In Acts 1:12-14, the disciples of Jesus Christ had returned from the Mount of Olives after witnessing His ascension into heaven. For the first time in three and a half years, they faced the reality of life without Jesus in the flesh.
The Lord had told them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father; so, they returned there to stay. They did not know when the promise would come; all they could do was wait. Then, there was the very present danger of being found, arrested, and executed by the religious authorities in Jerusalem. Yet, the Lord was emphatic that they remain in Jerusalem. And they knew better than to be elsewhere. They knew better than to saunter around Jerusalem or let boredom or fear becloud their judgment.
Thus, by the Spirit of God within them1, they realised that they could not wait passively or idly. They realised that they had to wait and watch out for the religious leaders with praying!
Waiting without praying
If you are waiting, and prayer is not an integral part of your waiting, you will get entangled in all sorts of untoward things. Ideas will fly in that you may think originate from God. But in reality, such ideas are usually from the flesh or the devil! Many people have gotten into trouble while waiting idly.
Waiting without praying will lead to disappointments and ungodly acts. Some people wait on God for one thing or another but do not pray while waiting. These are the people who will be easily discouraged and disappointed and become despondent. The Bible says,
Hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12, NKJV)
If a person has hope, which is buoyed only by prayer, they would not be in despair, for the Bible also says:
without doubt there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off. (Proverbs 23:18, BBE)
A person who waits on God while praying knows that whatever they are waiting for will surely come to pass. The confidence of such an individual will not be easily shaken, and there can be no deferred hope. When people have their hope dashed, they fall sick—emotionally and spiritually—and get involved in ungodly acts.
For instance, while waiting on God for a life partner, some single ladies do not pray. Sadly, they end up entangling themselves in all sorts of ungodly acts. A pastor once told how he and his pastorate were praying for a sister to get married. Then one day, they observed that her abdomen was distended. On further enquiry, they discovered that she was pregnant! When they probed further, it turned out that she was pregnant for a married man!
Also, a single brother and minister in a local church informed his superiors that he had been amorous with a young lady and got her pregnant. Without knowing the details, they advised him to marry her. Later, when he showed up in the church with his newly-wed wife (the wedding was done outside his local assembly), they discovered that the lady was a Muslim!
These are the kind of things that happen when people claim to wait on God but are not praying.
We must wait and pray
In the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), all ten virgins were waiting for the return of the bridegroom. While waiting, they all slept. However, while the wise virgins had extra oil (what we can liken to the assurance of the presence of God by the Holy Spirit manifesting in their lives), the foolish virgins did not have extra oil—that is, there was a waning of the Holy Spirit's influence in their lives! Those foolish virgins were running on empty, yet, they naively slept when they should have been recharging themselves by praying.
When the bridegroom came, the foolish virgins were scampering for oil because they had made no arrangements for extra oil. Sadly, only the wise virgins went into the banquet with the bridegroom.
The parable of the ten virgins illustrates how Christians should wait for the return of Jesus, or even for a promise of God: with prayer, assuring them of God's presence. The parable also shows how, many Christians naively live daily without praying, yet, expect to receive the promises of God.
While waiting for the return of the Lord or a promise of God, we must do so with constant prayer. The extra oil in the parable of the ten virgins signifies the Holy Spirit's presence, protecting, guarding, guiding, and directing us, among other things, and this is made possible through our prayers. It also signifies our confidence in God, boosted by our constant praying (Jude 1:20).
So, whilst we are waiting, we should also be praying so that we will not miss the promise of God or, indeed, the Rapture! It is crucial to note that praying will be futile once the Holy Spirit leaves the earth along with the standing believers. Therefore, the time to pray is now!
The injunction to watch can only be effective while praying
Peter learnt a bitter lesson from the night in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus came and found him, James, and John, sleeping, and specifically said to him:
"What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation." (Matthew 26:40-41, NKJV)
When the Lord told His disciples that they would be made to stumble and desert Him at His hour of trial, Peter vociferously declared that even if everyone else were to abandon Jesus, he would not (Matthew 26:31-35). The Lord then told him that before the cock would crow (before the dawn of the next day), he (Peter) would have denied Him thrice. But Peter insisted:
"Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" (Matthew 26:35, NKJV)
Peter's intention was no doubt noble. However, the noblest of intentions without prayer would soon fall like a pack of cards!
