Watch and Pray!

It is reasonable to expect, based on the Bible, that every Christian will face testing, perhaps more than one instance of it.

I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father.

1 John 2:13

These young men could not have overcome the evil one if they had not fought with him first. Famously, Jesus tells Peter:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.

Luke 22:31-32

A time of testing does not need to be a time of punishment or discipline by God. It can be a time of triumph and victory. However, if you are backslidden, if you are involved in an unrepentant habitual sin, a time of testing can end very badly for you. Testing accelerates you in whatever path you’re on. If you’re on a path of backsliding, it will accelerate you on that path. If you’re on a path of grace and obedience, it will strengthen you in that path.

For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

Matthew 13:12

If you are not submitted to God and open to God’s leading, you will lose whatever grace you have, and this may happen especially quickly in a time of testing. If you are open to God’s leading and submitted to God, more grace will be given to you.

It is not for nothing that Jesus tells us to pray for protection from evil and for God not to lead us into temptation (Matthew 6:13). “Temptation” is often association with the desire to do wrong sexual acts, but “tempt” is just an archaic English word for “test”. When we say that Satan is a “tempter”, it means that he is a “tester”. What is he testing? He’s testing our faith in God. This may come in the form of sexual sin, but it may come in many other forms as well. All suffering is a test of your faith in God. Many people lose or compromise their faith in God as a result of a wrong response to their suffering. And yes, people also abandon faith in God or refuse to believe in God, as a result of a desire to commit sexual sins.

In Jesus’s darkest hour in the Garden of Gethsemane, he asks three of his disciples to “watch” with him. He goes away to pray and returns to find them asleep. He then says the following:

And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, 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

Jesus knew the disciples were about to be tested, were about to see the person in whom they had placed their faith executed as a criminal, and face the fear of being associated with him as a result. He’s trying to warn them to be spiritually alert, to pray to strengthen their souls and their faith. The Pulpit Commentary says about this passage: “Watchfulness sees temptation coming; prayer gives strength to withstand it.” 

How do you survive a time of testing?

First, remember the gospel. Your sins are covered by the blood of Jesus and you stand on the basis of God’s mercy, not on the basis of the strength of your obedience. Trust in God’s mercy to make a way through the struggle. Second, pray. This advice comes explicitly from Jesus himself as a way to deal with testing, so we must assume that it is a very important and indispensable weapon when you are being tested. Prayer provides the energy for a life of obedience, because in order to have energy for obedience, you must be well-connected to the source of your obedience, who is God. As indicated in the Lord’s Prayer, it is good to pray specifically for protection from evil, from Satan and his angels,  and for protection from temptation. Third, adopt a posture of absolute surrender to God’s commands. Any part of God’s commands, however small, that you are not obeying or that you are rejecting for your own devices just because you don’t want to obey it, is like a loose thread that can cause your faith to unravel. Lastly, give. Psalm 41 says:

Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
    In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;
the Lord protects him and keeps him alive;
    he is called blessed in the land;
    you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.
The Lord sustains him on his sickbed;
    in his illness you restore him to full health.

Psalm 41:1-3

Giving or caring regularly for the poor is an indispensable part of Christian obedience. Some Christian teachers seem to say it’s optional to give to your church, but it is not. There is always an expectation throughout the Bible that you will give to those who minister to you, including the New Testament (see 1 Corinthians 16:2). It is your choice how much you give. It makes sense for this to be a tithe (a tenth) because there is a biblical precedent for it ( as I recently learned watching this video by Michael Brown). But if you sow sparingly, you will also reap sparingly (2 Corinthians 9:6). Most churches will have charitable programs so that by giving your tithe you are caring for the poor. But this is not optional, and there is a great deal of blessing that comes to those who are generous (Luke 6:38, Malachi 3:10).

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