They slept over the matter instead of praying over it! They should have prayed over it, seeking help from on high. But here they were sleeping over it. They were not on the watch; they were not praying continually, and so were bound to enter into temptation.
6. (a) What is the “test” to come upon “the whole inhabited earth,” as Jesus foretold at Revelation 3:10? (b) Since the test is not over yet, what warning is there in this for Christians?
6 This experience of the three disciples reminds us of Jesus’ words given to “the angel” of the Philadelphia congregation, recorded at Revelation 3:10: “Because you kept the word about my endurance, I will also keep you from the hour of test, which is to come upon the whole inhabited earth, to put a test upon those dwelling on the earth.” Since the coming of the foretold “time of the end,” pressures from human sources and from invisible demon sources have indeed become terrific, in materialistic, faithless, nationalistic directions. The test has been to determine whether one is part of this wicked system of things or is in favor of God’s kingdom. The great temptation today is for a person to yield to these worldly pressures and attractions and to become a part of this system of things. This worldwide test in a comparatively short time period, like an “hour,” is not over as yet. Modern-day Christians are thus warned that they are in a day of temptation. They, too, like first-century Christians, need to watch and pray to avoid entering temptations.
7, 8. (a) Why does God allow tests to come upon Christians, and what means does God provide for our getting help from on high? (b) Entering into temptation is largely a matter of what, and so how does prayer help?
7 Since Christians today are faced with so many temptations, they need to know how to get out of them. How can you get out of temptation? Keep in mind that Jehovah God does not tempt anyone with what is bad, but he lets temptations come upon his faithful servants to test their integrity to him and their loyalty to his kingdom. But remember, when under temptations we have the ever-open, ever-present channel of prayer. We can get help from on high at any time.
8 As the Bible shows, entering temptation is largely a matter of desire. (Jas. 1:13-15) So watch that you do not cultivate wrong desire, for if you do, then enticement pulls you right into sin! We must be vigilant with a view to prayer, for prayer helps us to avoid selfish desire. Such sincere prayer puts to flight any selfish desire; it frees us from the cords of enticement with all their selfish pulling power. We need to pray in order to be watchful, and prayer, too, will purify our hearts. Yes, God will help us if we but ask him to do so. We need that help from on high because temptations are bound to come our way. When they do, remember the divine warning: Stay awake and pray!
HELP DURING TEMPTATIONS
9. What does the apostle Paul write about temptation at 1 Corinthians 10:13, and how does it relate to God’s faithfulness?
9 It is vital for Christians to realize that their faithful God does not allow them to be tempted beyond what they can bear. As the apostle Paul writes at 1 Corinthians 10:13: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out in order for you to be able to endure it.” This means that Jehovah God is faithful throughout the entire operation of the temptation, till the one in it knows how to deal with it by help from Jehovah, and he escapes from the temptation.
10, 11. (a) As shown by the experiences of the Israelites, what kind of temptations is the apostle particularly speaking about? (b) Why will such temptations come upon Christians too, and what does God allow us to manifest?
10 Now, we should keep in mind that the apostle Paul here at 1 Corinthians 10:13 is talking particularly about temptations, not about persecutions. He was thinking of temptations “common to men.” He said at the beginning of this verse thirteen: “No temptation has taken you except what is common to men.” Common to what men? Particularly common to the men of ancient Israel who were in a covenant with Jehovah. For in the preceding 1 Co 10:9-12 verses of this chapter the apostle talked about the temptations that came upon the natural Jews, and how thousands of them fell under the temptations. He brings up the matter of their experiences and their fall as a warning so that Christians may be cautious lest they fall under like circumstances. Those Israelites had contact with the pagans, and thousands of the Israelites fell to immorality, as the apostle Paul said: “Neither let us practice fornication, as some of them committed fornication, only to fall, twenty-three thousand of them in one day.” (1 Cor. 10:8) They also turned to idol worship, to complaining and murmuring. Jehovah let these temptations come upon them to see what was in their hearts, whether they loved Jehovah their God or not.—Deut. 8:1-3.
11 So all such temptations come upon Christians today who are also in covenant relationship with Jehovah, since they are the antitypes of those ancient peoples, the natural Israelites and the “vast mixed company.” (Ex. 12:37, 38; Num. 11:4-6) By allowing us to experience temptations, Jehovah can know what kind of people we are at heart. God, then, does make a way out of the temptation but he lets us prove what we really are, what is in our hearts, that we hate what is bad and love what is good.
THE WAY OUT OF TEMPTATIONS
12. Does God make a way out of temptations by simply removing the temptation, and how does an experience involving Moses illustrate your answer?