When the Lord went to Gethsemane and chose Peter, James, and John to accompany Him to pray, He did so advisedly because of what they would go through. The Lord had already warned Peter that Satan had obtained permission to sift him as wheat (Luke 22:31-32). Also, Peter's role was pivotal in God's plan to open the gates of the kingdom (Matthew 16:17-19) to the Jews (Acts 2:14ff) and Gentiles (Acts 10:1ff). He, thus, needed to be alert so that the devil would not hinder him and shipwreck his ministry.
James was beheaded by Herod (Acts 12:1-2), and John went through a horrible punishment for the gospel's sake. He was put in a container of hot oil and sealed in to fry, but when they unsealed the container after three days, he was very much alive. Afterwards, John was banished to the Island of Patmos, where the Lord met with him and gave him the visions in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 1:9-19).
When Peter, James, and John accompanied Jesus into the Garden of Gethsemane, these things were unknown to them. But the Lord who knew what was to come, wanted them to pray and fortify themselves against the temptation that could make them fall away from the faith.
Meanwhile, Satan's temptation of Peter was very imminent. So, it was no surprise that after the Lord had gone to pray for an hour, upon returning and finding them asleep, called specifically to Peter.
The Lord was trying to get Peter to understand that he needed to be alert—to keep awake—and to pray if he was to overcome the very imminent temptation. Unfortunately, Peter did not appreciate the warning. Thus, when Jesus was arrested, although Peter followed Jesus, it was from afar (Matthew 26:58). The courage for Peter to stay with Jesus during His trial failed him—such loss of courage always befalls those who do not pray!
While Jesus was being accused in the Council, Peter warmed himself in the fireplace, outside the Council. And when he was accused of being an accomplice of Jesus, he flat-out denied it and even cursed! Peter failed because he neither watched nor prayed! (Matthew 26:69-75)
Now, as they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, Peter knew full-well the value of watching and praying. He realised how he had been too weak to resist the temptation to deny Jesus, not because he wanted to deny Him, but because he did not pray when he should have!
When we watch but do not pray
If we watch without praying, we will be weak to counter Satan's wiles. The Lord's injunction is "watch and pray", indicating that we must also pray no matter how soberly we watch.
No matter how alert we may be, without praying, we would fall into temptation. If you were to see the pitfall or the snare of Satan, unless you have prayed, you will think nothing of it. Indeed, when you see the snare of Satan, you will not perceive it to be a threat because you have not prayed! Hence, the Lord said,
Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. (Matthew 26:41, NKJV)
When you are not praying while watching, you will fall asleep no matter how sober you are. Also, you will speak when you should be listening. Had Peter understood the viciousness of Satan's temptation, he would have been praying rather than bragging when the Lord warned him about Satan's attempt to sift him as wheat.
When we do not pray while watching, we would stumble, deny the Lord, and even swear that we do not know Him when temptation comes. We would become fearful and faint-hearted. In telling the parable of the tares, the Lord said,
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. (Matthew 13:24-25, NKJV)
When we fail to pray while watching, we fall asleep, and the enemy will have the freedom to operate unhindered in our backyard.
Also, the Lord warns,
Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man." (Luke 21:36, NKJV)
If we do not watch and pray, we stand in danger of being entrapped by Satan's wiles. And we will be unable to stand before Jesus unashamed in eternity!
We must be proactive with praying
Many Christians no longer pray until a problem or challenge arises in their lives. Such praying is usually reactionary and borne out of fear. The Lord is warning us to wait patiently, watch soberly, and pray constantly. Prayer helps our waiting and supports our watching.
The disciples in the upper room realised that they needed to pray while waiting and watching out for the religious leaders, so they prayed! All they could do was pray. More than at any other time, we need to pray now! Thus, our praying must be proactive and done in faith, not out of fear.
In our next instalment, we shall discuss the matter of prayer and ministry.
Recall that the Lord Jesus had breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22)