Guard your Faith
Isaiah 2 1 – 5; Romans 13: 11 – 14; Matthew 24: 36 – 44
The eyes are blind when the mind is elsewhere. [Latin Proverb]
One morning in the early 1890s, four workers were busy harvesting corn. One man cut the corn with a scythe, another followed making bands of twisted corn stalks, the third worker had a small wooden rake gathering bundles of the cut corn, and a forth worker, a young lad, was making each bundle into a sheaf.
At noon they stopped for a lunch break. They sat down and opened their lunches. The lad unwrapped his sandwiches. He looked at his food, as it lay open on his napkin. He had come to know the Lord at Chapel the night before, so he closed his eyes and thanked God for his food. When he opened his eyes his sandwiches had gone. The dog had taken them!
The farmer had seen it all. Much amused he said to the lad, “It is a good thing to pray but you must also watch”. [P Hargreaves; “Quotes & Anecdotes” p. 145]
A spiritual truth which we ignore at our peril was uttered by the farmer,. “It’s a good thing to pray but you must also watch.” When the prophet Nehemiah led the people of God back to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon he recorded one of their actions. So we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night. [Nehemiah 4:9] Watchfulness and prayer go together. Why do we need to be both watchful and prayerful? The life-giving blessing of God is a relationship? Relationships need to be looked after. They need nurturing and they need protection. I believe that there is many a human relationship that has broken down because it was neither nurtured nor protected. So much more our relationship with God needs nurturing and protection. The parable of the Sower tells us that the seed of God’s Word falls upon us and that sometimes the cares of the world or the pleasures of the world over come us and destroy God’s Word in us. The parable of the Sower reminds us that the seed of God, if it is not nurtured, does not grow [Mk 4: 1 – 20].
Our relationship with God needs protection. There are many voices in our world that pull us away from God. These current cases of corruption in our society have not come about because people took up their career paths with the intention of being corrupt. No! Definitely not! They went down the slippery path of corruption slowly – bit by bit. It all starts slowly and that is so with our spiritual lives. Early enthusiasm wanes until one day we say, ‘I’m tired; it will be OK to skip my devotions today. Before long we’re skipping more devotional times. We fall into that false situation of turning to God only when we are in need. It is the same with attending Sunday worship. We skip a Sunday or two then it becomes a habit. Before long Sunday worship is just another option along with sport, family and other commitments. Now I know there are a few problems and challenges in what I am saying. And I am not saying you have to come to church every Sunday. But what I am saying is that there are many distractions that take us away from a special time with God. It may seem quite reasonable to put family first, but if family comes before time with God then that is a problem. In my many years of ministry I have noted folk who put their friends, their family and their children before God. You should remember the foundational principle of ‘first things first’. It is a business principle. Stephen Covey wrote a notable book, ‘First things First’. In it he told how in business one needs to get the core business principles right and the rest will follow. He used the metaphors of compass and the cardinal points. So he spoke of one’s true north. The point is you can’t sail across an endless ocean without knowing your bearings – where you’ve come from and where you are going to. If you don’t have those two positions clearly in your head then you will wander the sea aimlessly and get truly lost.
The spiritual life is just like that. Get things right and everything else will follow. Jesus said, Seek first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well [Mt 6:33]. By the way Stephen Covey’s valuable management advice sounds the same. It is interesting to note that Stephen Covey is a Christian.
My brothers and sisters in Christ do you know how many times the Bible talks about watchfulness, guarding your faith, disciplining and taking care of our walk with God? The nouns watchfulness or vigilance capture both the sense of expectation and the danger in the Faith. Practising our faith is relatively easy in our country and we are lulled into thinking all is well. But then we lack vibrancy in our walk with God. I want to suggest to you that this may be a result of not being watchful and nurturing our relationship with God.
What I am focusing on today is the importance of watchfulness and vigilance to all our relationships and especially with God. Jesus was welcomed into this world by the awareness, alertness and vigilance of the women, Elizabeth, Mary and Anna. The diligence and vigilance of Zechariah, Joseph, Shepherds and Wise Men matched that of the women. Throughout the ages the great advances of the church were met and supported by faithful watchful men and women.
Watchfulness is mentioned many, many times in Scripture. Proverbs 4: 23 talks about guarding our hearts. In 1 Peter 5:8 the reader is encouraged to be disciplined and alert because our adversaries are like a roaring lion. Peter offers this practical advice in chapter 4. The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, … . Be hospitable to one another without complaining. [1 Peter 4:7-10] Phrases like – ‘keep alert’, ‘stand firm; stay awake and pray’; ‘take care’; ‘be on guard’; and, ‘keeping watch over your souls’ – abound. [Eph 6:18; Gal 6:1; Col 4:2; 1 Tim 4:7; 2 Jn 7,8; Heb 3:12 & 13:17]
Have you noticed how many times Jesus talks about or exemplifies these concepts of watchfulness and protection? E.g. The Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness; the Lord’s Prayer; the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane; and the ten girls with their lamps. The Gospel reading today reminds us that as we celebrate the coming of Jesus as a baby we also anticipate his coming again.
Watchfulness and guarding our lives are part and parcel of the Christian life. Paul encourages the Church to build up your strength in union with the Lord and by means of his mighty power. He goes on to illustrate this watchfulness and guarding of our relationship with God with the image of the Armour of God in Ephesians 6:10-20.
The discipline of Watchfulness is like a home security system. Prayer plays a key role in helping us be vigilant. Again we must remind ourselves that prayer is not merely thanking God and then requesting God to do something. Prayer is where we wrestle with God and ourselves. Paul writes to the Corinthians saying, ‘keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love’. [1 Cor 16:13] Jesus said to his disciples; “Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” [Mt 26:41]
These exhortations to stay awake, keep alert, watch, take care, indicate that our prayer life will be a struggle and we will need discipline. The Ephesian Christians are encouraged to pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. [Eph 6:18] Let us remember we are not on our own. I find encouragement in Paul’s reminder to the persecuted Roman Christians. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. [Rom 8: 22,23] Jesus similarly encourages his disciples, saying that he will send the Spirit who will guide you into all the truth; she will declare to you the things that are to come … . Jesus adds; For this reason I said that she (Holy Spirit) will take what is mine and declare it to you. Further on Jesus prays for his disciples and all disciples that follow – that’s us today – Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them … I guarded them … , but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. … Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. [Jn 17: 9-19] Can you hear the struggle anticipated in our walk with God? And yet it seems so easy for us! What have we lost?
Jesus says to us, as recorded in Matthew 24: 44; Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. If Jesus is coming at an unexpected hour is it possible we might miss him if we are not alert?
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC: 17/11/2019