One of the events we looked forward to most after our family moved to Virginia when I was nine was a visit from our Aunt Mary who lived in Pennsylvania. We always knew the day of her arrival because she would call or write us in advance to let us know when she was coming. All week long we would wait impatiently for that day. Finally, Saturday would come, and my brother and I would run out to the end of our country lane and watch for her to arrive. But watching was a long, tedious process—especially for two young boys. And living out in the country, there were few cars that passed, or otherwise interesting occurrences, to hold our attention as we danced from leg to leg in anticipation. The wait would have seemed endless but for one thing. Near the end of the fence and next to the road, someone had carelessly allowed a tree to grow. Each time we waited, we would clamber up the fence and into the branches of that small tree where, for hours, we would rock back and forth in its supple boughs, pretending it was a ship in the midst of choppy seas, first one of us then the other scurrying into the “crow’s nest” to try to catch some glimpse of land (or Aunt Mary’s azure-colored ‘57 Dodge).
Waiting and watching is surely one of the most difficult activities that we human beings endure—difficult because if often demands no discernable activity that hastens the process. Surely, one of the most tedious (if not most difficult) aspects of warfare is night watch—long hours of silent vigil, punctuated by bouts of drowsiness and fatigue. Nevertheless, it is time well spent. For no enemy can surprise the camp where a faithful watchman stands guard.
As the following references attest, whether speaking to Israel regarding the Second Coming of Christ or to the church in view of His imminent return, the Lord instructs saints to watch. “Therefore be on the alert [“watch,” KJV], for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42). “Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming” (Mk. 14:35a). “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith” (I Cor. 16:13a). “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2). “So then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober” (I Thess. 5:6). And finally, “Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you” (Rev. 3:3b).
Like Aunt Mary, the Lord has told us He is coming; therefore, it behooves us who love Him to watch with anticipation for his arrival. He wants us to long for His approach, just as two young people anxiously anticipate their wedding day. But He does not intend our watching to be done sitting astride a fence or crouching in a tree. We are to watch for Him, yes. But like a good sentry, we are also to be alert against the enemy. A faithful watchman seeks to protect his camp against any secret maneuvers by the enemy. As Christians, we are fighting a three-front war and must guard against several foes. First, we must be alert against the world. Even a few infiltrators can cause irreparable damage. Compromise with the world and its humanistic values is a sure path to destruction. Second, we must be vigilant against Satan, who can devour only those who fail to recognize and resist him. He has no power over the vigilant. Third, we must watch against our own flesh—the enemy within. If we coddle and excuse it, it will surely grow strong and overcome us.
Christianity is not a game. It is not a philosophy. It is not a course we take as students in college. It is not a role we play on weekends or in front of friends and acquaintances. It is a battle. Now the battle is the Lord’s, but unless we have on God’s armor, unless we watch in prayer, unless we maintain our vigilance, we will be defeated. A Christian cannot lose his salvation, but how sad it will be to have missed the reward we might have obtained and how grievous it will be to have failed to give the Lord the honor due Him when, instead of faithful vigilance, we played games.
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