12 Jehovah promises in his Word that “along with the temptation he will also make the way out.” How? By simply removing the temptation? No, God does not remove the temptation, as when one is tempted with regard to immorality or murmuring. We do well to remember that when Aaron and Miriam complained about their brother Moses, that he had too prominent a position and that they did not have enough influence, God did not relieve these two complainers of the trial by putting Moses out of office, did he? No, he let Moses stay on, for he was Jehovah’s choice and was the right man for the job. Aaron and Miriam were the ones who had to come into line. How? They had to get the theocratic viewpoint of things. They had to realize that Jehovah God is King and that they must be subject to his arrangements. (Num. 12:1-16) So we cannot expect that when temptations come we can wiggle out of the test and escape before the temptation is over. No, the temptation must run the limit; then God will know whether we have integrity and loyalty to him.
13, 14. (a) If we cannot avoid being subjected to a temptation, how, then, does God make a way out for us? (b) What experience of ancient Israel shows that Jehovah does not subject his people to tests that they cannot endure? (c) How does Joseph’s experience illustrate the need for advance preparation?
13 Where, then, is the escape, if we cannot avoid being in the presence of certain temptations? Well, God gives us a way out by giving us his theocratic principles, which, if we follow them, will aid us to avoid doing what is wrong. Further, God knows how much we can endure. Hence he does not let tests come upon us that we could not possibly endure. For example, when the Israelites came out of Egypt, the Bible account says: “God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines just because it was near, for God said: ‘It might be the people will feel regret when they see war and will certainly return to Egypt.”’ (Ex. 13:17) Thus God did not let them go the direct route to the Promised Land via “the Gaza Strip.” Israel was not equipped for war or prepared to meet the well-trained troops of the Philistines. So Jehovah kindly chose the Red Sea route for his people. Thus Israel was not subjected to war with the Philistines at that time, for God knew they could not endure such a test.
14 We can be thankful that Jehovah does not subject us to tests we cannot endure; we can also be very grateful that he prepares us beforehand so we can endure the temptations and come through with integrity. To this end God builds us up spiritually beforehand. But woe to us if we do not take advantage of this God-provided advance preparation! Consider the test that came upon Joseph when he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife to commit immorality. (Gen. 39:7-12) Can we be like Joseph? He had informed himself beforehand as to what God’s laws were regarding such matters.
15. (a) What success will we have if we prepare in advance for temptations? (b) How will ‘fleeing from idolatry’ help us in overcoming temptations?
15 Yes, Jehovah God shows us the way out of temptation largely by describing beforehand what kind of conduct he expects of us. (Gal. 5:19-23) Then we can run the gamut of temptations from A to Z and come through victoriously, keeping integrity, proving faithful under test. But we need to heed the apostle Paul’s counsel. Right after speaking about how God will help us in the matter of temptation he adds: “Therefore, my beloved ones, flee from idolatry.” (1 Cor. 10:14) Idolatry is by no means limited to the worship of literal idols, images, statues and so forth. The apostle Paul warned that ‘covetousness is idolatry.’ This is because covetousness causes one to make an idol of oneself, and selfish cravings become the uppermost thing in one’s life. But if we “flee” from all forms of idolatry, we are better prepared to face the future and the temptations that may yet arise.—Col. 3:5; 1 Cor. 6:18.
16, 17. (a) When one is faced with a temptation, why is relying on one’s own strength unwise? (b) What attitude must we avoid, as shown by the example of ancient Israel when at the very border of the Promised Land? (c) What course of action will enable us to join in expressing the apostle’s words at 2 Timothy 4:17, 18?
16 Whenever Jehovah permits a temptation to come upon us, let us do something to stand firm! For one thing we can persevere in prayer and seek help from on high! In this way we will not rely on our own strength. As the apostle Paul says: “Let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12) No matter how long a Christian has been serving God, he still has to contend with the human element, his fallen flesh. If humans in the past have been tempted by certain situations at critical times and have fallen, then we too as humans can also fall. We are still in this wicked system of things with all its many temptations to go the wrong way. The end is near, but we must be careful not to think we cannot fall. No, it is wise not to think we are so strong in ourselves that we cannot fall. Israel was so close to the Promised Land, and yet, despite their closeness, serious temptations were present, and 24,000 fell on the very border of the land. So today we must never minimize the danger of falling into temptation. Wait on Jehovah God, and the temptation will pass. Jehovah God will prove true to his Word and will bring us out of it.
17 Therefore trust in God when faced with temptations. Plead in prayer, saying: “Our Father in the heavens . . . do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the wicked one.” Then we will be able to say with the apostle Paul: “The Lord stood near me and infused power into me . . . The Lord will deliver me from every wicked work and will save me.”—Matt. 6:9-13; 2 Tim. 4:17, 18.
