I think the best metaphor for our next Jesus Says command is something many of us do on a regular basis – drive our cars (or trucks, tractors, and motorcycles). Driving requires alertness. We are constantly warned about the dangers of distracted driving and none of us would think of taking a nap while navigating the highway. Those same warnings and habits also apply to our walk with Jesus.
Shortly after the events of the Upper Room Jesus brought the disciples to a park near Jerusalem to pray knowing that the hour of his arrest was near. Taking Peter, James, and John aside Jesus said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38, NIV) Jesus then went a little way away and prayed for about an hour. When he returned the disciples were sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40–41, NIV)
The command, the imperative verbs, are found in “watch and pray.” Or more accurately keep watching and praying. While this is immediately directed at Peter and the other disciples this command has echoes in the letters of Paul and Peter. Consider, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18, NIV) And, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV)
So, how does driving a car relate to “watch and pray?” When we drive we must be aware of many things. Things like our location, how fast we are going, what obstacles are in the road. Including an awareness of the expected and unexpected dangers around us. Such as the warning lights and gauges of our car, how much fuel we have, and the various safety and comfort settings at our fingertips. This situational awareness is the hallmark of a good driver. When a driver fails at these we often call them a “distracted driver.”
Our path of life and our walk with Jesus requires the same level of alertness. We need to be aware of where we are and the risks of the road we’re on. We should evaluate what in our life distracts us from fully following Jesus. We must be ready for the unexpected temptation, challenge, or struggle that may run across our path. We must also look inside. What are the warning lights of our emotions saying about our spiritual health? How full or empty is our heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit?
As I’ve noted before all metaphors break down at some point, and so does this one. While driving is a relatively solo act, there’s only one steering wheel, our walk of faith is connected to community. We are to watch and pray for ourselves and for each other. I need my sisters and brothers in Christ to warn me of the dangers I can’t see. To encourage when the path is difficult. To cover when my faith becomes distracted. To remind me to fill my tank by connecting with God on a regular basis. And they need me to do the same for them.
Jesus says keep watching and praying