18, 19. (a) What kind of temptation has come upon thousands of Jehovah’s people in recent times, and how have they resisted the temptation? (b) Faced with the temptation of “blood transfusion or death,” how did a Witness from Surinam find a way out of the test?
18 There are thousands of Witnesses who have in recent times faced temptations to take blood transfusions. A few have fallen into this temptation under pressure from doctors and others, but Jehovah’s people as a whole have resisted this temptation, holding firm to his Word, which clearly says: ‘Abstain from blood.’ (Acts 15:20, 29) And they have done this by sticking close to Bible principles and by means of prayer. Consider the Witness from Surinam who suddenly became very ill while on a ship. He was taken off the ship at Haiti, there to receive medical treatment. A doctor explained that because of a bleeding stomach ulcer it was either “blood transfusion or death.”
19 How did this Witness react to the tremendous temptation? He wrote: “There I was, more than a thousand miles from my family. They probably did not even know that I was in this dangerous condition. There were none of my Christian brothers with whom I could talk. The words ‘blood transfusion or death’ ran through my mind. Apparently those at the hospital thought I was surely to die. I prayed to Jehovah. Even though I felt lonesome at times, I could always talk to Him. What a wonderful thing to be able to throw all one’s anxiety upon Jehovah, in full faith that he cares for his servants. If I would die, then I knew that I would receive a resurrection. The resurrection hope strengthened me in my decision not to accept blood.” This Witness was eventually delivered from the temptation, and he recovered without a blood transfusion. By adhering to Bible principles and by being vigilant with a view to prayers he was triumphant over the temptation.
PRAYER NOT HINDERED BY ISOLATION
20-22. Explain why prayer is a marvelous help from on high.
20 When we need divine help quickly, prayer is the avenue most accessible for immediate and direct aid. Since Jehovah God does not sleep, there is no delay. “The one guarding you cannot possibly be drowsy.” (Ps. 121:3) There is instant help from on high for those who go to God in prayer. It is not like having to write a letter and then waiting some days before an answer is received. And there is so much to pray for, not only for ourselves but for our Christian brothers too.
21 Not only is communication by prayer instantaneous; it can be transmitted through every kind of isolation barrier. (Jonah 2:1-10) The missionary imprisoned in Red China for five years in isolation had the prophet Daniel in mind when he said: “I prayed three times a day in full sight of all who might pass my cell.” The result? He said: “What spiritual strength and comfort prayer brought to me! And by this means all came to know me as a Christian minister.” What marvelous help from on high in answer to prayer!—Dan. 6:10.
22 A Christian, moreover, can pray for the comforting holy spirit, which penetrates every kind of barrier, prison walls and bars. Nothing can keep God’s spirit away when we request it and are worthy of receiving it.
23-25. (a) What threat did not frighten a Christian youth in Guadeloupe, and why not? (b) Because of his keeping integrity, what was the outcome?
23 Not long ago one of Jehovah’s witnesses in Guadeloupe was threatened with isolation. This young man took his stand for Christian neutrality. (John 15:19) He was put into jail and kept alone in a cell. Then pressure was put on him. Threats were made: “If you do not change your mind, you will be put in prison for at least two years. Moreover, you will be alone in a cell all that time, so think well—alone for two years!” Now, what answer did they get back from this Christian youth?
24 He answered: “Well, that is what you think. But I will not be alone as you say, not at all! Jehovah God will be with me and will strengthen me by his spirit.”
25 The authorities were surprised by that answer. Moreover, his good conduct impressed them. Months went by, and the time came for an assembly of the Witnesses. What a surprise to see that young man present for the opening session! He had been set free just the day before. And he gave his experience at the assembly. An officer was present, unknown to the youth. Later this officer told the youth’s presiding minister: “Because of his good Christian conduct and unbreakable decision, do you know what my wife said to me? She said, ‘Don’t think that you men have done that by your own will. No, but it is his God, Jehovah, who has done that for him in order for him to attend his convention. His God, Jehovah, is stronger than our god!”’
26. Why should we remember the good counsel at 1 Peter 4:7, and so what should we do when a crisis is at hand?
26 Faced with isolation, persecution, temptations and pressures, you faithful witnesses of Jehovah can come through successfully, gloriously to His praise. Your help is from on high. But remember the good counsel of the apostle Peter: “Be vigilant with a view to prayers.” (1 Pet. 4:7) Peter learned the importance of this the hard way that night when the Lord Jesus told him to keep on the watch and “pray continually, that you may not enter into temptation.” (Matt. 26:41) When a crisis is at hand, be careful that you do not merely sleep over it, but, rather, pray over it. Then you will get help from on high and come out of tests and temptations triumphantly, thanks to Jehovah. He will make a way out for you, for “God is faithful.”